Why do we travel? Part Three

There’s an idea out there that long term travellers are constantly on holiday. I understand why it appears that way. One minute I’m in Vietnam motorbiking through the mountains and in the next moment I am in Thailand swimming in lagoons far too magical to be real and writing blogs about places I never knew existed a year ago. Those Blue Dot Days as I’ve come to call them (think Google maps with location set to ON) are pretty awesome. In the past I regularly felt guilty about the things I get to do and the places I get to go instead of grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life that have led me to such circumstance.

Sometimes I feel like I am living my life to write a book about it. It’s not actually a bad way to go through life. It’s about creating my own story. One that will entertain me, shock me, make me feel something I’ve never felt before, teach me something. One that I don’t want to put down. One that I would read again and again. So I am constantly on the search for the next chapter, an outline, the bones of a great story but lived in truth instead of fiction. And the details create themselves as I give them license to, as I approach life, as I let things be to become whatever they may, without feeling guilty for having the life I asked for and actively created.

So part three of this blog is a culmination of the reasons I continue to travel, to develop the next chapter in that story and make it a piece I would want to read over and over again. A story I would want to pass onto my beautiful niece for when she’s ready to throw herself out into the world and I am ready to reign myself back in.

I wrote once that travelling costs money. Of course it does, everybody knows that and it is often used as a main excuse for not travelling more. But it costs less than living any place in Canada long term, and that includes the cost of my flights. Really. It actually doesn’t cost a lot of money to travel. I subsist on about $1000 a month for all my living expenses. That’s only $12K a year. I have no mortgage, car payments, or fancy dinners at fancy restaurants. My clothes come mostly from markets or second hand shops. I ask people to cut my hair and I hit up dentists in places like Thailand where high quality care is a fraction of what it is in my home country. So yes, part of the reason I travel is because life is cheaper when you do, contrary to popular belief. Where you travel doesn’t matter so much as how you travel. It’s a simpler life, sometimes masquerading as an intense, jam-packed, holiday-within-holiday to stay-at-homers. But the more material things, comforts, and securities I remove from my life, the more evident and cherished are those things that remain. Life gets surprisingly clearer.

I have met children from all over the world. Some as young as six have served me in restaurants in places where the whole family is expected to work. I’ve cajoled many local kids into cleaning up their beach by making a game of it and rewarding them with candy afterwards and then direct modelling of how the candy wrapper goes in the garbage bin. I’ve held babies and played peek-a-boo whilst the parents work. I’ve watched three year olds play in a boat out on the ocean, totally unsupervised. In small Asian villages they play games in the dirt barefoot. They have ruddy little faces shiny with smiles. They play simple made-up games in groups, outside, under the sun. There aren’t any screens or expensive gadgets stealing their attention or interactions. There aren’t ridiculous safety rules enforced to smother their curiosity and protect them from life. They’re learning in the most natural way.

I’ve made unlikely friends travelling. Different ages, socioeconomic statuses, nationalities. People with problems, people without cares, people running from something, people trying to confront something. People completely lost and lonely, without homes or jobs or money. People with more friends and more money than they know how to manage. People absorbed by darkness and people surrounded by beautiful light. People who show me what I could become if I am not careful and people who guide me towards a better place. I’ve spent afternoons with amazing women, laughing until we cried and nights with beautiful men I’ll never see again. I’ve walked miles through villages watching simple people doing simple things amidst a complicated world and wondering how they control their curiosity about the world when they will never leave the island or the village they live in. Do they wonder about the world and what else is out there? All those incredible places that are normal everyday backdrops for seasoned travels like myself. I have learned to give my attention to people more fully because they are the ones with whom I share the present moment. Because everybody needs somebody to notice them, hear them, understand them, somebody to make laugh, and sometimes that person is a complete stranger.

Travelling helps me communicate better, more creatively, without relying on useless words that only just symbolize for one person feelings that everybody has. That everybody smiles in the same language is cliche and inaccurate because some smiles are false, hidden behind an agenda that will never be fully understood because as much as I travel and as long as I stay in any one place I will never know what it feels like to belong to that environment completely. So I communicate by spending time with people, by respecting cultural ways, by giving of myself what I can to help another person or community in some small way.

I often feel ageless and formless, just a spirit amongst many. Some days travelling takes me on this incredible metaphysical trip into Nevernever land but it ultimately grounds me more than the motions of regular life in Canada. I recognize this most when I hike for long stretches, without regard for calendar days or time other than that guided by nature. In the grandness and vastness of the mountain ranges I have been in, under a wide sky, I feel so full though I am so small and insignificant in comparison. Those days feel long and stretched out, excused from time, though they pass so quickly, those beautiful days spent walking. A month in Laos last year tripped me up, slowed me down, and acquainted me with a light brighter than I ever imagined to experience. I admired the dirt under my toenails and baked into my ever so welcoming skin. Days of carelessness, solitude, vastness, and light, bright beautiful natural light. Days spent amongst a river, the seaside, in the mountains where space and time become the source of my gratitude for everything in life. Like they are all I need to wash away the reality of aging, impermanence, and loss. Of the memories of a life left behind a long time ago.

And I learn how to cope with change through travel. Whether I spend a week, a month, or a year somewhere I create a little life inside of my big one and with each move to the next place I must say goodbye to that mini life. Not just to the experience but to the friends I’ve made there, my favourite streets, the laundry lady, the old guy who sits at the same coffee shop at the same time, everyday. To the routine that I created for myself in that small slice of my existence. I throw myself into sentimentality and attachment, rather than protect myself from them because if I can’t feel something amazing for those little everyday things, how could I ever feel something for those really big life things? With those goodbyes I learn how to let go and transition into a new and sometimes completely different environment. It makes me a warrior of my vulnerability, rather than a victim of it. I learn how to carry on through life totally alone but never feeling that way because the world is not a lonely place when you engage with it.

I’m always moving so I don’t have to conform to any type of person, lifestyle, or environment and because of that I can adapt to any place I go, some more than others. I can wear different masques, assume different characters, all which are shades not previously exposed to the light. Travelling makes me throw myself into that light regularly and know myself better.

But I don’t want to hungrily scarf down every adventure that presents itself, not forever anyways. I want it all but in trying to take it I wonder if I will only ever have pieces or fragments of these things, instead of experiencing one thing in its wholeness. A friend of mine once said that dividing my time between so many experiences and people prevents me from ever fully engaging with any of them, as if time is all there is and effort or love have nothing to do with it. With all of the experiences that travelling presents, creates, destroys, and reveals, I get the sense that although everything changes, nothing really changes at all. I’m always exactly where I started, at home in my own skin, in the same body, with an ironclad sense of self.

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