As I go about daily life in New Orleans – finding myself in a semi-monotonous routine, waking up in the same bed most mornings – I occasionally find myself daydreaming about my past adventures and wondering where I was exactly a year ago. I look at the photographs I took on this day in 2011. Instantly, a vivid set of memories of that day overtakes my senses; I can clearly see the lovely people I met, taste the delicious dahl baht I ate, feel the ragged bus seat I sat on (with the wayward spring prodding my left booty cheek), and smell the aroma of freshly boiled chai mixing with auto-rickshaws fumes and holy cow dung.
Then I try to think back to what I did this day a month ago in New Orleans. Blank. I don’t know. The days blend together. Nothing remarkable happened. No new experiences were had and the memories from that day will likely be lost in the vast sea of repetition that makes up this time in my life.
That is not to say that I have not enjoyed life since I’ve been back; this has been one of the best periods of my life in terms of personal growth and development. But when you’re living in a city that you’ve lived in for the vast majority of your life, new experiences are a rare occurrence.
Do you remember how long a year seemed when you were a kid? Now how does your perception of the speed at which last year passed compare to that? In his incredible book “Moonwalking with Einstein,” Joshua Foer kicks around the theory that the quantity of new experiences you have over a certain period of time affects your perception of the duration of that time. So basically, when you were a kid and everything was new, time passed slower. But now that you’re older and you’re in a monotonous routine with the same boring job, time passes quickly – a year seems to go by in the blink of an eye, and before you know it you’re pushing 30. Essentially, new experiences can make your life seem longer, while a lack of noteworthy experiences and memories can make your limited time on earth pass much more quickly.
The reason I bring this up is because traveling the world is nothing BUT new experiences, and new memories are formed every time you step out of your hotel/guesthouse/tent and into the street / rue / calle / ถนน / улица / 街道 / شارع. So when you’re on your deathbed looking back at your life, will it seem like it ended too quickly (despite living for a long time), or will you be able to think about your incredible experiences and your vivid memories and feel like you lived life to the fullest?