Some people travel as a vacation: to decompress from life’s stresses, to shut down and escape. Others view travel as a vocation in itself. I’m one of the latter.
Every journey is like a life in microcosm. At the beginning we’re energetic and naïve, filled with wonder at the strangeness that surrounds us. By midway, experience has dulled our shine; we see a little less, perhaps gripe a little more. At the end we’re weary, a little wiser, ready to go home.
Time thickens on the road: years of experiences are crammed into a few weeks or months, while back home life plods along and nothing changes. Growth is also accelerated: you live a lifetime in a moment, and you come back changed.
The first journey is especially momentous. I’ll always hold a soft spot in my heart for Central America, because it was there that I looked intelligently upon myself for the first time. It was there I first saw myself unencumbered by the filters of the social boxes and mental constructs of my structured life back home.
Travel teaches us there’s more to life than tick-tock, nine to five, television on weeknights and Hollywood on Friday. Life looks different on a sandspit island in the middle of blue nowhere, or on windswept dunes at the edge of a great desert. Primal screeches from the heart of the lowland jungle resonate deep within in a way TV never does. A long life is not a question of years.
But travel also comes with a hidden danger. Once you’ve set out upon that path you can never turn back. You can’t “un-have” those experiences. Nothing will ever look the same again. If you’ve been bitten badly enough, you’ll despair at the workaday shallowness of the life that’s foisted upon us: manipulative duty, hand-me-down moral codes, life goals chosen by someone else. You’ll be unable to tolerate it, and you’ll ease yourself off to the margins of your society. You’ll realize in a visceral way that all our lives are just footprints in sand. Better to live them to the full.
The choice is yours.
This life is short and it’s the only one we have. Jack Kerouac, Beat Generation Bodhisattva, envisioned “a great rucksack revolution” where people walked away from the system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume. They grew tired of living lives of “middle class non-identity” in “rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time…” They picked up their packs and voted with their feet.
While I don’t suggest everyone become Dharma Bums and go off tramping, I do suggest you shut off the TV, or better yet kick it in. Stop vicariously living other people’s lives. Time is short, and you can’t get it back.
It’s up to you to find your own path. Travel is only one possibility. Just choose a path with meaning. It’s the process that matters, not the arrival, and the journey is in the meetings along the way.
So tell me, why do you travel? What makes you set out on the road?