Today I ask, “Why I travel?” and maybe ask everyone, “Why we travel?”
Why do we leave our comfort zones and our cozy homes? Why do we buy expensive plane tickets and check-in guesthouses when we have a nice apartment or house to live in?
Pico Iyer, one of my favorites, asks the same question and answered or better yet, created more questions after writing ’bout “Why we travel?“
Traveling is Brutality
So why? Why do we subject ourselves into brutality of going to places with foods we don’t recognize or language we can’t understand and road directions we can’t read? Why work hard and save only to find ourselves broke on the day of our flight back home. Worse, we have a long list on our credit card statement. Why do we we carry heavy backpacks and put on smelly clothes because we are trying to save our clean clothes or there is just no time to do the laundry? Why is there an addiction to the different and the unfamiliar? Even me, why do I go back to Angkor Wat, pay $40 to see 20 temples that after 3 days look all the same.
Italian novelist, Cesar Pavese, hit it home, “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
What are you doing here in Siem Reap?
So while hanging out with my new found friends on the road, a German who lived in Sydney asked me after inviting me to join them to Koh Tao (island known for diving in South Thailand), “So what are you doing here?” Because I just told them I live in the most beautiful island in the world called Palawan. That question until now, I can’t answer. And maybe I don’t need to answer. And so a 37-year old well-traveled Korean answers for me and maybe for everyone else, “because we are never contended.“
Pico’s opening paragraphs sounds true now as before when he penned this one decade and a half ago,
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. The beauty of this whole process was best described, perhaps, before people even took to frequent flying, by George Santayana in his lapidary essay, “The Philosophy of Travel.” We “need sometimes,” the Harvard philosopher wrote, “to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.”
So why I travel?
I travel to learn something new. Like saying hello in Khmer or in greeting Mingulaba to a Burmese working as a masseuse in Bangkok. Remembering how to say cheers in Korean or French, say Prost to a German and Skoal to a Danish. I learn something new about Belgium- that not only their women are beautiful but also their beers the best. To know what others think of my country of 7,000 islands and how Filipinos are tough abroad and love to party, and by party then mean ‘eating.’ To experience riding a 30-year old Japanese bus from Siem Reap to Poipet, to eat a Tomyum (Thai dish) prepared by a Nepalese who was born in Myanmar and works in an Indian restaurant in Thailand. To dance with Australian girls partying in the dark alleys near Pub street because the cocktails are cheap at $1.50 and it’s her 24 birthday. Oh.. the list is endless.
Because traveling is where I feel most alive. And even if I live in the most beautiful of islands, I dig the unfamiliar and the brutalities of backpacking because on the road I EXPERIENCE LIFE IN IT’S FULLEST. I AM ALIVE. IT IS LIKE FALLING IN LOVE WITH LIFE AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. THEN IT MUST BE LOVE.
“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” -Pico Iyer
How about you? “WHY DO YOU TRAVEL?”