A curious lesson in freedom

[words and photograph Narina Exelby]

This week, for what seems like the first time in more than a decade (although in truth it’s probably the fourth), I’m travelling without an agenda. I have no stories to file, no deadlines to meet. There is no one I need to interview; no accommodation to be reviewed; no vehicle that needs testing. I’m not carrying a tripod. I don’t need to know what time the sun rises, or what time it sets. There is no opening spread that has to be captured; no cover to be crafted. And this all feels rather strange.

This week I’m on holiday – a real one – and it’s becoming an exercise in letting go. After travelling so many thousands of kilometres around the world searching for stories, always on the lookout for an interesting angle or image, I’ve driven across South Africa from Cape Town to the Drakensberg – less than 200km from where I grew up – to practise the art of doing nothing. And it’s a lot harder than I thought. My whole being is wired to notice the intricate details of the world; to record them; to capture them; to store them to memory, to be called on when writing a feature from a fluorescent-lit air-conditioned office. It’s hard to turn that part of me off.

So this week, my challenge is to discover a new way to travel. Instead of setting my alarm for before dawn so I can make the most of the early morning light, I wake when the Egyptian geese start rustling on our thatch roof. Instead of worrying that the afternoon rain will arrive with low clouds that could ruin any photo opps, I relish the thunder that boulders down the valleys. Instead of climbing every hill, every tree, to find the best vantage point, I’m walking wherever the day takes me. It’s a challenge, but instead of researching, planning and doing, I’m trying my very best to let go, and to just… be. And it’s becoming a curious lesson in self-control, and in freedom.

PS I still couldn’t resist, when the Egyptian geese woke me at dawn this morning, leaning out of my window to take the pic above. That’s a peak called Champagne Castle, in the central Drakensberg.


  • My career also requires me to travel quite a bit, but I try to make sure that I take a week or so each year to travel just for myself. It’s so different to not have an agenda to follow. It’s much more relaxing and I feel that it’s during these moments when you really get to enjoy the world and culture around you!

  • Janine Stephen says:

    Nice. While searching for stories and tidbits on ‘work’ trips also leads one in interesting directions (and provides a wonderful reason for asking nosy questions), following one’s own nose and desires on an unplanned trip can lead to more fluid writing, I find. Because things have been ‘felt’ on a different level and unexpected narratives take control?

    • mano@mano says:

      Hey Janine
      You’re right – travelling for work does provide wonderful reason to be a bit more nosey! But an unplanned trip can often lead to something far more exciting…

  • I enjoyed reading this and relate to it in some way. I find it hard to let go and do nothing sometimes–unless I’m out in nature, where it’s a bit easier. Sounds like you’re finding your way into the moment somehow, and that’s a great place to…be!

  • Raf Kiss says:

    It seems kinda weird to me, as I only started blogging some 6 months ago and I’m still in the process of becoming “wired to notice and record the details of the world around me”…
    I can see however, how it could become some sort of “professional distortion” once you’re on the road long enough and you need to make an effort to not look at your surroundings in a professional way.
    Interesting read 🙂

  • mano@mano says:

    Thanks Raf; I think that writing about places certainly does change the way you see your world. I’m convinced you become more in tune with it, more aware and more responsive; your writing is that much stronger for it.

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