Perhaps the greatest reward of travel is that whenever our bodies are in motion, so are our minds. I've just written a book about the strengths of this built-in link: In Motion: The Experience of Travel. Along the way I've found that the "inside" of travel can be even more fascinating than its "outside." Wherever we go, as I've been discovering -- around the block or across the globe -- we all carry within us a largely unsuspected capacity that, when activated, produces more vivid and more memorable trips. This holds true both for routine travel -- the "have-to" trips of every day -- and for more extraordinary "want-to" travel, whether that involves a quick getaway or a dream vacation.
For some people, who can see no other solution, enduring the routine and boredom of daily "have-to" travel has been made more tolerable by looking forward to long-planned "want-to" trips -- almost as if pain accumulated now can at some point be exchanged for pleasure. Such a strategy is, unfortunately, increasingly less viable. Although the available statistics are probably already outdated (and, when it comes to commuting, that generally means that things only have "dis-improved" in the meantime), according to a 2005 ABC poll, American workers spend an average of 87 minutes a day driving to and from their jobs and running errands. Aggregate these numbers and the "have-to" part of travel already outweighs the "want-to" part, since 87 minutes a day amounts to more than two-and-a-half weeks out of each year, already overshadowing the standard two-week vacation.
Fortunately, a solution to this problem is closer to us than our own fingertips. I call it Deep Travel. Part of our inheritance as a species is a sophisticated and ancient part of our minds that's perhaps two million years old, a wider awareness in which nothing is taken for granted and everything we encounter seems fresh and new and awaiting discovery. It is like waking up while we're already awake. One of the allures of time-off travel is that on vacation we slip more easily into Deep Travel, and notice more than normal, giving the people and places we encounter an intensity and glow.
What I've been delighted to find while working on In Motion -- in my own daily travels and on longer trips I've undertaken; in conversation with people met along the way; in the books of the great travel writers that I've been devouring; and in pioneering modern studies of the mind and brain -- is that Deep Travel is constantly available, at our command and under our control, and not something we have to hope to catch up with once we've left daily cares behind. One friend, for instance, shared with me the "Warsaw induction," as he called it -- a foolproof way of evoking Deep Travel under almost any circumstances. We were lunching in a Madison Avenue coffee shop, and he said:
Look around. What if this wasn't New York, but Warsaw (or any city you've never been to before). You'd have to start noticing everything all at once, wouldn't you, because you wouldn't know what was important and what could be ignored, at least for the moment. Deep Travel would be an imperative.
Maybe 87 minutes a day of daily travel is an exaggeration: let's pare it down and call it only an hour. Why shouldn't that hour be as important to our lives and as fulfilling and enriching as the other hours of the waking day? That's my cause and concern at the moment -- to Reclaim the Lost Hour! I've set up a new Web site where Deep Travelers can share their findings, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.