Today, travel has become synonymous with leaving on a jet plane, sometimes for a week, sometimes longer. It’s an action often considered predictable and pursued solely for pleasure or leisure.
Yet humans, like the wildebeest of East Africa’s Great Migration, are a migratory species. We have always traveled and explored the unknown.
An Age of Discovery
Historically we journeyed to seek more fertile lands and water sources. Then our exploration became a purpose of improving our economic growth, like the the Age of Discovery where Great Explorers ventured into the high seas for months at a time and with great risk as they chased trading opportunities, colonized “new” lands and spread their own cultural and religious beliefs simultaneously.
Sailing the oceans for the longest time in one stretch was Portuguese Vasco Da Gama. Landing in Calicut (Kozhikode), he was the first European to reach India by sea. He returned with a cargo including exotic spices worth sixteen times the amount of the expedition.
The influence of the Portuguese in India has been captured in time through architecture, Christianity, patronymics and even language.
What these Great Explorers returned with however was often more than they had anticipated.
Changed by all they had observed and received, the explorers came back with ideas and new ways of looking at the world.
In his second voyage of the HMS Beagle, the Royal Navy commander Robert Fitzroy requested an intellectual companion to support him with the arduous task of survey.
A young naturalist called Charles was found and together they sailed to the Galapagos Islands. Inspired, this voyage resulted in a historic piece of scientific literature, Origin of Species.
During the Age of Information
Travelers who embrace the culture and get a buzz from their preconceived ideas being challenged deviate from tourists, often passive and with a tendency to stay distant from the experience.
As G.K. Chesterton put it, “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”
In the Age of Information, a time where we can travel virtually through digital media and know everything we need to, many of us still have that desire to venture off to exotic destinations.
In familiar territory, we have an innate tendency to craft our own political ideologies about distant countries from current affairs.
The reality of travel is often much more than we could ever imagine in our daydreams, even when we experience a spout of disorientation and an assault on our senses.
When for a time, you rely on your own perception, you become your own balanced news source. What this inevitably does is open up your mind to fresh ideas, re-igniting your creativity.
Even the most carefully tailor-made travel experience offers an element of spontaneity and impulse, such as a noisy local festival that you encounter on the roadside or observing a species in its natural habitat you had never known of before and could easily come from the pages of a fantasy novel.
Learning Through Reality
American educator John Holt noted that, “It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life”.
Lessons in history, religion and cultural studies, foreign languages and even arithmetics (when you’re mentally calculating the currency conversion rate) come in the most authentic form of real-life experiences.
When we leave our own reality, it might be to escape the humdrum routine of daily life. Switch off. Give yourself time for solitude and freedom.
As Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell eloquently put it: “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”
We go from being an anonymous foreigner to introspecting the reflection of how strangers see us. At this time, what defines us is not our careers, our real estate or even our education.
In the heart-warming and wrenching surprises this can bring, our emotions awaken and we gain wisdom as our own definition of compassion unfolds.
Moments of Mindfulness
Have you ever walked a familiar street only to realize that you crossed a road or said hello to a neighbor on auto-pilot? When you tread from the familiar to the unknown, you adapt with a heightened sense of awareness, also known as living in the present, where the possibilities are endless.
Why do we travel? Because, inevitably, we bring home so much more than we realize.