“If you know the why, you can live any how…”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
This is a question that I have posed to myself several times on my current trip and as I sit on a bus, en route to a new, foreign part of the world, it creeps up on me again. Why do I travel? Glancing out the window to my left is the spectacular Loch Ness, a landmark that most of the Western world would be able to attach to the image of an infamous monster . I’m transfixed as the trees rush by, poorly obscuring the majestic lake which is bathed in a golden light as the sun breaks through patchy cloud. I’ve spent the last two days paddling up and down its banks and yet I’m still captivated by this image before me. There is nothing complicated about the situation and how it makes me feel, it is one of the most simple emotions and is a key motivator as to why I constantly try and place myself in these positions, in as many different locations as possible; it is because it makes me happy.
For me, I find that there are two key factors that source my fundamental joy more than any else. But before I touch upon these two, l thought I’d explore some of the other key contributors to my enjoyment of this glorious world and what it has to offer.
Firstly, travel offers the chance for education. It offers you a chance to learn the history of places and its people as well as learning about their traditions and cultures in a way that opening a textbook or reading a Wikipedia article never could. Having spent time in Egypt learning about their ancient cultures, as well as India and the traditions they still carry on today have been key events that planted the seed for my wanderlust. Anywhere you visit, try and immerse yourself as a local as much as possible as opposed to a tourist.
You can break travel education down into a more fundamental level and learn how different people from different cultures react when thrown together into a foreign scenario; that some stereotypes aren’t true whilst others may hold more merit. It is why you can learn to navigate your way around a country, despite not knowing the language or where you are, as you very quickly learn to find a way to interact and communicate through alternative methods. Travel teaches you the basics of human interaction, whether you can speak the same language or not and that so many of us in this world are far more similar than we could ever have imagined.
Finally, arguably the most influential lessons that travel can teach you is about yourself. It will test your resilience on those bad days when you’ve had your phone and wallet stolen in Paris and would do anything for the security of being back home. It will test your problem solving when your plane from Beijing has been delayed meaning that you’re guaranteed to miss your connecting train to get you to your hostel. It will test the depths of your compassion when you walk out of a supermarket with two sandwiches in hand and come across a homeless man in Manchester and then further this test as you wonder if you would have made the same decision back home.
“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”
Travel can add meaning and purpose to your life. I’m not going to sit here and try and answer the meaning of life, far more intelligent men than I have sat here and struggled to come to a half decent answer that applies to all of mankind. I personally don’t think that there is an answer that can comfortably accommodate everyone. What this does however is allow you as an individual to be creative and define your own. I’ll admit that my life goal (and therefore purpose I have set myself out to achieve) of visiting 100 countries before I die is one that I inherited from my dad, but it made me happy when I was younger to travel and therefore, in theory is a quest for continued happiness. Plus it fuels my competitive side as I try to beat Dad to certain places. It gives me something that has a quantifiable measure, yet the freedom that I so dearly crave to achieve it via any path I like. A lot of people argue that travelling exposes you to more and that will help you find purpose to your life. I feel the reasoning behind this is argument is that travel allows you to remove all distractions that you have at home and allows you to think far more holistically about what it is that you want from your life. Travel gives you so many chances to reflect on what you’re experiencing and how it makes you feel, that it makes it so easy to make life changing choices as you’re removed from the stresses of everyday life and lets you assess what you truly cherish.
The number of people you meet travelling whom you get along with instantly is plain silly. It’s only logical that when you place yourself in an environment that you enjoy, that this will lead you to finding people of the same ilk. Fortunately, there are plenty who view travel as a way of life, and depending on the type of travel you do will expose you to them. It could be meeting dirt cheap backpackers on a bus and sharing stories and tips before each heading your own way or could be stumbling along a few guys cracking a beer watching a sunset over an Isle in Scotland and them offering you a can. The thing with meeting people that I find on my travels is that it never feels like a goodbye, despite the fact that you got along better with them in 24 hours than you do with people you’ve known for years. For me, it always feels like I know that I’ll see you again, in an alley in some random city, on a peak on the other side of the world or unannounced on my own doorstep, not having planned anything but due to our wandering natures, having just stumbled across one another. It will feel as though not a day has passed and we’ll catch up on the most recent adventures. Facebook does indeed make this far easier, as it allows you to keep tabs on where people are travelling but also, when their travels come to an end, a place you might potentially have a bed. I know that for anyone I’ve met whilst travelling and added on Facebook, I would more than comfortably offer them a bed anywhere that I could, solely to aide them even if it were for just a night on another adventure and to live vicariously through their own experiences.
Trying to break down the fundamental reasons contributing to my love of travel was quite challenging but I came up with two that personally have me hooked and constantly suffering from wanderlust. Once I’d concluded what they were, I was surprised by how simple they were, but also knew that it was the simplicity of it that made it so beautiful.
The first fundamental factor that makes me enjoy travel is the distinct lack of routine. The way I travel is very spontaneous and on a whim. Not everyone enjoys travelling like I do but when you find that routine bores you, travel is the ultimate way to be rid of it. In most instances, I have a general idea of where I want to go and what I want to do but I leave myself extremely open to opportunities to just pop up. You never know if the fact that you’d already booked a train means you’re saying no to what could be one of the best nights of your life. There are a lot of tomorrows where I don’t know what city I’ll be in, let alone knowing if I have a bed or not, others where spontaneous side trips have led me somewhere I didn’t even expect to go to. By opening yourself up to be free from too rigorously set plans, it allows you a lot of flexibility to take part in things that you may never have expected to even be presented with in the first place. I dislike routine, although admittedly sometimes to my own detriment (keeping fit, getting things done early) but nonetheless, the freedom from freeing yourself from routine is addictive.
The second key factor for me are those small moments of appreciation that sneak up on you from out of nowhere and leave with you a grin from ear to ear, all from a sudden, profound moment of realisation. From out of absolutely nowhere these moments appear, encapsulating all around you: the sights, the sounds, the atmosphere, the people you are with and then suddenly, yes, it all just sinks in and you realise that it is all in perfect balance. It is a simple, uncomplicated moment where all is right and you can only soak it in before re-joining it once more. These moments fill me with not only appreciation, but also an unexpected level of pride, a) because I have gone out of my way to make experiencing them a more common occurrence and b) because there are too many people in the world who unfortunately fail to recognise these small little moments. Because many of these moments sneak up on you when you’re not expecting it, they catch you unaware and have a more significant impact:
- Standing in Keflavik Airport in Iceland and realising I’d finally landed somewhere I never truly expected to visit and explore.
- In a pub in Inverness listening to a Canadian guy I’d met a few hours earlier jamming on his bagpipes in conjunction with a man on a fiddle and another on guitar in front of a pretty packed audience while chatting with people from 4 completely areas of the globe.
- Sitting around a big fire, with someone strumming away on a guitar while you watch some of your closest mates, and indeed a surrogate family, all engage and laugh with one another, under a glorious blanket of stars.
These are just a few moments where I’ve sat back and couldn’t help but smile. All it takes is a little more conscious effort and awareness to appreciate what it is you’re a part of in any given time, and you’ll find that sometimes it’ll all just fall into place for you.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”