What Traveling Really Means

(ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! 🙂 )

Hello, first signs of winter!

I sat down this evening and logged on to this blog for the first time in nearly four months. I didn’t mean to be gone for so long, or to neglect my goal in starting this blog, but as I’m sure you all know, sometimes things come up and life gets busy.

As I jotted down ideas for future posts, it occurred to me that I should maybe review my About Page and see if it needs any updating. While I read through my text and made a few minor changes, I got to thinking about the idea of travel. It is, after all, part of this blog title, and a rather central idea on my About Page, but I actually haven’t really done all that much of it recently.

I spent the first half of 2018 not doing almost any traveling at all, and not feeling entirely as happy with life as I would have hoped to. About halfway through the year, I thought to myself “oh, why the hell not” and went on a rampage. To paraphrase Ariana Grande, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I’ll book it” became my mantra. I basically continued like that until that philosophy became greater than this annoying little thing known as a bank account, and I’ve had to put the brakes on my traveling spree. Along the way, a few other things came up, which has resulted in me doing comparatively very few trips over the past few months. So, I’ve basically come full circle in the span of two years, only my savings account is significantly smaller and my level of happiness significantly higher.

What does all this mean? What made the difference between this year and last year? When I think back, travel seems to be the one of the biggest variables. But, what does traveling really bring us?

Of course, I believe travel can have wildly different significance for different people. For some it may be an escape…. a venture into the unknown. For others, it can be a learning experience, stepping outside of your comfort zone, or a personal challenge. Or maybe it’s even a necessity: a way to visit loved ones, or to fulfill your professional role. All of these are valid and good reasons to travel, provided they are helping you get closer to your personal vision for yourself or your future.

When I try to break travel down into its constituents, I come up with the following:

  • Meeting new people
  • Discovering new places
  • Seeing new things: architecture, art, museums, history
  • Learning more about new cultures
  • Trying new foods, activities, attending different kinds of events

Strangely enough, when I went to make this list, at no point did “going somewhere far, far away” cross my mind.

I am absolutely aware that everyone has different personal circumstances, reasons, goals, and needs. You may not agree with me and you are absolutely welcome not to. But as for what I can say about my personal experience in my life, travel has almost nothing to do with actually going from where I am at present to any other point on the planet, and nearly everything to do with my outlook on life.

In fact, when I look at the list I produced above, I believe I can tick off every single item on it without ever leaving this city. The keyword in all of the items seems to be “new.” How come we become obsessed with this concept when traveling, and then once back home, we fall back intosame old, same old“?

If you in any way think like me… I think we should travel. I think we should travel in order to discover this joy for life, this never-ending curiosity that only finding ourselves miles away from home seems to give us. I think we should travel in order to soak up as much of these feelings as we possibly can—steep in them, breathe with them, become them—and then bring them back home with us, and propagate them everywhere we go. I think we should travel so that we can discover the mindset that will bring us so much joy wherever we are, we won’t need to travel to find it anymore.

ESL Notes (18 words / expressions)

things come up: when things come up, it means they happen unexpectedly. This is a very useful phrase to use when you have to cancel plans. “Sorry, I won’t be able to come to your party this evening. Something important came up!” This means that something you weren’t expecting happened and changed your plans. (Back to the text)

jot down ideas: to jot down means to write down quickly. This is different from when you’re taking notes as a student in class. When you jot something down, it’s usually something short, or less organized. (Back to the text)

I got to thinking about: In this context, “I got to” means “I started to.” It implies that something put that idea in my head, that is, something inspired me to start thinking about that particular topic. This is often a topic that’s rather important or deep. (Back to the text)

go on a rampage: In this article, I apply this expression as a metaphor. Usually, “go on a rampage” means you run around in a wild or violent way, and it’s usually associated with the actions of an angry group of people, for example during protests or a civil war. Here, obviously, it’s only a metaphor, saying that I was booking so many trips so quickly that I was like an out-of-control person. (Back to the text)

put the brakes on something: this means to slow an activity down. In this case, I had to slow down with booking trips and travel less. (Back to the text)

spree: This word is most typically seen in combination with “shopping”: shopping spree. A shopping spree is when you do a lot of shopping (much more than usual) in a short time. A traveling spree is when you do an above-average amount of traveling in a short time. As you can deduce, a spree of any type happens when you do that activity a very large amount in a short amount of time. (Back to the text)

come full circle: this is an expression which means you finish where you started. (Back to the text)

only: I’m sure you know this word already, but you may not be so familiar with this particular usage of it. Here, it means something like “but” or “however.” When used like this, “only” emphasizes that the situation is the exact same except for only one or very few changes that you will then specify. In my context, I am emphasizing that I am in a very similar situation as I was in two years ago, except for two differences. (Back to the text)

venture: this means a new activity that involves risk or uncertainty. It’s often used in business when a company wants to try something new, that they’ve never tried before—this may involve a lot of risk! (Back to the text)

come up with: this is a very useful and often-used phrasal verb. In short, it means to create/invent an idea. You can only come up with abstract, non-material things, like ideas, plans, solutions, suggestions, etc. If you say you “came up with a cake,” it doesn’t mean you actually made the cake and it is now sitting in your kitchen ready to be eaten—it would mean that you invented a new recipe for cake, a new idea for a cake. (Back to the text)

went to: I’m sure you already know the very basic words “went to,” as in “I went to the store.” In this context, however, the meaning is a bit different. Here, “went to” doesn’t mean I physically moved someplace else in my house—it means I had the intention to do it; it was what I was going to do next, and I was getting ready to do it, and then I did it. We often use this expression when we’re telling a story and we want to describe the action in more detail, or something important is about to happen. (Back to the text)

cross my mind: this is another way to say “occur to me.” (Back to the text)

tick off: this is what you do to items you have completed on your to-do list: you put a check mark next to them, or you tick them off. In other words, you mark them as complete. (Back to the text)

how come: I’ve always considered this a more basic phrase, but I’ve found that a surprising number of intermediate or advanced-level students aren’t familiar with it. Together, the words “how come” are equivalent to “why?”. (Back to the text)

fall back into (old routines): “Fall back into” is usually followed by “an old routine,” “an old habit,” or something very similar in concept. It means return to old routines, and the tone is that this is usually not a good thing, that is, they are not good routines, but you return to them because they feel familiar and comfortable and you are accustomed to them. (Back to the text)

“same old, same old”: this is an expression used to say that a situation is the same as always, especially when it’s the same as always. Many people, when you ask them about their work, might reply, “same old, same old”, meaning that nothing is new, everything is still the same, and this is naturally a bit boring. You can also hear the expression without the repetition: just “same old.” (Back to the text)

soak up: to absorb. A sponge, for example, soaks up water, and hardworking students soak up knowledge. (Back to the text)

steep in: when you make tea, you steep the tea leaves in hot water. From this you can deduce that to “steep a thing in something” means that the thing is completely surrounded by something or involved in something. This can also be applied metaphorically. Cambridge dictionary provides the following example: The college is steeped in history/tradition. (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • Describe a time when you made plans with someone, but something came up at the last minute, and you had to change your plans. Remember to practice the expression “came up” in your answer!
  • Do you have any friend who always cancels plans with you because something always comes up?
  • Do you keep a pen and paper with you at all times to jot down ideas, in case you think of some good ones while doing your daily routine? What kinds of things do you jot down?
  • Before you go out to a new restaurant or another new place, do you jot down instructions on a piece of paper, or do you remember them in your head?
  • When did you get to thinking about saving for your retirement? Finding a job in your field? Quitting your job? Adopting a pet? Buying a house? (answer any or all that apply to you, or think of some more ideas relevant to your life).
  • In this article I mention that there was a time when I didn’t travel much, and then I “went on a rampage” and suddenly started traveling a lot. Can you think of a similar situation from your life, whether it’s related to travel, studying, buying books or clothes, etc.?
  • Is there any project at work that you think management should put the brakes on, because it’s too expensive or takes too much time? Is there any person at work who is trying to get promoted a bit too aggressively? Do you think management will put the brakes on him/her? Should the government put the brakes on any of their spending?
  • Did you ever go on a shopping spree? If yes, what did you buy? When you became legal age for drinking, did you go on a drinking spree? Some people go on a drinking spree when they feel very sad—what do you think about this? When you first got your driver’s license, did you go on a driving spree?
  • Do you think there’s a natural tendency in the universe for things to come full circle? For example, people used to eat very healthy, then junk food became very mainstream, and now people are returning back to a healthy lifestyle. Would you say we have come full circle? What other examples do you see? What about fashion—have any old trends come back, making things come full circle?
  • Imagine you are comparing two very similar apartments, rooms, flights for a trip, courses, cars, desk chairs, etc. Make a sentence using “only” that highlights one or very few differences between them. For example: “In my opinion, Swarovski crystals look the same as diamonds, only diamonds are 10x more expensive.”
  • Has your company tried any new business ventures lately? Are they considering any? What kind of ventures might you personally consider for yourself? (ex: opening a store, a business, investing money in stocks, etc…?)
  • When do you come up with your best ideas, in the morning or before going to bed? Do you think people come up with better ideas when they brainstorm alone or in a group? What ideas have you come up with in the last year?
  • Take two minutes right now and try to think of as many ideas as possible for starting a new business. How many ideas did you come up with? What’s the best idea that you came up with?
  • Do you tend to say the first thing that crosses your mind? Do you think doing this would be a good idea at a job interview? When might it be beneficial to say the first thing that crosses your mind?
  • Do you like making “to-do” lists? Are you usually able to tick off most items on your list? Do you ever tick off all of them? Which items are the ones you usually don’t tick off, and why?
  • Try making a list of all the things you would like to do in the next two hours. How many items do you think you will actually tick off?
  • How are you feeling right now? How come? (here you cannot use the expression in your answer. Instead, try to come up with a few similar questions you could ask someone you know).
  • Do you know anybody who has tried to make a positive change in their life, such as become more organized, or exercise more often, or clean their house better, but who quickly fell back into their old routine? Why do you think it’s so easy to do this? Have you ever done the same (fallen back into an old bad habit or routine)?
  • Do you like to walk around your city just to soak up the atmosphere? What neighborhood would you most enjoy doing this in?
  • What would you use to soak up spilled water or milk?
  • How long do you let your tea steep? (Do you like very strongly flavored tea, or more of a mild flavor?)

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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