Why Travel?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I like about travel. The words simply couldn’t come to me fast enough. A few things that immediately shot into my mind:

First, the world is so incredibly vast and diverse. But I think often we get so stuck in our daily lives, our daily routines, and those things that are familiar to us, that we often become almost immune to the sameness of it all. I love that traveling jerks me out of that state of familiarity, that it glares down at me with its differentness, that every twist and turn is unexpected and new. In that way, I find travel endlessly vibrant and exciting.

I also like a good challenge — and I think the constant change and newness of travel provides that challenge. Solo travel, in particular, provides challenges in droves. Sure our daily lives provide challenges, but generally, they are familiar challenges, and they often fall into familiar categories — the challenge of learning a new skill at a job, or negotiating a tough relationship, or juggling multiple bills at the same time.

For me, traveling is challenging in so many other ways – One is constantly forced to shift and adapt, to accept the new and unfamiliar, and then, to revel in it. Once, in central India, I found myself in a train station at 2 in the morning; the train I was supposed to be on had been canceled hours earlier, and I couldn’t seem to negotiate my way onto another. But with a bit of persistence, a few uncommonly decent locals, and one incredibly kind man, I found myself embarking on a 60-hour train ride with an amazing family, just a few hours later. It was challenging, and overwhelming, but I felt stretched and satisfied in ways I rarely do at home.

And, on the kindness of people – I’ve been lucky enough to meet amazing people on the road, but I don’t think this is unique. In Ghana, I hitched on the back of a truck for 3 hours after days of torrential rains had all but ruined my chances of getting a typical bus back to my homebase, Accra. In Mexico, local Zapatistas treated me in their clinic when I came down with Typhoid, and had a community member take me into town for further care. In India, a family took me under their wings for a three-day train journey, feeding me and taking me to a hotel with them when I was lost beyond compare.

People are amazingly good and generous – but when we are stuck in our daily grinds, we sometimes fail to recognize this. Travel forces us, to a great extent, to rely on the kindness of strangers – and I find that to be an unbelievable gift.

So, its interesting that a friend would wonder what I like about travel — I guess the simplest answer is, almost everything. Sure it can be frustrating, and lonely – I don’t deny that. But there are few times in my life that I have felt more, well, alive, than when I’m embarking on a grand journey or simply sitting for a cup of tea with a stranger – its those moments that make travel so undeniably amazing, that make me feel completely alive.

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