Travel Advice

Part IV: Be Observant

ireland / living abroad : part 4 / observant nomad

This is probably the most obvious lesson I have to give to you. It’s as simple as it sounds. Be observant.

There’s a reason this blog is called the Observant Nomad. And you’ve probably figured out one part of it has to do with travel. The other is an important lesson I learned from a professor I had in art school.

This professor once told me what he thought made a ‘creative’ person different from a ‘non-creative’ person. It wasn’t some innate gift, skill or talent that we had at birth. It was observation. He said in all his years teaching, working, and being a creative he had witnessed that the only difference, was that ‘creative’ people were more observant. From then on, I decided to live my life being more observant.

observation / living abroad : part 4 / observant nomad

observation / living abroad : part 4 / observant nomad

Sometimes being observant isn’t about seeing more – it can also mean seeing more in less. Once you devote yourself to being more observant, it can open your eyes to the simple beauties of new places. You’ll find a growing joy in your everyday activities.

It will start with the bright yellow vespa that says ‘hello’ to you every morning on your walk to the cafe. And it will evolve over time to becoming obsessed with bigger things, like seeing the way the fog moves and swirls around a coastline for the first time.

observation / living abroad : part 4 / observant nomad

Now telling you to be observant is easy, but learning how is not. Here are some tips I learned to become more observant.

First off, get rid of the distractions. In Spain, cell phones are really expensive and the cost of texts and phone calls are ridiculous. So no one was using their phones for texting, instagraming, or any other digital time-wasting. Smartphones? Pshhh that’s only for really rich people. You wanted to go out? You had to call your friend (very quickly) and tell them, meet me here in 15, ok bye! Turning off or putting away your device will make you so much more aware of the present, and it’s really worth it.

observation / living abroad : part 4 / observant nomad

Secondly, try documenting a particularly ‘small’ thing everyday. Like my little yellow vespa above, I came to love that scooter and realized how comforting it was to see it every morning on my walk. When in Ireland, I was obsessed with the grass. I took a close up picture of the fine grass stalks with their mossy texture and I’m glad I did, because I’ve yet to see something like it since. When I look at these pictures afterwards it gives me a quiet sense of joy.

Lastly, practice mindful observation. Go to your local cafe, art museum, or a plaza. And get comfortable. Start really observing strangers and the details about them. Sometimes sketching (even if you’re not an artist) helps, it forces you to really pay attention to what you’re sketching – and therefore to be more observant. It’s a good way to practice being silent, and in the moment, until it becomes more natural.

observation / living abroad : part 4 / observant nomad

Being observant allows you to look at the world in a new way. It’s about keeping your eyes wide open so when new adventures cross your path, you’ll be able to see them clearly. Trying to lead with observation, over talking, helped me meet new people and really grow a deeper appreciation for the places I’ve visited.

What do you think?

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I couldn’t have said it better myself. To me, being observant means being staying in the moment, and sometimes you can’t truly travel with any electronic device.