Travel is hailed by many enthusiasts as the meaning of life, solver of all problems, and necessity for all worthy, educated, interesting people. This is what we sometimes mean or think, even if we don’t always say it. I dare to speak in the collective even though I have only been to about 8 countries. I really need to get to the former Soviet Union so I can up my stats a bit there and compare to the real travellers who have made it to like 20 by the age of 18, or those stupid Europeans that have seen everything by the age of like 12 with their worldly, sophisticated, non-Puritanical parents. Bastards. Novelty is a great eye opener, and if you REALLY travel and live there for a long time and speak the local language, you will find yourself judging your home country, so hard, especially if you live in like the only developed country with high fructose corn syrup because the philosopher kings of the EU aren’t there to protect your food supply.
I find that no matter what the ailment, a change of scenery seems to work wonders. A train is the best friend and therapist a girl could ask for, even if it is just taking me home or to a city only an hour or so away. I am so addicted to the change in perspective, and the feeling that all of a sudden the world is new and I all of a sudden have become this sage that needs to revise all my ultimate understandings of everything. Paulo Coelho, sainted author of the secretly mystical novel The Alchemist, (my favorite insightful profession-titled publication to swoon over outside of the Economist who provides more worldly joys) talks about having a pilgrim soul especially in Aleph and how for him it is amazing how travel seems to unveil the mysteries of the universe. I am pretty much 1000% in agreement, although I feel a certain amount of self-scepticism that any one thing should be relied on so heavily. Especially since it has seemed to come at the expense of well, being with other people.
As I’ve already reflected a lot on, constantly moving does seem to have a negative impact on one’s ability to have deep friendships in your immediate surroundings, and for me, the solitary wanderer thing is not forever. I will always need to wander a bit from time to time though, and really the only thing that gets my racing ADD mind in check is a good stroll with my Ipod, particularly in a new city I’ve yet to explore. For me, travel has been a mostly solitary experience, and a lot of the insights I’ve gotten are probably due to the consommate extravert taking some time purposefully alone, doing exactly what I want to do, and seeing exactly what I want to see, as much as anything else. As much as I pine for kindred spirits and greater intimacy, I do love getting up in the morning and asking myself, “Well, MJ, what do YOU want to do today?”
I don’t want to live my life for the thrill of novelty alone. I am currently staying in a hotel, where I have been for about a month now, and I’m beginning to think that it could be nice to have some cool posters on my walls and put a little more pride into my surroundings. I’ve got no problem whatsoever with living out of a suitcase, but it would be nice to have a keychain, and in the absence of a man (who could and should travel with me), maybe a cat (low maintenence enough that I could still take weekend trips lol). However, it has not escaped me that my extremely good, secretly deep and wise, awesome parents have not seen much outside their own backyard and they are doing just fine. Ditto for a lot of the finest people I know. They originally resisted me on the travelling thing, and I was afraid that having that perspective would make me even further from my down-to earth family, but the opposite has been the case. I actually connect with pretty much everyone in my surroundings, including strangers I talk to because I’m friendly and often a bit lonely, much better than before I travelled. That is probably a by-product of the whole finding myself and inner peace thing as much as anything else. I know a lot of people who have studied abroad and enjoyed their time, but have no desire to go back and live there, and who haven’t moved from where they first moved after college and are totally okay with it.
Truly I think the joy of travel, while something everyone should try because you should just try everything (YOLO!), is a personal preference, and that travel is far from the only means of self transformation. It seems some people get their kicks from biking or cooking or genuinely going to serve others in soup kitchens and things like that. Travel is funny because it is a real passion you can’t escape once you start. I guess a lot of people love sports for similar reasons because they loved being athletes once and now they still love the game. For people who love cars I guess it is about the craftsmanship, beauty, and freedom the somewhat utilitarian object symbolizes. I’m not sure that people really think about what their hobbies mean or why they are attracted to them, but you can tell a lot about yourself from what you do in your spare time. (Sidenote: I don’t really think of time as something I separate into chunks, I think more about what I accomplish and haven’t had a “job” to separate from “free” time. I think this is a categorization we should exist, guess I’ll need to blog about time pretty soon, another way to “waste” time not studying lol) For me, travel is about freedom, adventure, not knowing exactly what will happen to you but feeling a certain self mastery in unfamiliar situations. I love people, I love things that are different, and new is just always exciting for me. Travel is life, life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long, but I’m aware that it is just a metaphor, and not the meaning of life.
I’ve thought a lot about joining the foreign service, and I’m seasoned enough, with my whopping 7 months out of country, to know that novelty will wear off long before the few years of being stationed will. Also, I realize that there are some places that would not necessarily be a boost to my autonomy and fun to be as a single woman. Besides, I am not sure that doing a job in the foreign service, while interesting and all jobs have some difficult parts, would be attractive to me. Not sure the travel is worth the FS job for me personally, or that I really want to do that much travel to places outside of my control at this point in my life anyway. It is something I could see myself doing someday, under the right circumstances, ideally with the right person to go with. Not necessarily what I want as my career right now.
So I think by now you are getting a picture of what travel can and can’t do. On the topic of relationships, it can and will make the real ones you have got deeper and will make you look at your life in a less superficially way. This can be isolating or awesome depending on how you look at it. You can feel like a stranger in your own country or realize we are all part of one human family, and both are true. I think that’s the true value-add of travel that maybe not all hobbies/passions can teach you, the ability to look at multiple perspectives and accept they are all valid. The real gift of travel is knowing who you are across contexts, knowing not so much what is fixed and constant about you but rather, the direction in which you are inclined to grow.
Travel has helped me realize myself among the multitude of choices and ways of thinking I have been exposed to because of it. As an open person, sometimes paralyzed with indecision, being on my own traveling has given me a real feeling of self reliance, and has made me much more aware of my freedom and confident in my ability to use it well. The extremely deliberate choices I have made since coming home from France rather than staying there and becoming French or traveling the world as an English teacher have been fruitful so far, and I definitely feel a sense of self I haven’t had before, which is probably also related to my age and having lived on my own. Like I said, travel isn’t the ultimate answer to everything, but I do think there is a definite enhancement to life that travel can provide, albeit at the expense of other things. Wow, what a revelation. Doing one thing means giving up something else, and there are costs and benefits to each. What a whopper. Anyway, I hope you will take my reflections with a grain of salt, especially since I am starting to worry about my exam as I write this, and I’m getting a little punchy which I think you might enjoy. Or not.
May the road rise up to meet you, and the wind be always at your back.
Love and gros bisous,