Saturday, May 12, 2012

Traveling Within


I wonder how many words have been used to describe travel.  How many of the same road trip movies have been made?  Is there an angle of the Eiffel Tower that hasn't been photographed?  Have you seen that latest travel show in which the host insists furiously that he or she will be doing what a traveler, rather than what a tourist, does?

Travel as an art form is dangerous territory.  What you wish to express someone has already thought of.  The ten-word sound bite used to describe how beautiful country X or National Park Y is -- well, it is far less profound than its creator's intent.  In the digital age, great photographs are ubiquitous, and YouTube has become any destination's advertisement.

So why write...on the topic of traveling?  Especially my travels?  I do not think it is the metaphorical itch waiting to be scratched.  I hope it is not a pretentious attention-grabbing gesture.  I do not believe that people need to hear what I have to say, or should care.  I have thought of the obvious.  I like traveling.  I like talking about my travels.  I like writing about my travels.  I like taking photographs of my travels.  In spite of these facts, I think my reasons are more complex.

When I discuss where I have traveled or where I plan to go, a subset of my friends tell me something I hear as the worst kind of dissonance.  Maybe you've heard it, too.  "I couldn't go there."  "I don't really like planes."  "I can't afford to go anywhere."  "I'll watch it on the History Channel."

I have no doubt that these listeners are being genuine.  I imagine some are not interested in hiking the Rockies or perusing the next art gallery.  I have claustrophobia, so it is certainly not surprising that some people are fraidy-cat of a plane, train, or automobile.  I loathe the fact that some people can barely afford to make ends meet, much less take a few days to explore some place they have never been.

Then again, I also absorb this with an instinctual sense of skepticism.  Travel, someone said, is a chance to conquer one's fears.  If you don't travel, you don't confront your weaknesses.  People do not like being out of their comfort zones.  I have a friend who will not travel to any country in which English is not the primary language.  When I asked him why he did not just learn a new one, he said:  "Too much work.  I'd rather buy a sports car."  Like scratching a chalkboard.

I also sense from some a (insert-religious-adjective-here)-derived guilt.  Like countries that proudly embrace mediocre food, some people seem to think that embellishing on a week of leisure somehow leads to "bad character".  Maybe it is more complex (and admirable).  I wonder if some travel to countries rife with poverty and come to believe that their appearance is perhaps an insult to the indigenous less-well-offs.  Is it the same instinct that leads us to look away from a vagrant asking for some change?

I would not call myself old, but I certainly am not young anymore.  With age comes wisdom, whether I wish for it or not.  And I have learned, perhaps incorrectly, that this is all that there is.  From the ugly routines of daily life come redundant experiences and a complacent sense of satisfaction in the figurative cubicle or office space you occupy.  Maybe that is enough for some people.  Then again, in my travels, I have discovered that this should not be enough for anybody.

Travel, for me, is recuperation.  Rehabilitation.  A time for learning, about the world, others, and most importantly, myself.  It is transcendental, the closest I come to feeling spiritual.  It is the most important thing I do, and will ever do.  Whatever my successes or failures in everyday life, personally or professionally, these will not compare to the sheer ecstasy of my successes and failures in traveling.  Why?  I do not know, but I would like to find out.

And so I write...about my travels.