psycho-geographic travel

trying to understand short-term travel with worldbuilding theory

music that may confuse or inspire you

The constraint of time often makes it difficult to properly explore and understand a place. People only have a short amount of time:

  • before they get bored

  • before they die

  • before they run out of money

  • before they have to go back to work

Anthropology is a study that is concerned with the construction, continuation, and deviation of human cultures. Field studies are usually two years long—but the culture is always changing even when the anthropologist is no longer observing. Insights from field study can be powerful but they are rarely discovered in a short amount of time.

Psychogeography—the study of how our built environment shapes and modifies our everyday decisions—is very similar to anthropology. For the most part we are concerned with how humans have “scaped” the land. We modify the land and the land modifies us. It’s very similar to the concept of culture. Culture and social relationships are primarily formed via proximities—and so culture and landscape share a unique feature of spatial autocorrelation. People who live near each other are more likely to share the same culture.

Individual personality differences are what make us surprisingly different from our neighbors. In the same way, we are primed to determine the landscape as a function of our personality and our past experiences (especially recent event and spatial experiences). Because of this immediate difference in interpretation the meaning of the land and how it affects the emotions and mental models of individuals will be different for everyone.

But studying the land is still worthwhile. It is probably the best entry-point for social control because it is often imperceptible and no one can really escape the environment. Because people will always live in places that are modified by humans, it’s worth at least trying to understand the impact of place on our psyche.

The hermitage is a constructed reality that is built in a specifically chosen area for specific spatial and emotional properties—but the city is rarely planned by just one person. The city is composed of people building their own world (whether consciously or not). Whether in private spaces (painting their room a specific color) or public spaces (street art, or architecture).

I often see people write or say things like this:

. . . three nights at ________ is a bit too much even when you are planning to do a day trip to _________ as the area has not much to see for the duration of your trip unless you are staying in a spa resort . . .

It always makes me cringe a little bit—no matter the place (unless it’s like Antarctica or something). I mean sure, you might be able to check some boxes off and visit Disneyland in your 1-day Hong Kong visit but you haven’t even come close to understanding any of the areas that you pass through. I’m not talking about culture here. A surface level understanding of a culture could be had within a few days with the right books, but the environment itself is often much more dense. The environment is the physical artifacts of a culture. The environment is simultaneously historical and current.

Short-term travel seems to be extremely wasteful. Both in terms of carbon footprint and financial but especially it is a waste of your experience in a place. It’s a waste because you will never understand a place without spending some time in it. If you only have a few days then I would recommend an exploration of your own city or even your own neighborhood. There is often much more going on than you realize—and the rewards for discovery are much greater given its proximity to your primary habitat.