What is traveling? I mean REALLY traveling? To be tied down to nothing, to know nobody, to carry all your possessions on your back, to not speak the language of the people around you, to always be unfamiliar… but never lost.
Think of travel an occupation, personality, politics and philosophy. When you meet someone at a cafe and they ask you what you do and you say, “I travel.” That’s what I’m talking about.If you’ve daydreamed about travel, been searching up destination and train prices for the past few months, got a ‘language book’ of a foreign culture in which you’ve memorized 5 greetings and the word for toilet, then you are the type that should embrace traveling when you’re young. Each person has their own definition of contentment but for some, the urge and longing to live the lifestyle of a wanderer is an eternal itch, a calling of the heart.
If you are on the fence between going for that 9-5 job or
going into the wild then here are some points that you should consider:
Now is the Best Time
When I say this I don’t mean that you should breakup with your girlfriend or boyfriend today and take the next plane to Europe. I’m talking about something on a slightly larger time scale. Consider the Crusades when knights traveled in caravans on horse to the Holy Land that took about 6 years of suffering and danger. Consider how Marco Polo spent 24 years traveling in Asia only to be arrested when he returned home because he was unaware of a new war with Genoa. Consider the shipwrecks and treasures sitting at the bottom of the ocean from cargo-laden galleons from the Spice Islands. Venturing beyond one’s village was unfathomable and a right reserved for specific classes of people.
Now traveling is EASY. You could literally buy a ticket that takes 5 minutes on the internet. Expedia and Agoda bombards your face with advertisements on reduced hotel rates in any country.[pullquote align=”right”] Once I missed my flight because of visa problems in Southeast Asia. I bought a new ticket in 30 minutes and was on another flight to Thailand a few hours later, with NO plans to go.[/pullquote] Once I missed my flight because of visa problems in Southeast Asia. I bought a new ticket in 30 minutes and was on another flight to Thailand a few hours later, with NO plans to go. I arrived and Googled a hostel next to the embassy I needed. I met a Canadian traveller on the train with his flag patch on his backpack. We bunked together. I got my visa in a day and took off early the next morning. There is an airport everywhere. You can even buy around the world air tickets. If you were to fly non-stop on a commercial aircraft it would take you less than two days to fly around the whole world! Almost anyone can access transportation systems at a fraction of the cost it would have cost your grand parents to travel. Unless they put teleportation stations in each city in the future(but that would defeat the purpose of travel), you’re literally living in the best period in time to travel now.
It’s Cheaper Than You Think
Whenever I tell my friends I went somewhere new, many of them react about the price saying, “How do you have all that money?” or “How much was the tour package?” For those who think economic factors are keeping them from traveling then I’m here to say that is not the case.
On my last trip to Burma my flight from Japan was about $70 USD because I purchased it during a time sale. I had to stay over in Singapore but a friend let me stay at her dorm. Older friends welcomed me to their country by taking me out to dinners. I flew to Myanmar with $500 USD. Three weeks later I had $200 USD left and I wasn’t refraining from spending. [pullquote]Why waste your money at a fancy hotel when you just need a clean place to sleep safely?[/pullquote]Why waste your money at a fancy hotel when you just need a clean place to sleep safely? I’m not paying to go to Burma to sleep on a Swedish foam bed or eat a bland continental breakfast. When you do things and immerse yourself with local culture you will understand the real sense of prices and learn how to cut costs. Locals from any country are very welcoming to those who show genuine interest in their culture. More often than not, if you ask them about their food they will even treat you just to show you how awesome it is(or to play a nasty trick). If that still doesn’t convince you that it’s cheap you can also now do WWOOFing, Couch Surfing, AirBnB, home stays, volunteer for an NGO which will significantly reduce your expenses and make your travel much more meaningful.
Harder Better Faster Stronger
I know on Monday mornings you’re groggy and mutter barely comprehensible, ill-willed words at the alarm clock. We all have those days. But overall you are at the peak shape in your life. Your body is at its fittest, you can drink alcohol and not get a hang over(case by case), eat a bucket of ice cream without gaining weight, endure long hikes with no muscle pain the next day and the ability to get over colds and flus easily. So you may not be as ‘strong’ as that friend’s cousin who is in the Marines, but as a human being, your muscles and overall health will start to decline sometime in your 30’s. It’s a biological fact that you cannot escape. I drank water directly from the streams of Gorkha in Nepal without ever getting sick. I took a shower in the communal outhouse of a village with a cold bucket of water and did not contract any disease. I did get food poisoning only once in Nepal from eat curry but recovered after 24 hours. The result of being exposed to conditions in developing countries is that it can also make you strong internally and externally. [pullquote align=”right”]The result of being exposed to conditions in developing countries is that it can also make you strong internally and externally. [/pullquote]The types of bacteria, parasites, viruses that you come in contact with will allow your immune system to build immunity in the future. The change in environment from cold, hot, dry, humid conditions will not inconvenience you like it would for your Aunt Michelle. That’s why you seldom see elderly backpackers and if you do, hats off to them for making the enormous effort. Tour groups provide the piece of mind and comforting service for the fee that their clients are more than willing to pay to have a barrier between them and the elements. You don’t need that when you’re young.
Grow Your Mind
You’re a university fresh grad and you’ve spent the last 22 years of your life challenging the values of your parents and society. If you are a political science or gender studies major then probably more so. That fire starts to fade as we enter society and conform to its rules. You are not plagued by responsibilities that come with age. Responsibilities like paying your mortgage, being a ‘good neighbour’ in your new apartment, looking forward to the Christmas bonus from your boss, sending your kids to kindergarten. Unconsciously you are actually setting up barriers for new ideas and choosing to structure your values to match society’s norms. I visited the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorials and cried for the dead. I made friends with atomic bomb survivors and one became treated me like her own son.
As someone of Chinese descent it’s impossible to hear such a story as we were taught that it was a necessary, or in extreme cases, deserved. As a young traveller you can laugh off discrimination or miscommunication. You can label every negative experience as a ‘learning experience’. You will be able to sample all sorts of logic, emotions, rules and values that a middle aged gentleman or lady would not be able to. This library of behaviour will help you grow and see the strengths and unpleasantries of any given culture according to your own point of view. You may have been deeply influenced by Latino sense of fun and lightheartedness in your social life or Japanese sense of order and functionality in your home life. In addition to the mental growth, your are learning about history, language, culinary skills, art history and so on with each step. You will forget a picture of a church in your textbook but you’ll never forget seeing the real Taj Mahal and being enchanted by the love story behind it when you see the intricate artwork, touch the smooth white marble, smell the moist humid air of the fountains.
Write Your Story
One fact is universal to all living things. We die. In the galactic vastness or space and time we are just dust and energy. But that speck of existence that we have is ours to own and hold on to. On your deathbed, as you are sensing your body weaken bit my bit, you lie there reflecting upon your life’s story. One thought that all the money in the world cannot solve in your life is that one feeling – Regret. One of the biggest regrets of elderly was not having used their youth to the fullest or not having chased their dreams(just imagine the Pixar movie, “Up”).
For those young people who believe so strongly in traveling then this is your threshold. Will you be just another ‘guy’ or ‘girl’ whom when people talk about you just say “Oh yeah, he’s alright” or “Oh you know him too!? That guy has been everywhere and has the craziest stories!” Essentially, humans live for stories. We gobble them up. That is one thing that separates humans and animals is that we consume stories. Ancient legends passed around the fire, scrolls, books, theatre, movies, comics, blogs, RPG games, e-books. The hunger for stories has never diminished although the available medium has made those stories much more accessible. Traveling is your chance to not only listen to more stories but to also become a story teller.
So if you’re still indecisive
let’s remember these points:
Now is the Best Time
It’s Cheaper Than You Think
Harder Better Faster Stronger
Grow Your Mind
Write Your Story
Tomorrow is my 27th birthday. For those that believe age is just a number then my profound opening statement would carry little meaning. I’m integrated back into society and I’m focused on my own business now. There is a danger of traveling to escape from something, only to come back home to see those problems amplified. Some travelers also leave too long and become permanent drifters who are afraid to return to their own homes because of fear of responsibility or ‘starting back from zero’. If you have clear goals and timelines in mind you can reap the rewards from traveling and use it as a tool to enrich your life. In the end, all people need a place to call home. My friends are all getting married, applying for mortgages, shopping for insurance policies now. That may be a dream for many but for me it isn’t at the moment. Who knows, though. Maybe I’ll grow into that phase. All you can do is surrender yourself to the flow of time. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived an exciting life free of any major injuries, poverty and confinement. In that sense, if I were to leave this world tomorrow I could say to myself, “Yes I am content.”
I’m also unmistakably no longer ‘young’ in numerical terms. But a few years ago I did travel extensively. I learned a foreign language, I met other amazing travelers, I lived out of my backpack, I didn’t shower for days, I did not have to worry about bills or rent, I worked at a hospital, I saw birth and death, strolled through ancient cities, strolled through destroyed cities, I cried, I laughed, I got sick, I recovered, I experienced love. I felt alive.
*This was written in response to many of my friends seeking advice on their mid 20’s and 30’s blues
Bonus Material: My favourite quotes from Haruki Murakami
“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
“The law presides over things of this world, finally. The world where shadow is shadow and light is light, yin is yin and yang is yang, I’m me and he’s him. ‘I am me and / He is him/ Autumn eve.’ But you don’t belong to that world, sonny. The world you belong to is above that or below that.”
Which is better?” I asked, out of simple curiosity. “Above or below?”
It’s not that either one is better,” he said. After a brief coughing fit, he spat a glob of phlegm onto a tissue and studied it closely before crumpling the tissue and throwing it into a wastebasket. “It’s not a question of better or worse. The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you’re supposed to go up and down when you’re supposed to go down. When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there is no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness. ‘I am he and/ He is me:/ Spring nightfall.’ Abandon the self, and there you are.”