Oh The Places You'll GO!

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My earliest recollection of the concept of ‘travel’ was through my favorite book as a child, The Magic Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton where four children living on the brink of a sinister forest find a portal to fantastical lands. The extraordinary Land of Birthdays, Land of Goodies, Land of Dame Slap and the Land of Take-What-You-Want opened my eyes to the unfathomable possibilities that existed both in my imagination and in the world around me. I think it was those moments of wonderment and joy that led me to be passionate about finding and discovering new places. And this led to a modern day excitement for travel. As an adult my wanderlust was probably inspired by watching Michael Palin’s 80 Day’s Round the World and the Rough Guide to the World. The world has never been more connected in its history and the dream of going places is more real now than it ever was. We don’t need to wait for people to discover; now, we can set off on adventures of our own.

“There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” George Santayana, the Harvard philosopher, wrote in his fascinating essay, “The Philosophy of Travel.” We travel sometimes to lose ourselves, and sometimes we travel to find ourselves, but most of all we travel to awaken our senses, to open them up to the wondrous things that books and television and newspapers can never show us. We thirst for beauty and hence we go in its pursuit.

And isn’t it fascinating to leave your certainties, your familiar beliefs and your deep-seated traditions to travel to places where they are challenged, to see everything around you in a different light, at a crooked angle? When I ask young people around me why they travel, their answers range from, “I travel to discover life beyond the limits I grew up in,” to “I travel to learn more about the people around the world,” to “I travel to escape my banal existence and enjoy the cultural and physical displacement.”
Recently, a young gentleman of cheerful disposition was telling me how anxious he has been with the decision between going to a business school and travelling the world. I emphatically exclaimed, “Travel the world of course,” to which the dreaded reply was…“but.” Never were more fatal words spoken.

But… what about debt and my job and my family (or dog or car or whatever). This ‘but’ is destructive. It makes you sound like you have the best of intentions, when really you are nothing but plain scared to do what you should do. Unfortunately, there is no nobility in being a coward.
You are young, you are empowered, you should be living the life you’ve always wanted now. As you grow older and gain new responsibilities, you won’t be able to be foolish and impulsive. So if you have a reasonable amount of control over your situation, you should do what really matters. So, young person, go travel; wide and far and bravely, with exhilaration and abandon.

A lot of people ask me when I plan my travels, “Aren’t you afraid?” Of course I’m afraid: afraid of mediocrity and afraid that I won’t live up to my potential. But afraid of travelling? No, I’m not. Well, I do have my monsters every now and then, but more often than not I find ways to overcome them.
And then comes the supremely rhetorical question, “How can you afford to travel?” To which I say, “How can you afford not to travel?” Stop buying rubbish and sitting and watching television in your air-conditioned cocoon, stop wishing the gods and the lottery machines to deliver something that is only in your hands to create, stop wishing the week away and blaming your boss and the traffic. Get up, save up and go see the world. It isn’t as tough as you imagine it to be.

So don’t ask, “Why I should travel.” Ask rather, “Where and when should I travel?” Travel teaches you some fundamental qualities needed to navigate through life. You imbibe resilience for adventure, you learn how to let go, take risks, stop waiting, and you learn how to overcome fears. You learn to challenge your limits and prejudices; you learn the beauty that rests in diversity. Travel also to encounter compassion; in your youth the choices you make stay to define you. The habits you begin in your youth journey with you. When you travel you will find yourself in places that will force you to care for issues larger than you. Encounter the slave trade in South East Asia, experience poverty and hunger in India, religious persecution in the Middle East, the aftermath of war and genocide in Germany and Europe, the devastation wrecked by nature in Japan and Haiti. Your heart will break. You will begin to understand that the world is both a big and small place. You will have a new-found respect for the pain and suffering that over half of the world takes for granted on a daily basis. And you will feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way. You will learn to care. Travel to get some culture. Reading about culture and history and watching television doesn’t come close to being there.

Volume 1 Issue 10