Olympic stairsI sit, tuckered out from a long day of travel. Situated on the former Olympic Steps in Sarajevo, surrounded by green mountains dotted with homes which used to be in the middle of a war zone, I take it all in.

Then, I light a cigarette, inhale deeply, and really begin to take a look around what is — in this moment — my world.

The dilapidated steps, crumbling into the weeds growing alongside what used to have been something bustling, something grand.

I sit, and as I pull the toxicity into my lungs, I get it. I let myself open up to the history of Sarajevo being surrounded, the struggles, the pain, the rebirth of this city.

When I stub my cigarette out, I light another one and ponder some more.

Smoking and Travel. The perfect couple.

The lure of the nicotine

This moment doesn’t just happen once. It repeats itself throughout Europe. In the technicolor island paradise of Solta. Against an ancient stone wall when I get word of my grandma’s passing. And, it transcends travel and creeps back into my re-entry. Into my life in America.

Sure, I quit smoking a few times. In fact, before I went to Europe, I had not smoked for almost two years. But, it all changed when I grew stressed. When I grew lonely. I began to make justifications.

Just one rollie is fine. I won’t get addicted to smoking again.

I believed that. Until I was buying a pack-a-day in Europe. Until I was sitting on my balcony in Vegas, hiding the fact that I had fallen off the wagon to everyone.

On and off it went, my little love affair with smoking. My best friend who played any role in my life I needed.

Lighting up in those moments of stress seemed like a way to calm down. But, lighting up in those moments when I wanted to take it all in made even more sense.

I mean, nothing lets a gorgeous scene in Samui sink in better than inhaling sweet tobacco, right?

It isn’t just me who makes those excuses, either. It is plenty of travelers I meet. Travelers who, in their real lives, don’t smoke at all, but when they hit a foreign patch of land, they light up.

Why? What is it about traveling that makes us just want to smoke our faces off?

I look at them and think, “dude, if you don’t smoke in normal life, why on earth are you putting this into your body now?”

Then, I look at my orange, glowing cherry and relish the fact that I smoke. That I don’t have to give myself permission on holiday to pollute my body — I do it every day. That I am a grown-up and just like if I want to eat an entire package of Oreos, I can smoke until I can’t breathe.

I get it. I enjoy nothing more than savoring a new place, an old place, a moment, a situation, with the company of that glorious, burning, stick of nicotine. It just feels right. 

Smoking compliments travel in the worst way. It is a chance to be outside of the normal self. It gives us permission to do things we normally wouldn’t do. It lets us sneak nasty habits back into our lives. I mean, I cannot count the number of times I have given myself permission to act a certain way because of traveling.

Being conscious

I’m one of those closet smokers. When I’m around people who don’t smoke, I am incredibly conscious of it. I am conscious of the way it smells, the direction the smoke blows, whether it bothers anyone else. Yet, I still smoke. I just sneak off to my own quite corner of a place, where I cannot poison anyone else.

Now, with The Comfort Zone Project and working on my health and fitness, I know it is time to break up with my best and most cancerous friend, the cigarette. (Really, Cigarette isn’t my best friend at all. More like my worst enemy … but cloaked in an addiction that makes it far more friendly.)

So, the other day, I finally stopped putting it off. Actually, I had an attitude adjustment.

I’m typically not one for self-help books. I mean, I read “The Secret” and all, but really … it is just about the power of your own mind, and we all know this and don’t need to pay X amount of money for a book to reiterate that. Or … do we? Because, I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and damn if he didn’t say everything I didn’t already know. But, reading it made it seem that much more … real. Like, I needed to read that I have been brainwashed, that I have brainwashed myself to the power of smoking, in order to actually smoke that final cigarette.

It hasn’t been that long since I crossed over into a world I feared desperately — the non-smoker’s world — but I actually feel pretty good about it. I quit for me. I didn’t sacrifice anything. I gave myself a gift.

Before I quit, I had a conversation with my friend about kicking the habit. I mentioned how worried I was to quit smoking just before I go to Europe because all the wine … the cheese … the views … the travel-related stresses … the social situations … but the book reminded me I don’t need to smoke to enjoy (or not enjoy) any of those things. That smoking does not calm me down. It does not make meals taste better. It does not make me a more social person.

Unlike other times I have quit, this time it isn’t about willpower. It isn’t about sacrificing smoking for not smoking. It is about giving myself the gift of treating my addiction, and coming out healthy.

Now … I am finally going to readjust the habit. Spectacular view? Great. I’m going to sit outside and take it in. I’m going to breathe that fresh air deeply. And, I’m going to love it.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

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