why i don’t shop when i travel

Traveling heightens conflation and coincidences and special moments.

I felt a bit intrusive capturing this woman's quiet moment, but it was too special not to ...
I took this picture of the woman on the weekend. I had a day off and committed only to wandering and looking.

This post has been edited.

This is mostly how it works: new experiences, the unfamiliar, fresh eyes and movement (ie non-stagnancy) mean that we’re in the best position to notice the conflations and coincidences. Although, as I have written before, there is no such thing as coincidence. Or, rather, everything is a coincidence. It’s just that sometimes we notice them more.

When I travel the number 108 comes up incessantly – my hotel room number, my flight time, the cost of a train ticket across the border. It freaks out anyone who travels with me. And Jo – I often send the screen grab of the instance to her. (As an aside, the number is highly auspicious in many religions and in mathematics circles. I’ve asked a few people about its significance for me and they’ve simply said to pause and notice my intention when it pops up…).

So where does shopping fit in? In general, shopping takes us into a mindset of “lack”. We go into a mode of “needing” something, of fear that we’re missing out on something (that feeling that a trip to New York or London is “wasted” if you don’t buy a handbag at Barneys or a dress at Topshop). We go into malls. Our focus narrows down to cuts and styles and bargains and bags and things. We can spend an entire day in changerooms and High Streets that could be anywhere, frantically on a mission.

When we shop when we travel we don’t experience the fresh eyes that travel can afford and can miss out on the special moments.

Last night I was walking home from having dinner with my UK publisher at Nopi in Soho. It was a relatively warm night in London and the streets had a vibrant feel. Everyone was bolting into the shops before they closed, bustling out with bags. And things. I looked up above the shops. There was a woman dancing in her bra on her own in an apartment on the fourth floor.

I stepped across the road. In a darkened, empty (long shut-for-the-night) musical instruments shop (surely one of only a few left in London?), there was a large man playing a baby grand in the corner, on his own, with no shoes on. His hat, coat and shoes were in a pile on a chair nearby.

He was playing with his eyes shut and a big smile on his face. None of the shoppers noticed him. He looked up and we both smiled at each other. Sprung! I have no idea what his story was. How he came to be there.

This trip, as with all my travels, has been full of conflations and coincidences and special moments. It’s why I love travel. I can tend to put my blinkers on (not from shopping, but from being preoccupied in my head) back home. When you’re thrust into the unfamiliar, it prises the blinkers off.

In New York I had to kill time waiting for someone in a bookshop. The first book I picked up as I aimlessly browsed was On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation. It fell open to a page with this quote at the top:

“It matters not where or how far you travel –  the further commonly the worse – but how much alive you are.” – Henry David Thoreau.

Word, right?

If you’d like, you can find more of my travel adventures here

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