From London: Some Thoughts About Happiness, and a Few Travel Hacks.


Hello from London! I’m here after a whirlwind stops in Dublin and Belfast — I want to go back to both places for a longer visit.

It’s often noted how travel expands the mind and our sense of possibilities, and how it shakes us out of routine and familiarity. And like many cliched ideas, it’s very true.

When I travel, I try to pay a lot of attention to the differences around me. Little things, like the sound a phone makes while ringing, the sound of a siren (though I think that London has changed its siren tone so that it sounds more familiar), the feeling that I don’t know how to cross the street safely, or where to look to find the name of the street.

There are differences in vocabulary too. I accidentally got a big laugh when I gave a talk a few nights ago. I was discussing how Questioners can help themselves to do something that’s inefficient or unjustified, by thinking of their second order of justification. As an example, I said, “I talked to a Questioner who said, ‘My grandmother doesn’t like for me to wear pants. Even though I prefer to wear pants, and think her rule is silly, I don’t wear pants when I’m with her, because it makes her happy, and that’s important to me.'” Turns out that in the U.K., “pants” means “underwear.” Yikes. I meant “trousers!”

Visiting London always gives me new appreciation for New York City’s grid system of streets. Those straight, predictable lines are less interesting and charming, but easier to manage. Whenever I go someplace in London by taxi, I feel that I’m being driven by someone who’s trying to escape pursuers — the route is so circuitous, it feels like we’re trying to throw off the people tailing us.

When I travel, my new favorite activity is to visit a grocery store. Even though I’m not buying any groceries, it’s so interesting to see the differences in what people eat, how food is packaged, and how groceries are displayed. Side note: Heathrow Airport has a grocery store at the Arrivals Area; I’ve never seen an airport grocery store before. Last night, I went into a Whole Foods grocery store, to see how a U.S. brand was adapted; the store felt familiar, but little things were different. Like the salad bar offered “chicken thigh.”

I always love to visit bookstores when I travel. I’m especially interested when familiar books have different cover in other countries — I like seeing the different interpretations. As it happens, The Four Tendencies has the same cover art in the U.S. and the U.K.

I had a big stroke of luck right before I left New York. I took an overnight flight to Dublin in the morning, so I landed in the morning, and my hotel room wasn’t ready. I felt cranky and exhausted and just wanted to crawl into bed, but I managed to pull myself together. I had a big cup of strong coffee, checked my bag at the hotel, and set off to explore the city. I always enjoy walking around more when I have some kind of mission or destination in mind (do you feel the same way?), and fortunately, right before I left, a friend told me, “If you only manage to do one thing in Dublin, you must see the Book of Kells.” So as I was gulping that coffee, I looked up the Book of Kells, and there it was, a nice walk from my hotel. I had a lovely walk there, had a fascinating viewing of the Book of Kells, walked back by a different route — and then my room was ready.

I’m also always looking for new ways to make traveling easier.

On the “Happier” podcast, I’ve talked many times about my (perhaps excessive) love for light canvas tote bags, and I have a new favorite way to use them. Because we’re only allowed two carry-on bags on an airplane, I was often juggling a lot of stuff in my arms, in addition to my two bags. My book, some magazines and newspapers, a container of cinnamon Ice Breakers, my shawl that I always take on an airplane because I’m always freezing, etc.

Now I put everything in a canvas tote to make it easy to carry it around. Then, right before I board, I take it all out and carry it in my arms. You can carry as much loose stuff as you want onto an airplane — you just can’t have more than two bags.

One of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood is: Always leave some room in the suitcase. This is both literally and metaphorically true.

However, because I wanted to avoid having to check a bag for this trip, I crammed my carry-on bag full. That was the right decision for this trip, but boy, I really dislike the feeling of being packed to the brim.

My other Secret of Adulthood for travel: Always bring snacks! This is especially true when I experience a big time change; I’ve arrived in places where it was hard to eat, because my body clock was so contrary to the normal eating patterns of the place where I’d arrived.



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