Most people in the United States have the wrong mindset when it comes to exploring foreign shores. Most people think about foreign travel as a treat, as something they get to indulge in for a couple weeks a year when they have time off from work. In other words, when most people think about foreign travel they think of it as a vacation. But this “vacation” mindset is problematic.
The vacation mindset is a terrible one. Not only does it encourage seeking out the artificial thrills and adventures of tourism but the philosophy of “taking a vacation” also carries with it the belief travel is somehow meant to be an escape.
Considering travel an escape implies all sorts of nasty things about an individual’s normal life and what they expect to experience out on the open road. Considering foreign travel an escape from daily life implies daily life is the equivalent of confinement. If you’ve constructed a life for yourself you equate with incarceration then no amount of two-week vacations will dramatically improve how you feel about yourself.
In total, the vacation mindset, the escape-oriented mindset, leaves you with a trip amounting to little more than a blur of being treated, by yourself and others, to an experience which never challenges and, by proxy, never produces any sort of growth. If anything the vacation mindset represents a de-evolution, a slide back to your crawling days instead of a climb up to a new sense of what your life can be.
My time in Porto, or Oporto in English, represents an alternative to the vacation mindset, an alternative that cures the ills of the thought of escaping daily life and instead revolves around exploring a different sort of growth-oriented routine.
I spent three weeks in Porto and during my time there my life didn’t appear dramatically different than my life back home. I continued to work daily as a freelance writer. I continued to cook a couple of my meals a day (with the same foods I normally eat) while going out for a regular lunch and the occasional dinner. During my free time I connected with (new) friends, I took long walks, I worked on personal projects and I watched movies or read before bed.
In many ways my daily life during my travels and explorations in Porto very, very, very closely mirrored my life at home, with one crucial difference- in Porto I was disconnected from the people, the specific social and occupational structures, and (most importantly) the expectations informing my life back home. In Porto I was able to construct a mirror-image life, one keeping all the things I liked about my daily life while jettisoning the baggage I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue to carry with me.
During my time in Porto, I indulged in a different form of travel, one that didn’t rely on pampering, one that wasn’t about escaping my daily life, but rather one that stripped down and reframed my daily life. Porto didn’t represent fleeing from anything- it represented a sidestep, a temporary lateral jump allowing for deep evaluation and some tough decision-making. In other words traveling to Porto wasn’t about trying to forget daily life. Traveling to Porto was instead about exploring the world to gain the space and new perspectives I needed to focus on improving my daily life in a way I never could back home.
Properly engaged, any foreign location can provide you the perspective and the space you need to undertake a form of travel more concerned with improving daily life instead of escaping it, but there are elements of Porto that make it an ideal location for such enjoyable soul searching.
Porto perfectly encapsulates the sort of foreign city you should travel to if you’re looking to ditch the poisonous vacation mindset. If Portugal doesn’t appeal to you, then simply use this article as a guideline for looking off the beaten path in your search for a new home. A new home that will help you return to your old home with a new sense of purpose, focus, and appreciation, rather than the creeping dread that too often accompanies the return home from a two-week pampering binge.