The ‘Why’ of Travel
It was about 4am and I had been bouncing along a dusty road with little ventilation on a Vietnamese sleeper bus for what appeared to have been eternity; but likely could not have been longer than 3 hours. There was roughly another 8 hours to go before a brief escape into the sauna soaked morning. After hours of travel the warm air blowing in my face now and again, which I assume is an excuse for air conditioning has peaked my interest. Upon inspection I discover the piece of ‘glass’ which I had been bouncing on for the last couple hours had become dislodged, and was in-fact a large piece cardboard held up by some form of low grade tape. Discussing the situation with my most recent ‘friend’ sitting beside me and surveying the completely full bus we decide there is no other option but to remain awake. Hoping the bus doesn’t swerve violently in the night, we indulge in chewing Swedish tobacco and spitting into a plastic bag. Waking up in sweat soaked fits of panic as I lay parallel with this rather large ‘window’ and only about 2 inches of plastic separating me from being hurled to a road rash doom at roughly 5am, I thought to myself, ‘now this is a vacation.’
I can think of no better first post than to talk about why I travel and you should too. Stop making excuses if it is something you want to do. It is stories like the one above that drive me. These are the kind of moments that are interesting; they are different from the day-to-day predictability that exists in most people’s lives. Predictability is good to an extent, but over an extended period of time I begin to get agitated with my surroundings. For me there are a number of main reasons why I travel and after talking with other people from around the world who share the same viewpoints on life and travel I have come to understand some key aspects pertaining to ‘the why’ of travel. Why do people leave everything behind and go out into the unknown? Going to strange places they can barely pronounce. I’m not talking a 7 day all inclusive booze and bang money grab to Cancun. I mean going to a country and at least attempting to experience the culture, getting to know the people, the food and all the secret streets that existed all the while waiting for you to discover them. ‘The why’ of travel is what I hope to explain, so others can relate, some can discover and the pessimistic can understand why people ‘floating’ about the world do what they do. Though my list for reasons to travel could go on forever I’ve broken them down into two main basic points, enjoy. 🙂
#1) Because why not? Because you can! – We live in a time where travel is more accessible, easier, more affordable and yes safer than ever before. Planes, trains, buses, cars, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, bicycles, unicycles, wheelchairs, RVs, the back of a garbage truck, whatever your poison is, take it, take them all. And you know what? If all else fails you can even walk, who would have thought it? You’ll probably even have a better time doing it.
But still answer me this, why not? Now think…if you could go anywhere right now, where would you go? Better yet, where would you go if you had a year to go anywhere? Maybe you would backpack through Europe, cycle through South America, sweat your way through Southeast Asia, ski in the Rockies, get a sun burn in the desert or even thumb it through North America. You know what, all of these are possible. Any one of these.
Now pretend you had no commitments, no job, no wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/kids, no cell phone contract, mortgage, car, rent, alimony or whatever payments. No responsibilities at all. Nothing holds you here to the place you now live. Just you sitting there in a pair of warm sweat pants and I ask you this question. “…well I dunno” I’m not saying to wish everything you have away. Just imagine for a moment that you were completely free of everything that ties and binds you in your life.
I say these things because more often than not these are the reasons I hear why people claim they are not able to travel. The funniest part of most of this is that the majority of the reasons keeping people in one place are material possessions. All things people think they need. Get rid of the cellphone, I don’t have one, used to have one, now happier without one. Never had a car, but somehow by magic I still got wherever I needed to go. There are excuses after excuses and some as lame as ‘I could never do that’. How the hell do you know?
But it bothers me most of all when people use others as a reason for their inability to travel the world. Sadly, I have found that this one is the most common, likely unbeknownst to their partners. However, you will realize pretty quickly if you spent time traveling around the world and you returned to those very same people as they went about their lives relatively unchanged doing the same old job, with the same old friends, and the same old people, you would be hard-pressed to be able to return to them feeling the same way as when you left. I’m not trying to be harsh but the reality is travel changes you. I’m not telling you to throw away the love of your life to trek through some jungle only to get bitten by a mosquito, contract malaria and shiver to death quietly. I am simply saying if you want to you can. Better yet, do it together. I just don’t want to hear ‘I can’t because…’ I’ve already stopped listening.
#2) Do it for Yourself.
It is surprising how little most people actually know about themselves. The longer you travel the more you get to know about yourself. And the more time you spend alone the less you care about what others think of you. Of course there are lonely nights and sometimes you think you’d do anything to just spend an hour with someone back home. But in the end, more likely than not that person will be there when you get home and would feel awful if you gave up your trip for them, however romantic it seemed in that movie.
You’ll find that the times when you learn the most about yourself are when you are at your loneliest. Talking to yourself in a country where you haven’t spoken to anyone who speaks over a grade 2 level of your language and you’ve just been cheated out of five dollars (which in some countries goes a long way). Here you will work through problems and laugh at yourself when you get a look in a dirty mirror a couple days later.
While I was teaching ESL in South Korea, though I had a great friend base and lots of people to talk to, it wasn’t hard to feel completely alone sometimes. The memories were great, the people were great but I struggled to explain my experiences and how much fun I was having to people back home as they went about their daily lives. Once I came to terms with the fact that my memories were my own and no matter how many great situations I found myself in, no one that I knew from before would ever fully understand how ‘awesome’ it really was. That is when you start making new memories, with new people, who shared in moments with you at that point in your life. Those are the people you talk to later down the road and can go ‘remember when?’ So go out, make your own memories with new people that don’t even know you exist. You’ll learn far more about yourself and the world than watching some re-run of Friends.
Above all else though, if you’re not doing it for yourself, then why are you doing it at all?
I don’t claim to have been everywhere because I really haven’t at all. However, with my time abroad and with my knowledge of plans I have for the future I have realized a number of things. Travel is my passion. It is what drives me forward towards future goals of extended travel. Making me crazy, but all the more lucid each day. It has been proven that travelling increases your intelligence as well as creativity. The heightened sense of exploring a new country, with the smells, horns, scenery and the unknown is something that always drives me to the next place. You owe it to yourself to at least try, because home will always be there waiting for you. Stop saving and penny pinching for your retirement, for that trip that may never come. Do it now, when you’re young and able. Then do it again when you’re old and able. Travelling is the fountain of youth, so drink up. I’ll see you out there.