Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why I love to Travel – The Vague and not so Vague Reasons

It’s the start of a new year and you know what that means? New Year resolutions and new beginnings. This certainly holds true for me this year and, although I am not one for New Year resolutions, this year I did make some and I plan to keep them. One of my resolutions this year is to travel more. I have always wanted to travel and have done my fair share of traveling but I would like to see so many more places. That is my vague and shallow reason for wanting to travel more. The reasons behind my desire to see more of the world are much deeper than just wanting to see new places.
I always knew I was different from everyone else. Even as a child while the other children were indoors watching cartoons or playing with toys, I was always outdoors exploring new nooks and crannies around the neighborhood and trying new things. Many of the other kids thought I was weird and eccentric for not being “normal” like the rest of them but I simply did not get any enjoyment out of sitting in front of the television or playing with dolls. I preferred scaling the cliffs near the beach in search of a new viewpoint from which to see the neighborhood and surrounding area, digging for dinosaur bones at the gravel pits behind the ball field, seeking new trees to climb or getting lost on the old wood trails in the forest behind my house. Sometimes the other kids joined me, other times, I wandered off on my own in search of new adventures. I learned from an early age that if I was going to do the things I enjoyed and not live my life according to what everyone else was doing, I would need to learn to do those things on my own. Some people might call me a bit of a loner; I prefer the term independent.
Now that I am older, I still love to embark on the odd adventure except now my adventures go way beyond my backyard and the gravel pits down the street. My love of travel started at a young age after my parents took my sisters and I on a month-long trip along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida. Since I have been out on my own, I try to make the best use of my talents as an escape artist and go on at least one big trip to another country every year. It started with road trips within Canada and the United States and graduated to all-inclusive Caribbean vacations. I love road trips but the all-inclusive experience (with the non-stop boozing and spending an entire week within the confines of a fancy resort) was lost on me so now, this spring, I am celebrating my love of independent travel with a solo backpacking trip in Central America. I won a trip to spend a week at a yoga/adventure retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica and instead of just hopping on a plane and heading home when the week ends, I am setting out on the backpacker trail into Panama and other surrounding countries. Am I scared? A bit. I’m not really sure what to expect or which way to go or where I will end up but I am up for the challenge. Am I excited? You bet I am! This upcoming adventure has had me thinking about why I would prefer to travel this way. It also has me thinking about all the great things I learned about my past travels and all the things I can learn in my future travels. Travel has lots of benefits and I have witnessed those benefits first-hand in the past and I know what the benefits of this upcoming trip and any other future trips I take will be. Travelers who spend a week on an all-inclusive resort every year and never venture beyond the metal gates of their home-away-from-home to meet the locals and see how they live will probably not know what I am talking about. The benefits they gain from their trips are obvious; a week on the beach, a non-stop party, relaxation, prepared meals, safety in a foreign country that could otherwise be dangerous and a suntan. The benefits of real, off-the-beaten track travel are obvious to travelers like me who crave adventure, culture, new learning opportunities and the unknown beyond that metal gate.
As someone who often wonders what it would be like to just sell everything and set out with my backpack and explore the world indefinitely (and yes, it has crossed my mind many times), it is only natural that I spend a significant amount of my free time dreaming about, researching about, writing about and planning my next trip. Because I have a full-time job and other obligations to fulfill here at home, I have not been able to just toss that all away to travel the world but I make a point to take a couple of trips somewhere knew every year and even that gets people talking. I hear it all and most of it is negative. People ask me questions such as “where do you get the money to do all this traveling”, “aren’t you afraid you will be kidnapped or murdered traveling alone to these far flung places”, “shouldn’t you be thinking about settling down with a family and a house by now instead of wandering about”, “don’t you have a job and goals for the future” and so on and so on. Are these people jealous? Perhaps. Are they judgmental of my choices? Possibly. Are they misunderstanding the whole point of my choices and why travel is so important to me? Most likely. Many people in this “developed” society believe that they are free to make their own choices and live their life the way they want but most of them graduate school, go to college or get a job immediately after, get married, buy a house, have kids and live life every day as a sleep, eat, work, plant their butts in front of the TV for a few hours and repeat hamster wheel until they die. That doesn’t sound very free to me but it is their choice and I do not question their choices, so why all the negative reactions to mine? I feel free when I travel. I learn about the world around me when I travel. I learn about different cultures. I learn about how different people in other places are from me but also how similar they are. So with all the positive things that come from seeing and experiencing the world around me, why are so many people against me doing it?
I believe my current views of humanity stem from a number of things including the fact that I have traveled to other countries and witnessed how other cultures go on with their day-to-day lives. Here in the developed world, everything is done for us. Life is structured. We go to school, we graduate, we go to college, we get a job, we make money, we start a family, we retire. When we need something, we go to the supermarket and pick it up with the money we earn from working. If we find ourselves unemployed, we get unemployment insurance. If we don’t feel like working, there is social assistance there to fall back on if that is your sort of thing. People in lesser-developed countries do not have a lot of these options and many of them are so poor they make do with what little they can carry on their backs. And you want to know what is so ironic about that? Some of the poorest people I have met are also the happiest.
I’ve seen people begging in the streets. I’ve had people try to sell the clothing off their backs for extra money to buy food. I met people who had to hitchhike or walk many miles to jobs that barely put food on the table. I’ve come across entire villages whose inhabitants relied solely on the land to provide the necessities of everyday life. I witnessed men building highways by hand in sweltering heat for 16 hours a day. I’ve met people with extraordinary talents in the arts selling their work for mere pennies on the street. I have seen people having to go through things that would probably make most of us here in the developed world give up entirely…but yet they still smile, they still laugh and they maintain a level of friendliness, honesty, care and love toward their fellow man that I rarely witness here at home. The lack of selfishness is astounding and it is not uncommon to see someone with almost nothing share the last bit of something he has with another and expect nothing in return. Many of the people I’ve met in these supposed “lesser developed” countries are stronger, both mentally and physically, than anyone I know here at home. They also work harder for less and hardly ever complain.
I recall an event that occurred while I was walking on a beach along the Riviera Maya in Mexico. It was a beautiful beach but once I noticed that it was blocked off with a fence to keep the locals out, I no longer felt like I should be there. After all, the local people had more right to be on that beach than I did. None of the other tourists seemed to care and seemed happy to keep the local people on the other side of the fence. I approached that fence and watched as barefoot children fished with crude fishing poles and adults tended to a fire nearby. They laughed, they hugged, the carried on…they looked happy despite being obviously very poor. I turned around and looked at the tourist side of the beach to see weathered-looking faces dressed in expensive clothing, walking in the surf but not enjoying it like you would think they should. That is when it hit me; the “poor” locals on the other side of the fence, the ones laughing and carrying on while preparing to eat their dinner on that lovely evening were having a grandeur time than the tourists who probably go back to their hotel rooms and work from their laptops all evening while not even speaking to their travel mates before spending a few hours dressing in their evening best to go and sit in a stuffy restaurant and eat expensive food. Hmmmm….which would I prefer? Dinner on the beach consisting of freshly caught fish or an expensive, stuffy restaurant? The choice would be easy for me.
I admit, I like technology…some of it. I have a smart phone, a laptop and an Ipod. My smart phone is used for texting, taking pictures when I forget my camera and updating my tweets and Facebook statuses. I do not have internet capabilities on it or none of those other needless bells and whistles. My laptop is for research, checking email and writing. I can’t live without music so that is where my Ipod comes in. And I don’t own a television. That’s right. No TV…period. I have not owned one in years and I don’t miss it one bit. People laugh and poke fun at me when I tell them I do not have all this technology and they laugh even harder when they discover that I don’t watch TV. When I try to explain to them why I choose this lifestyle, it goes way beyond their comprehension and way over their heads. I have way too much to do and I am way too busy enjoying my life to sit in front of a box or spend my time playing games or tinkering around with useless gadgets that do nothing to enhance my life. I’m not sure where my distaste for too much technology comes from but I imagine it partially has to do with my travels to places where most of the technologies we have here are virtually non-existent. Take Cuba for example. During my week-long stay in Cuba, it was hard and expensive to make a local call to a nearby resort where my sister was staying let alone send an email. A call on a land-line phone cost me almost fifteen dollars and the service was sketchy at best and an email I sent to my sister in Calgary took more than a half hour to send because the internet was slower than dial-up. I didn’t see any of the locals with cell phones, children were not sitting in front of televisions and texting one another from across the room, no one carried laptops around and Ipods were something most of them had never heard of. When I go about my daily grind here in Canada, all I see are people typing away on laptops and texting one another. In Cuba, people talked to one another face-to-face, they interacted, they spent time with family and it would be considered highly rude to take out a laptop or cell phone at the dinner table or speak with the boss during what should be a day off to spend time with the family. I admired this way of life. It was simple and it was so satisfying to know that there were still people left in the world who put family and the simple pleasures of living at the forefront.
When I travel, I see things the way they are meant to be. I don’t believe we are meant to live the way we do in this developed world. In the lesser developed regions of the world I have traveled, everyone works for the overall growth of the entire community rather than just for themselves. Some of these hard-working people have been through some very hard times and still, they never give up. Even the most hardened individuals I have met still remain true to themselves and the people around them. They still smile through it all and they never hesitate to help someone else through similar hardships. I witnessed this myself when countless people I had never met (many of whom had no possessions) dropped whatever it was they were doing to help me in any way they could. Whether it be to offer me a place to stay for the night, a meal or directions to the next town, they were willing to help me, a stranger, in any way they could.
So, in the end, why do I travel? I travel because I like to escape from the rat race and to know how it feels to be truly free and a part of the bigger picture that is the world. I travel to learn about cultures that are different from my own. I travel to see how other people live and go about their daily lives. I travel to see the spectacular wonders of the world. I travel because of the unforgettable feeling I get when I step off a plane into a new world of possibilities I can explore. I travel to put things into perspective because traveling has made me realize that there is so much more to this life than just accumulating material items and living each day the same as the last. And most importantly, I travel because I want to and because I feel it is my duty as a citizen of this world to see as much of it as possible and to meet as many of its inhabitants as possible. I travel because I can and I will continue to do so!


Becky Padmore said...

Lovely article, some really interesting thoughts.

Suzy said...

I think anyone who loves to travel can relate to your reasons for loving it. I certainly appreciate the escapism travel can lend. I try to take a few trips a year where I don't work at the same time and simply just be in the moment.


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