The Inner Journey: Power Tripping

When you're pumped on travel, there's no telling how far you can go.

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Any list of the world's eternal mysteries has to include duty-free shopping. I've never gotten why I would need to stock up on Halston perfume or dead-weight Glenfiddich in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, say at Fiji's Nadi airport. (Hey, look what I bought in the South Pacific, a bottle of booze from Scotland!) But what might be the best travel souvenir really is free, of both duty and price tag-and actually has something to do with the place you visited. It always rides back with me in the glow of a great trip. The prize: a sudden power surge that makes me think I can do just about anything - solve a dilemma, shake a rut, leap tall buildings in a single bound. I'm sure you know the feeling. It's that sublime sense of enlarged horizons, a belief you can go wherever you want to in the world. Because you've just done it.

Something happens out there that cranks up the can-do spirit. The perception of what's possible in life, limited by habit, hassle, setbacks, age, sex or any number of other self-restrictions when you left, is suddenly wide open. I guess that's why it's called the open road. On it, you're no longer defined by the daily environment, the ceiling of stasis, a fixed horizon beyond which you cannot go. The options are as unlimited as the turnoffs. I've come back so pumped with possibility that I'm sure a random drug test would bust me on the spot for performance-enhancing chemicals. The inner doubter has somehow fallen by the roadside, replaced by a clarity, confidence and will to get to the next place, to keep on moving in the rhythm of the journey.

Ain't no stopping us now. We're on the move. Tracy Garfinkle, a traveler who e-mailed me from the road in Turkey, calls this phenomenon 'a rush of empowerment-not power like you want to rule the world, but a realization that this is your world. It's a feeling of enlightenment that anything is possible.'

This famed traveler's 'glow' is no illusion; it's a real feeling of momentum, propelled by some fundamental changes in our internal driving mechanism. The journey has 'expanded our sense of self and our own resilience,' explains Paul Stoltz, author of Adversity Quotient, a book on the route to achievement. 'Travel is a condensed lesson of life, which is about facing and overcoming adversities. There's an incredible sense of mastery coming out the other end of a trip that says, even if things go wrong, I know how to handle it.'

In a world where it takes a seminar to figure out your phone service, mastery is not something we experience very often. But out on the independent travel trail, we get used to knocking off uncertainties and obstacles, and the habit carries over to the home front. 'If you can get yourself out of a mess or navigate from one place to another in a strange place, then you can do it anywhere else in your life,' says Jeffrey Kottler, a psychologist and author of a book on the road's therapeutic ways, Travel That Can Change Your Life.

Travel makes us believers. And what we come to believe is our own instincts, not what others or our own in-character role have pigeonholed us into. The empirical evidence has proven that we can get from here to there-wherever there is. We have seen great things, gone past the flat earth of our comfort zones, so the prospects, like us, have grown. We wind up flying home on Possibility Airways, the main carrier of initiative and imaginings.

All roads, ideas, moves ahead, start here, in the belief that they're possible, doable-by you. You may not know how; you just know, the way you knew you'd get from Kathmandu to some distant village in Yunnan; somehow you'll get there. That belief alone-if we keep it going-is enough to launch us on more difficult paths when we return. As John Gardner wrote in Excellence, 'Humans achieve what they think is possible for them to achieve.' If you don't think you can, you can't. Adventurous travel, though, reprograms us into possibility thinkers. We learn to keep moving in the general direction, knowing we'll figure it out as we go along. I can't think of a more critical piece of equipment on any trip in life than this compass of internal self-validation, jacked up through acts of exploration. The power of the possible is such that it can beat logic, conventional wisdom and forces able to crush you like a Dodge Dart in a salvage yard. It's how amateurs and left-fielders from Celestial Seasonings founder Mo Siegel to actor Billy Bob Thornton to too-short quarterback Doug Flutie to bottlecap salesman King Gillette ('Hey, Gillette, how's the razor?' the naysayers used to razz him) got past notions of impossibility propounded by the experts to get where they wanted to go.

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