Have you ever run into someone right after a vacation who didn’t realize you had ever left?
This happened to me the other day with a colleague I hadn't seen in over a month. We dived into the standard Midwestern: “Hey, how are you? How have things been going?” but this time around my answer wasn’t the standard, "Good, good." Instead, I replied that I was jet lagged.
Oh yeah? Did you go on a trip?
Yep. Just got back from Italy.
For two-and-a-half weeks, my wife and I were 5,000 miles away traveling from Rome to Venice to Florence to Cinque Terre to Siena. And, for as far away from Chicago as I felt that we were, I realized that in this moment—at least to this co-worker—my absence was really no different than had I been a couple blocks away in one of the other office buildings. They were here. I was over there.
After we walked our separate ways, I had the same dazed look on my face of a college freshman who just heard that the universe is still expanding. I thought to myself, "There really are only two places in the world: Here. Or There."
We spend most of our time in a Here, but we love There. Just listen to the way people say Here vs. There. "Come Here" is always so aggressive. So intense. And usually pretty desperate. Please, can you come over here? I'm dyin' here. Get me outta here! There's an exhaustion with Here. Oh, here we go again. Here, just listen to me.
Look at the world’s most famous and effective pickup line: Hey, let’s get out of here. Why does it work? Because everyone wants to get out of a Here. Or listen to the lady down the street pleading to her dog: "Here boy, here. Here!" We're pleading because even a dog doesn't want to come to a Here.
Compare that to There. “Hey, whatcha guys doing over there?" "What's going on over there?” "Look over there!" There's hope. There's FOMO. There's mystery. There's even comfort. There, there, everything's going to be alright.
A There is inspiring. How do you rally millions of Americans to go fight in a giant war? Start up the music: "Over THERE! Over THERE!" People instinctively started marching.
Hey, what's going on?
We're gonna fight in a World War.
Oof. That sounds kind of dangerous. That’s not going on around here is it?
Oh, no. We're going over there.
There? Oh, sweet. Yeah, sign me up!
There's a lot of there to a There. So much that we had to create three different versions. There. Their. And They're. We can't get enough of There.
We want to experience all different types of Theres.
So, we travel. We go all around the world. Then we come back and sit at a table with a group of friends and talk about our favorite trips. We were in Italy. Oh my gosh, I wanna go to Italy so bad. We were in Japan. Oh, I'd love to see Japan. We did two weeks in Thailand. Oh, Thailand, that's on our bucket list.
I would argue that there is really no difference between any of those places. It's just a different There. Eat new food. See new things. Meet new people. But, at its core, the trip is fun because you've escaped a Here. You could get the same thrill by taking a sick day. Like have you ever taken a random Wednesday off of work? You're the happiest person in the world. And all you did was go to the dentist! But you broke the routine. Switched things up from a Here to a There. And it was amazing. And it didn't cost thousands of dollars.
There is also this assumption that people over There have it better than us. Wouldn't it be incredible to grow up over there? No. Because, for them, it's a Here. Nobody over there is saying, "What do you wanna do tonight?" "Oh, I dunno, I figured I'd go stare at the Colosseum for a couple of hours, just really take it in." No, they probably sit down on a couch and watch Netflix. Or pull out their phones. Or say, "Man, there's nothing to do around here."
Because that's what you do when it's a Here. On our trip, I saw plenty of Italians wearing New York Yankees hats or something from Los Angeles. One guy was rocking an old Chicago Bulls jersey. To them, we are their elusive There. I bet they fantasize about going to an exotic place in the United States. They sit down, they look at a map, and say, "Ah, if I could only go and visit the Midwest. That's all I wanna do. I just wanna see Illinois."
Every place in the world has their regular mundane moments of Here. So yes, there's amazing pasta in Italy. But there's also a guy eating a thing of Pringles.
Yes, the sites are incredible. But there's also a girl sitting behind the counter of a fancy boutique playing Pokemon Go.
And yes, it was the most relaxing few weeks of my life, but in one of our most serene moments of There, we saw a family just a table away going through a universal Here moment.
The scene: A beautiful Tuscan day, with clear blue skies, and the perfect 75-degree temperature. We were sitting outside at a table, cheese and meat plate in front of us, a couple glasses of Chianti wine in hand, looking out at the town square in Siena. Right next to us was an Italian family of four. The teenage daughter had her arms crossed in front of her chest. The mom took away her phone. The teenager yelled and started to cry. The dad said something in Italian that I couldn't understand, but was pretty sure it translated to, "Hey, don't talk to your mother that way." And the younger sister chimed in, antagonizing the older sister the same way a younger sibling would do here in Chicago, in Paris, in Tokyo, and yes, in Italy. To us, we were in paradise. To them, it was anything but.
Here or There. Two places in the entire world.
When somebody says the cliché, "It's neither here nor there," I completely disagree. There could literally not be a less accurate sentence. It’s ONLY here and there. That's it! No other options.
That’s why I think the wisest person on the planet is the operator who answers the phone and when you ask, “Is Robert in today?” they reply, “Nope. He's not here.” They don't even have to say where he is. Don't have to distinguish if he's on a trip. If he's sick. If he's out playing golf. He's just. Not. Here.
But there is no guarantee that you can always escape from a Here. Even on a vacation. Even thousands of miles away. Here or There are as much physical places as they are a mindset. When you leave, Here is crouching at your hotel room door. It wants to rule you.
It all starts before the trip with any of your friends who have been to the same There. First thing they do: make a list. Oh, you've gotta go here, and here, and here. There is so much pressure to see the same sites, to see what they've seen, do what they did, that you run the risk of duplicating their entire trip. It's why so many people who visit New York City come back with the same stories about seeing the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Same thing in Rome with the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and The Pantheon. But, if you don't see those things, there's too much guilt. You went all the way over THERE and didn't see/do/experience this??
So, you compile your lists from friends and family. Lists from Tripadvisor. Lists from Rick Steves. Here. Here. Here. You pack your suitcases. You're ready to go. You’re heading out of the office when someone asks, not even asks, but confirms that you'll be posting your stories on Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Not after your trip, but during. You must document your There in real time.
You get on the plane. Land. Hop in the taxi. After the jetlag wears off, there's this new unfamiliar feeling that starts to take over your body. All of the stress, all of the deadlines, all of the day-to-day grind is gone. You have no alarm clocks. No agenda. No responsibilities. The feeling of a There has now settled deep into your bones. Wait, is this... pure joy? Is this what it feels like to be... relaxed?
But Here is not far away. It whispers through your phone. Pssst, over here. Yeah, come here for a second. Check your emails. Here, check your texts. Give that Instagram a few scrolls, will ya? Here, just for a second. It won't hurt.
I tried as hard as I could to keep the Here out of my There. And I’m happy to say that I only lost a couple of times. For 97 percent of the trip, I was off the grid. Two or three email checks. A few texts. I even had a two-day stretch where my iPhone just stayed off. Not in sleep mode, but off-off. It was an unprecedented level of disconnection. And it felt incredible.
Did I need to go 5,000 miles away to discover this? Yes and no. Italy was the trip of a lifetime. I joked above that it's really no different than taking a random Wednesday off of work, but that's not true at all. It was a million times better. And the sites were part of it. The food helped. The wine helped too.
But maybe, just as much of a factor as all of the things above, was the decision to be fully There. Accepting that Here could wait for a couple of weeks.
And, the more I thought about it, the more I continue to think about it, the more I'm convinced that if there are only two places in the world—Here or There—we might as well fully experience the one where we're at.
I'm calling this series: "A Medium Rare Trip to Italy." October will be mostly Medium Rare philosophy posts like this one (for example: next week is about "Hitting your Happiness Deductible" an argument for why you should book trips in the good years and not bother in the bad years. Another one is called "Relaxed people stress me out"). November will shift into more of an account of each city, places to go, stories, maybe throw in some photos.
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