Over the course of the last ten years I’ve done a lot of long distance travel. Combinations of taxi’s, busses, planes and trains for seemingly endless hours. Trips that total 24+ hours.

I remember I once decided to take a 24 hour bus ride to get from Argentina to Chile and visit my friend. I read an entire book cover to cover in that journey.

Or when I was in India, the 24-48 hour cross country train rides. Hanging out of the side of the train smoking hash and drinking chai as the Indian countryside passes by.

Or the long distance road trips I’ve done as well, when I drove from New Jersey to Arizona and then back again. Hours lost in a blur on the open roads.

I recently had a handful of these experiences. A 3 hour bus ride. Then an 8 hour flight. Then a 1 hour taxi to get home. A few weeks before that a similar journey where I had a 2 hour drive into a 2 hour flight into an 8 hour layover into a 3 hour bus ride. Then coming into Brazil a 4 hour flight followed by a 10 hour flight followed by an hour car ride.

I’m a seasoned vet at this long term travel shit. Over the years I’ve normalized this process. It’s become easy for me to float through these days of travel where I’ve merely accepted that I’m going to eat the day. In fact, the days fly by somehow.

I recently noticed something particularly interesting though during one of these extended journeys. While sitting on a bus after a full day of travel I noticed that my mind was abnormally calm. Thoughtless. Still. My body too felt very relaxed. Like a wave passed through me and I was stoned.

In that moment all of these experiences clicked at once and the insight crystalized.

Have you ever noticed that during long distance travel time seems to pass by in a funny way? 8 hours or even 12 or 24 hours can somehow blur together and pass in the snap of a finger. If someone were to tell you “hey go kill 12 hours” that’s a long amount of fucking time to kill! Yet somehow on a plane or bus the hours seem to fly by while doing seemingly nothing but listening to music or being lost in thought.

It’s also a mental phenomenon. I find that after a certain amount of time I simply run out of things to think about. I’ve been through the normal routine of things on my mind, reached conclusions, and don’t need to spend more time thinking about it. (Similar to my experiences of Vipassana and long term meditations).

It’s almost like I reach a meditational state. By allowing my brain to wander freely, it eventually runs out of things to think about and my mind and body both feel extremely calm. It’s this funny rouge or in-between state of consciousness where time moves differently and the mind is abnormally calm.

It’s almost like the brain knows that it isn’t going to have to do anything for the next few hours, so it down regulates itself for the upcoming travel to conserve resources – especially because it knows that my quality of sleep might be affected as well.

It would make sense that my brain puts me into an altered state of consciousness so that it can better protect me by conserving energy. It would also make sense that through the repetition of this habit over the years, my brain can now anticipate the activity and start pre-prepping to go into travel mode when it sees the patterns begin.

As I think back on it, I’m also a sleep machine on planes, trains and busses. I’m often asleep before the flight even takes off and I don’t wake up when it does.

Physically too, I can contort my body into positions I’d normally never be able to sleep in. I fall asleep in next to no time at all and then stay asleep for huge chunks of time.

I like to think that I’ve trained myself to be this way over the years. My brain has a script that it follows when it knows that I am going to travel and it puts me into an altered state of consciousness as a result.

Knowing what I do about flow states and in general altered states of consciousness, I have to be curious if I’m somehow inducing transient hypofrontality and/or generating Alpha and Theta brainwaves as a physiological response to the environment.

Or, if when the brain sees the pattern of travel starting, my brain starts generating a particular neurochemical cocktail that gets my brain into the perfect state to travel because it’s had enough pattern recognition over the years to know what I need to sustain this journey.

Evolutionarily it would make sense as well. Historically there have always been groups of people who travel for long durations of time over vast amounts of geography. This altered state of consciousness might be an evolutionary response to helping people cope with the stresses of long term travel so that they can continue for longer durations of time before reaching their destination. In short, it’s like an evolutionary endurance hack.

It would also make sense that this is why infrequent travelers have a hard time traveling long durations. Their brain doesn’t know how to sit still for long periods of time and at first it will revolt. The brain hasn’t developed the appropriate neurochemical response because it doesn’t have the patterns yet in the mind. You exhaust neurochemistry and it takes a greater toll on the body.

So what am I saying?!

Long distance travel can induce an altered state of consciousness where time is distorted and the mind goes blank.

It’s also potentially something that can be trained over time – but more experimentation and evidence is needed before we can decide this.

My theory is that it’s an evolutionary response intended to conserve mental and physical resources to counteract the toll that long distance travel takes on the body. In the brain I’m curious to see if we might be able to map slowed brain waves and/or transient hypofrontality of some kind (or in general down regulation of pre-frontal activity).

It’s a phenomenon I’ve always been vaguely aware of but couldn’t ever put my finger on, and I feel that all of the dots have connected in a new way I didn’t previously see, thanks to my understanding of flow states and how the mind works.

For now this is just my experience and musings of tapping into altered states of consciousness and my ability to play with different frames of mind as they arise, and my attempts to explain and de-mysticize.

Have you had a similar experience? Is this uniform for many of us? Let’s see if I’ve stumbled onto something or if I’ve lost my mind or a mixture of the two 🙂

3 thoughts on “Observations of the mind during long distance travel

    1. Sorry, I will always and frequently say fuck, and other profanities, in my posts. No censorship please 🙂

  1. Super interesting thought, and as I read along I was able to internally identify a similar experience. I grew up doing long, literally 24 hours and 30 minute, road trips. We would do these every summer and without a physical rest stop, but maybe a truck stop or Walmart parking lot. I actually hate doing errands because of the way I grew up in a car. Whenever I have to stop and go in the car for little burst, I get mentally uncomfortable and anxious. Like my brain is preparing to be neutralized and the stimulation of the locations is overwhelming. Please note that I am an extremely outgoing person and confident in social situations, yet, whenever it is involved with short car rides my personality is almost short circuited. For me, I have never actively identified this before these thoughts, but when I think about traveling I do have a similar feeling. There’s a distinct fogginess to the chatter of the brain. I am usually a thousands thoughts a minute kind of person, but when I think back on looking out the car window or reading a book in some strange position in the backseat, I am unusually mentally blank. There’s a calmness to traveling, there is no doubt for me, that even just the thought on doing a 13 hour road trip sounds relaxing. As I’ve gotten older my body takes the travel harder, but my mind is so at peace. I almost want to laugh, because I realize now, that the state of my mind is almost meditative. My reaction to laugh is because I have never been able to successful sit and mediate before. This is a validated thought, what brings us to have this “cocktail” of mental neutralization.
    In some ways it could be the fact that distance traveled is a physical representation of time, or that distance is a physical representation of accomplishment. I do think there’s something with the value of time, since that is often the lead stressor of life, with the idea of suffering, you suffer by doing something but not doing another. When you’re traveling you are literally arriving somewhere and you’re in action to reach it. There is no suffering in traveling, it may be the feeling of ease in just existing with no responsibility. Going to the grocery store at a place I will never be again, versus going to my local place has a different feeling of social responsibility. To ignore someone where I will never be again makes me feel very little stress, just as interacting well with someone I will never see again feels like a good chance of practice with no commitment. Versus somewhere I will revisit there is a chance of multiple encounters and a creation of relationships good or bad. To be place on scale within society is to be put under macro/micro value with what you do. Travel you do things with no consequence of your action on a micro level, and your home representation is on pause. May be that time is moving and yet your life is on pause. A feeling of awarded bonus, an ease knowing that the time spent on travel is in some way outside the clock of your society, so that rewards are double and punishments are neutral. All interesting and would be curious in often travelers all have a different distinction of time and mental states during their travels.

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