We travel to get out of our comfort zone, to experience entirely new stimuli, to have meaningful connections with people, to satisfy our curiosity of the unknown, to be immersed in unpredictable situations or to live in spontaneity. But I suspect that perhaps the biggest reason we travel is to learn something new; something about ourselves, the journey, the destination, or the connection of these facets.
When we go on to discover novel places and meet new faces, we feel most alive: the smell of morning coffee or tea, the sight of the clouds gaining in color and contrast,the sounds of a sleepy village slowly waking up, the feel of the cold stone beneath our feet. Perception is a strange phenomenon our realities are governed by. It is so easy to perceive beauty and life in a new environment, but such is not always the case in a place we are so familiar with, absorbed in routine. And thus, the adventurer in us all craves the presence of exploring new horizons and disfavors the mundane.
We are friendlier when we are in unfamiliar territory: our smiles brim from ear to ear mirroring the smiles of children and other travelers, our laughs resound deeply within from someone’s wit and charm, our shoulders feel lighter despite our packs as past burdens float away, foreign speech and the crackling of fried food on the streets reaches our ears like a symphony up an amphitheater.
But who is it that feels most alive only when traveling? Our egos, our greedy selves? The eternal, the pinnacle that is consciousness, the higher self – exists only in this level of bliss while our minds dictate otherwise. If, someday, the illusions were broken through, this flow state we experience during travel would be realized and continuous, in every circumstance, every moment. Although, it seems the more we try and aim for this state of no-mind, the more it will elude us. What an amusing predicament we are in. Of course, to surpass the hurdle, we shouldn’t see it as a hurdle at all.
The journey, or the momentary processes of unfolding, which we experience on a trip is nothing more than the now. Many have said it, many try to live by it, but it escapes most of us. Every thought is already a projection into the past, even if you’re thinking about the right here and now. With mind, there can be no presence. Notice how we feel when we see for the first time an incredible landscape of green valleys, flowing rivers and birds from atop a mountain.
The first moment or so is a unified feeling of wonder, ecstasy, gratitude and love. And then the thought process kicks in and we start musing: “Ahhh, this is the life! This is what living is supposed to be about.” Strings of ideas and neural connections pull us towards this direction and that, and the moment is lost in incessant internal chatter, and then we start thinking at what angle, which way to compose the best possible photograph to show off to our friends and family the amazing view we’re so fortunate to enjoy.
In this light, the journey is lost because we let our minds ramble on instead of actually enjoying the breeze on our faces, the swaying of the pine trees, the monkeys traversing the cliffs, or the shadow-play of the clouds on the clearing. We usually miss our best moments to our thoughts.
I met someone who told me he was learning how to be consciously mindful of everything he did, as an experiment, to see if it improved the quality of his life. He had a stressful job back home and this was an attempt to lower his stress and moderate his “problems” which he knew were made by his preoccupation in thought. I wasn’t surprised to hear him report that it proved effective for him.
This included walking with his focus on the sensations of the legs and feet, breathing with his attention on the rising and falling of his chest or abdomen, or on the feeling on the top of his nose as air rushes past either way, carrying out actions with full awareness like picking up a glass of water and drinking, feeling the way the water flowed through the mouth and throat and not only doing it automatically. Simple things like these are reported to be able to bring us closer to the eternal now, to the real experience of our journey, to our higher selves.
The world seems like a big mystery sometimes. So much beauty and harmony – so much hatred and suffering. Some people are so afraid of everyone else: they build fences, walls, bar the gates and lock the doors. Many even have subliminal prejudices against people of other religions, sexual orientations or skin color. I believe all the world’s anger, resentment and fear exist only out of ignorance.
So to make the world a little smaller – to spread some love onto little fishing villages or large robust cities is another worthwhile reason to travel.
It is only natural to want to know more about our home: this 4.5 billion year old rock careening through space. At our core, I gather we have a profound feeling that kindness and love are more widespread than what mainstream media professes. So we have this insatiable hunger to explore our wonderful planet, meet our beautiful brothers and sisters, lessen the confusion and the hatred and lend a helping hand. We want to meet more people who are just like us, and we want to show that we are just like them, across cultures, across any differences.
There are many other reasons for travel and travelers often have different styles. Some only do it to go on holidays, to relax and see some cultural sights or experience the great outdoors. Some travel to go on shopping sprees, in a cheaper country, or a place with less or no tax. Some go as a closed unit – wary of strangers both local or foreign – and their holiday is a familiar experience: safe, secure, limited. And there are some that travel with open hearts and open minds. Some plan their trips meticulously while others go on the fly.
There are as many reasons and unique situations in the world as there are people, so it is hard to write in stone which reasons or methods are best, which kind of traveler is better. There are differences in motivation, execution, ecological footprint and consumption, impact on local people, industries and communities, and many more. What I suggest we focus on in our lives and in travel, especially, is how mindless or mindful we are to everyone and everything. If we do everything with kind consideration, we would be helping others to do the same.
It never occurred to me to think about the different ways one can take one’s own homecoming after a long time away. Many would not surprisingly get depressed and grudgingly find a new job to save money again for the next adventure. Some though, would arrive home with fresh energy: a new passion, a new thirst for life, a new purpose – or renewed enthusiasm to find that purpose. As the journey and destination have shaped the traveler, nothing has remained the same for her.
We use travel as a teacher to learn more about ourselves, our life’s journey and the world at large. We are never the same person from one day to the next – as a cloud is never the same as it was a moment before, neither is one who has been away and has returned home. After each journey, we see ourself change into a more accepting and loving person with perhaps different priorities, more wisdom, with less fight, less hatred, anger and fear.
So travel and explore the world outside and the one within. Connect with your real self, with nature and cultures, and with the friends you haven’t met yet. The world is not as scary as it seems.
Read about my time traveling South America, beginning with my arrival in Peru, here.