Friday, February 8, 2013

The philosophy of travel

Why do we travel?

Why do some people have an almost insatiable wanderlust and others are content to never leave their home town ever?

I can't answer either of those questions with any authority, but I can pose some ideas based on my own experiences.

I believe most people look for meaning in their lives. Some people find it where they live, whilst others need to look further afield. Many are still searching...

What sort of meaning? Well I think that depends a bit on your age and maturity at the time. Young people travelling in their late teens and early twenties are still finding themselves, still seeking their own individual identity, and where they fit. Older people may be seeking spiritual enlightenment, or an exploration of options before settling down to a mortgage career and kids. The elderly or retired are seeking validation of their lives, and perhaps catching up on hopes and dreams that they failed to fulfil when younger.

What I'm saying is, travel isn't about where you go, it's about what you learn along the way. "It's not the destination but the journey" cliche. But that slightly misses the point, because it's the internal journey that's the crux. It's what you learn about yourself, it's how travel informs your views, attitudes and behaviour, it's how exposure to different cultures, food, environments, languages impacts on your previous experiences up till then. Whether it changes your views, or reinforces your views, travel forces you outside your comfort zone and has a profound effect on you, whether you realise it or not.

A few years ago I met a Mingenew farmer in his fourties who had never travelled outside the midwest region. He'd never been to Perth and had not yet discovered the power of the internet to make anyone an "expert". He was genuinely amazed that I knew so much about lots of different things and had opinions on such a wide variety of topics, and wanted to know how I had gained that knowledge. He wasn't stupid, he'd just never thought to explore outside his rather narrow world.

It is incredibly easy these days to become a virtual traveller. Virtual tours are a dime a dozen on travel websites. In my insatiable troll through the interwebs seeking information about destinations I wish to visit I have even found entire sites written by people who have never left home but have become virtual experts on places they've never been to. It's all very well to share your research, but when you become the self appointed expert about a place you've never visited, and begin arguing about factual content with people who have.....

I might just clarify that "travel" in my definition of it, is travel for leisure. Not forced by circumstance to live an itinerant lifestyle, but a personal choice, made by millions of people with enough disposable income to take this option. Quite a few billion more don't have that option, and will never have that option, and all travellers would do well to remember that the ability to travel for pleasure is a privilege bestowed on only a few. Particularly when they are condescendingly explaining to the shop keeper in rural Laos that they are a "poor" backpacker with little money. Perspective please!

So why do I travel? Why do I leave my cosy little beach house and garden in the hands of a house sitter and go see the world?

Curiosity. Spiritual enlightenment. A need to embrace humanity in all its forms.

It's all very well living here in this nice house by the beach but I frequently feel stifled. By the small mindedness of my fellow Australians both locally and nationally, from the utter crap that comes out of the mouths of our politicians, on both sides of the fence. I believe that I'm bigger than that, that I can embrace people's differences because most of the time I see that despite an alternative religious belief, or cultural practice, there are so many more areas of commonality between us. Travel, for me, reinforces that belief in spades. The hospitality I receive, the conversations with people about their hopes and dreams for themselves and their children, the good times and bad times we share, continue to shape my belief that no matter where you were born, no matter what language you speak, no matter what food you eat and what god you worship, I can still find so much common ground. And I embrace that.

Spiritual enlightenment for me isn't about following a prescriptive religious belief. I get that enlightenment from experiencing generosity of human spirit, the incredible aura of a magnificent natural landscape, and believing in the goodness of fellow human beings. When I am overwhelmed by the pettiness at home I need to travel, to rid myself of the poison of self importance, nationalism, and "we're better than you" type attitudes. And to see some awesome sunrise from the top of some mountain somewhere!!

I am curious. I crave learning. I really do believe that if I haven't learnt something new today then it wasn't a good day. Which is kind of why I have that head full of knowledge that the Mingenew farmer was so enamoured with. And why I'm a bit of a know it all. I can't help it that my heads kind of full of stuff and you ask some silly question that I actually happen to know the answer to. Mind you, my curiosity about the antics of so called celebrities is completely lacking, in fact the only time I expose myself to that pap is when I get my hair done. And mostly I have no idea who I'm reading about and why they are famous. Seriously, I only found out about the Kardashians from a magazine, apparently they are big on TV, for boobs or bums or something, nothing of any importance. No, I don't want to know!

I love to learn new languages, to explore artisan crafts, especially textiles, to learn about how other people live their lives. I'm the traveller who jumps on the local bus so I can experience what it's like for a local, who sits next to a local woman and tries to strike up a conversation, who jumps into the rice field to experience the back breaking work of harvesting and threshing rice by hand, and feet! Who wanders around markets looking at the produce, asks about the local specialties. Asks where the genuine cuisine can be found, because until you eat their food, you never understand their culture. I'll travel 2 days down a dead end road just to see some world class weavers and if given an invitation to come back to the village will take it, and will sleep on the floor, use a non existent toilet, and not wash for a few days if that's what everyone else does. No, I'm not better than them, for they are generous spirited, they are curious, and they have dreams not dissimilar to my own.

Why do you travel?

No comments:

Post a Comment