The Flâneur

I have spent a great deal of time over the past several months thinking about travel. Longing for travel. Cancelling planned travel. Planning more travel. Cancelling that travel.

Something about not being able to leave one’s home makes one absolutely desperate to, well, leave one’s home.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have this be a source of focus and thought, I am absolutely aware that there are people losing their jobs and their health. I am lucky to have experiences of travel that I can look back on to miss and fortunate to be able to look forward to future travel.

Even dreaming of travel, imagining travel, brainstorming about travel is an opportunity for a mental break during the day. One that I have taken in the form of travel documentaries and research of possible future trips. Or even just tirelessly combing airbnb and vrbo for alternative places we could shelter in place over the next months.

Travel has, though, quite literally saved my mental health in the past.

I spent one summer in Paris during law school. I felt broken, emotionally, from a thing that happened just before I left Washington to take up a position with a French law firm for the summer. Paris is a city accepting of the solitary and that summer I was.

Flâneur is a French term for “one who strolls.” It has traditionally referred to a French gentleman of the belle époque who would casually and fabulously stroll and wander the grand boulevards of the city. A flâneur is an urban explorer, a connoisseur of the street. For that summer. I engaged in acts of Flânerie all across the city. Distracted from unhappy thoughts by the beauty of the buildings and the people around me. I wandered streets, often lost and uncaring of when or how I might find my way back to my apartment. In walking I burned off nervous energy, I tired my body so my mind was forced to rest at night. I watched others engage in lives and relationships from the outside and remembered how it felt to connect with others in a happy and safe way.

I engaged in focused and attentive eating in cafes and restaurants – alone because I knew no one in the city and also because I felt unable to brave the possibilities and – in my head that summer – dangers, that come with reaching out to others. I learned to taste every bite and to slow down, to pay attention to my food in that way that seems the French do instinctively.

I learned new skills in my job and focused myself on a new area of law that I had not considered in the past. My french improved – as it will do when one is forced to speak it daily in a professional setting. I began to form relationships and to feel more like myself from before.

Travel forced me to engage in the kind of mental health self care that I spend most sessions trying to encourage my clients to attempt. When one is in a new place, one has to look around, almost everyone ends up walking when traveling, in trying new foods one is forced to slow and focus, if only to comprehend what one is eating. Life is simpler and time flows in a different rhythm without worry about getting all daily tasks accomplished.

Travel is a way to both rest and inspire. To slow and to focus. Travel concentrates the mind of well-being and happiness in a way that feels indulgent in every day life. Only when on vacation do we allow ourselves to inquire “what do I WANT to do today.”

Travel encourages us to take steps today to prepare for tomorrow’s joy. To take action towards a goal that we want to achieve. It was the goal of travel to Disney World that pushed me through the training for my first half marathon. It is both reward and opportunity.

Travel can open our eyes to what we have in our lives already – gratitude – and to other ways of living and pursuing happiness – understanding, enlightenment.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking about travel and probably (definitely) romanticizing it as absence has made my heart grow fonder of it, but I do look forward to the day when we can all get back out there to the wider world and am working to bring that travel spirit into my quarantine by asking myself “what do I WANT to do today” rather than the more common “what SHOULD I do today”.

Published by alexm1008

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Houston, Texas. I specialize in helping clients develop skills and strategies to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors. I am also a wife and mother of two who loves to run and travel (particularly to Disney World with my kids and without).

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