We seek out a quiet Greek cove filled with imported sand from Malta to give it that Saint Tropez resort ambiance so that we can become recluses in front of a turquoise ocean we never gaze upon. We hop on a plane to stay at a hacienda because a certain royal couple prefers to hibernate there never giving a thought to the beautiful mountains under which the hideaway sits. We escape our dull neighbors to wrestle with strangers at a crammed buffet table and jostle against them at the coffee shop that reminds us of the cozy one we are fond of at home. We replicate a climb of two centuries ago with state-of-the-art gear, in twenty-first century clothing, with a retinue of seven hundred local servants to carry our Scandinavian deck chairs, our Ethiopian coffee beans, and our Patagonian wool blankets to enjoy at base camp. This is how we believe we will experience the unique. This is how we believe we will gain serenity. This is how we believe we should travel. Meanwhile, the distinctive charm of our places fades as we insist on staying at minted star-rated hotels offering free internet service and thousands of gratuitous plastic bottled amenities. The peculiar flavor of our regions vanishes because we must have our tea the way we prefer tea, properly made with soy and organic corn syrup. The beauty of locality disperses as we walk the streets searching for that brand-name, craving that foreign-but-not-from-here delicacy, filling our tote bags with factory-crafted mementos. We wander to the ends of the earth still seeking the comforts of our air-conditioned, refrigerated, material-laden homes.
I often talk about how travel broadens my perspectives and gives me a sense of the vast complexity of our world, but I have come to realize that travel can also narrow our minds, filling us with judicial head-shaking and finger-pointing.
“I knew they couldn’t do eggs correctly over here, look at the state of their kitchens!”
“Perhaps it would have been better if we stayed at our cabin this year? At least all the toilets flush there!”
Travel is and always will be, like life, what you make of it. It can be defined by who we are and what we want it to achieve in our lives. Yet the uniqueness of travel doesn’t rest with the location, but with us. It is what we bring to the destination that makes it solely ours because your eyes are not my eyes, your ears are not my ears, and your tastes are not my tastes. The way you perceive those circlet of mountains will not be how I see them. What you listen to when the choir boys sing will not be what I hear. What you think when eating those stewed beets will not be my memory. To be open and vulnerable to the adventures and to meet each experience with my mind ajar makes travel life-altering for me.
If the point of travel were only to get away from the noise, to be pampered, or to pay someone else for the privilege of not having to cook, than we need look no further than our hometowns and nearest cities. Here, plenty of hotels and spas and restaurants await us; eager bellhops and masseurs and chefs long to fulfill our requests. To get away from the hum of gadgets and the glare of technology, all we have to do is sit alone in our rooms with the electricity turned off: we will have solitude. But the purpose of travel should really be to see the thing which is not us, to embrace that which defies our understanding, to let the place be different and not try to reshape it into something we are familiar with. The true traveler welcomes the unknown with insatiable curiosity and the desire to explore it all—from the messiest chaos to the tiniest detail. They have an abiding passion for becoming friends with a place and sharing the life lived by locals. There is a misconception that traveling is romantic, that it is a getaway from life, that traveling is a way for gullible innocents with trust funds to pass the time.
“For me, the romance of travel is in the freedom to face, not just imagine, possibilities.”
Travel is life, an unconfined life not hemmed in by convention, unbound by potential. Travel is the chance for wide-eyed questioning by sundry, a road to seek meaning in this world along with our place in it.
I desire to push my limitations both physically and mentally when I travel—to continually reshape what I comprehend. How else will I see the valley floor nestled between the granite towers? How else will I understand what my arms and legs are capable of performing? How else will I become a part of a stranger’s life? Anything is possible in travel: the world can turn upside-down, mountains can be conquered, and the idea of normalcy shattered. That is the true beauty of travel. The secret to opening this cave of Ali Baba’s treasures is that anyone can be a traveler. All that is required is curiosity, a willing heart, and the next bend in the road.
BT TIP #5
As travel gives us a great deal of wealth, the traveler can also return the favor by giving back. While time and money are important donations, the best charity begins with empathy. Ask questions, be open to unexpected answers, and make certain that your efforts and your finances are making a holistic difference.