“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain
I have always been under the impression, that in all the coarse contentiousness within the back and forth of history, the early humans were wanderers and their lives, if contextually inconsequential and short, were a journey too, marked by constant movement and discovery. Perhaps, this was more from marked necessity, the inevitable need to move around, than actual yearning for travel. But the desire to seek out and explore far away lands, for the purposes of knowledge, enlightenment, glory, or even for profit for the suitably inclined, has been a predominant trait that has passed down from generation to generation. And that trait, deeply integrated in our subconscious, instructs onto us an instinctive need to seek out change, the desire to experience new things. We need to have that constant movement, at least in our minds, or maybe even emotions. And that’s why we, you and I, all of us, aspire to travel.
We all have our own reasons for travelling, or even for the intent and the ascribed aspirations – the lust for drifting amidst the unknown, the love for experiencing a new culture, the need to meet new people, the desire to just leave it all behind, the need to forget, or to merely lengthen a conversation. The new, the exciting, the different, and the adventure – it’s all there when you travel. That’s what makes it so interesting, intriguing, and inviting to us all. It calls us. It empowers us, and beckons us to come with it to new lands and unfamiliar retreats, and gives us a respite and sanctuary from all the chaos and regimented world that we have grown accustomed to, and from walking everyday on the same paths. It shows us new places, people, and cultures. It’s always giving us something new – not only outwardly, but also inwardly. So, I travel.
But for me, the most important reason is that travel allows for change. It becomes a way for me to deal with different situations, experience new things, or help search for a sense of self. My days no longer are dictated by tasks to be accomplished, work to be finished, or business hours, but by the changing winds of my own heart.
As much of a cliché as this may sound like, I prefer to, and usually do, travel alone. As an old-timer-world-weary gentleman had once said, “When the traveller goes alone, he gets acquainted with himself.” My solitude and thoughts become my trusted friends to give me company, my apprehensions become my advisors, and my instincts become my guide. I remember my first solo trip was to Singapore, a few years ago. I was 18 years old. After a few weeks of travelling around, getting lost, getting mugged and finally, all by myself, using hand gestures, a map and the help of a toothless old lady at the corner store, I returned hotel. I had learnt to rely on myself. I realized that I can solve problems, get over the blues, and find hidden treasures all by myself. That filled me with confidence to face challenges later on in life. As for the recognition of hard travel as rewarding, the feeling is mainly retrospective, since it is only in looking back that we see how we have been enriched. But if feel you would rather not be alone, please find a co-adventurer, by all means. As long as your tastes, your life cycles, your eagerness match. Trust me, there is nothing worse than having a travel partner who would rather sleep in when you feel the need to go out exploring, or the other way around. Once, on a short photographic expedition, I travelled with a certain someone, who, while undoubtedly being a remarkable conversationalist and an unparalleled dinner companion otherwise, made this three day excursion into an unfortunate series of excruciating discords, the primary reason being the lack of proper amenities and service. Mind you, we were in the backwoods of our rural countryside, not quite the most developed; our entire expedition was supposed to be camping out and this lack of comfort was expected completely. So discern your partners-in-travel wisely and ensure everyone is aware of, and agree to, all facets of your journey together.
However, I would still insist that everyone travel alone, at least once in their lifetime. There is, without a doubt, a lot of happiness, or even comfort, experienced in sharing the beauty you come across in your travels with someone else, but experiencing that beauty all by yourself has a lot of charm, and even contentment, to it.
I believe it to be necessary to plan to a certain extent before you can actually start, but I also believe that travel, like a lot many other things in life, needs to be mostly spontaneous. You will never feel completely comfortable with the timing of your travel – either to begin or to continue where you left off. There would always be reasons aplenty for you to postpone it. Perhaps, you’re not courageous enough. Maybe you doubt your ability to adapt to foreign situations; perhaps, you would want to wait to learn the language beforehand. Maybe, if you are fairly inexperienced, you would be unsure of your choices. But that doubt is pernicious. Because it makes it sound like we have the best of intentions when really, we are just too scared to do what we should. So start now, without putting too much thought into it. The beginning is the most exhilarating bit. As someone had once said – There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it. In any case, it doesn’t take long to get acclimated to a new place. A good map and plenty of patience can get you anywhere you want to go.
And in the end, it’s not about just travel really; it goes beyond just the sights and the experiences. It’s about freedom as well. We travel to be free: to explore, to escape our daily lives, to relax, to step outside ourselves and shake things up. It allows us to lead a life different than the way we normally do. We travel because we are curious. We travel to feel alive.