Posts Tagged ‘why I travel’

The virtuous (some might say self-righteous) reasons.

Reason 8: I travel to learn.
Learning languages has always taught me more about my own language, but it also gives me a new and different insight into the people who speak that language. Even when I don’t learn the language of my destination, I find learning about culture and history is always valuable. I see life and my place in it in a different way. I know that western civilization hasn’t always been dominant, that it didn’t invent everything good (and a lot bad). I realise that life today is just a speck in the history of time. I’ve stood on a “new bridge” in France that was four hundred years old, and my mind boggled.

I’ve learned about and witnessed the results of the terrible things human beings do to each other, aghast at the things that have been done in the name of religion. Reading about this is one thing. Seeing the faces of the people of Cambodia or in the slums of Soweto, or standing on the parapet where the Cathars were thrown to their deaths simply because of their beliefs, or visiting the Budapest or Prague Holocaust Memorials, brings a sharpness and clarity to my understanding. Travelling broadens my mind; it is a cliché but it is true. I know that things are never black and white. Travelling simply confirms that, reminds me of that, and I think that knowledge and understanding makes me a better person.

Reason 9: I travel to grow.
Being thrown outside your comfort zone can be disconcerting, but it can also give you confidence in your ability to adapt. I often think of myself as shy, unadventurous, and definitely not brave. I’m not the type to go climb a mountain, and I admire those who do. But when I look back at some of the things I have done in the course of travel, whether for business or pleasure, I realise that maybe I am not such a wimp after all. Getting through all these situations – knowing I could get through them – was priceless. My next attempt to grow will be taking a balloon trip. I’m terrified of heights. If I can manage it, I’ll be ecstatic. I’m a bit more concerned I’ll spend the entire 220 Euros cowering on the floor of the wicker basket.

Reason 10: I travel to be more compassionate.
Seeing how others live, putting yourselves in their shoes, and perhaps finding a way to help them – well, it just seems to expand your heart.

My mother-in-law looked out the window of our air-conditioned jeep and said “ah, look at the peasants. What an idyllic life they leave.” This was from a woman who had lived in a centrally heated house with electricity and plumbing and washing machines and ovens for the last fifty years, without fear of running out of money, always able to provide for her family. When I was able to retrieve my jaw from the floor, I pointed out the worries that a Thai peasant might have – fear of disease, starvation, poverty, unable to provide education or a helping hand to her children, or to get medicine for aged parents. And all that after back-breaking work in the paddy fields. Then, I think she actually felt compassion. (Empathy doesn’t come naturally to her). She realised how good she had it.

I have a problem with people who say help your own country before those overseas. If you’ve seen poverty, if you’ve seen the mine victims in Cambodia, if you’ve been there and imagined what it must be like to live in a tin shack in a slum in the heat of summer in South Africa or India, or to be poor in the depths of the winter at 17 below F in Dayton, Ohio, then you learn some compassion and empathy. Humanity and compassion doesn’t end at the border. And it shouldn’t. Because if it does, we’re all doomed.


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The Self-indulgent Sybaritic Reasons

Reason 6: For my senses.
I travel for warmth in the winter, to feel a tropical breeze on my skin, to experience an ocean that is as warm as a bath, to have respite from a long winter and long, cool spring.

I travel for spices, tropical fruit, new tastes I can bring into my own life and those of my family and friends, and bad smells that bring good memories.

I travel for bright colours, the saris of India and the marketplaces of Asia or Marrakech, the sounds of cowbells in Switzerland, the call to prayer in a Muslim country, or the roars of a lion in South Africa.

I travel to wake up, to feel really alive with all my senses and faculties alert and tingling for an adventure, and to know I will never stop experiencing new things.

Reason 7: For escape, rest and relaxation.
It’s true. You really can out-run your troubles. Well, most of them anyway, and for a short period of time. There’s nothing quite like being somewhere completely new or different from your day-to-day life, somewhere that is a long journey that carries you away from your worries – preferably somewhere out of cell-phone range and with no wi-fi! Somewhere that makes you focus on the “here and now” and allows you to forget your worries, forget the chores that await you, forget the acrimonious or difficult relationships at work or in the family, and escape the everyday stresses of life.

In Africa, our short two week holiday was so filled with new sights, sounds and experiences that I instantly forgot everything about life at home. I lived in the moment, and time slowed. I felt rejuvenated, refreshed, and younger.

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The I-am-so-grateful reasons

Reason 4: To appreciate my own country.
People will say you should see your own country first. I agree with that to an extent. The New Zealand government ran a domestic campaign for some years (decades ago now) that implored us in a jingle – “don’t leave home till you see the country.” I had seen some of my country at the time, and I know I’ve seen a lot more of it than a lot of people. But what I have discovered is that I see my country in a new and different light having seen other countries. Travelling reminds me how lucky we are, and why we should appreciate what we have. I’m both more tolerant, and more demanding.

For me, it puts life and New Zealand into perspective in a way that staying home doesn’t.

Reason 5: To keep humble.
It is easy to think that the country you/we/I live in is the best in the world. Especially living in New Zealand! Especially after visiting developing countries. But appreciating my country has to be countered with remembering our way isn’t the only way. Travel teaches humility. Going somewhere else reminds me that things are done differently, but that doesn’t make them wrong, or bad. It reminds me that there are things we could improve on.

When I travel I never fail to be reminded how tiny and insignificant NZ is in the whole global scheme of things. And therefore how insignificant I am in the whole scheme of things. That’s quite important, I think, to feel small and humble at various times in our lives. I shudder at the idea of the leader of any country who has never (or rarely) travelled. How can they ever understand that maybe there are other ways to do something? That they aren’t the world, that they have a place in the world alongside other people and countries, good, hard-working people and countries, where things are simply done differently.

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The Because-I-have-to reasons

Reason 1: To see what I can see.
From as far back as I can remember, I have been curious about what else is out there. I think I’ve written before about standing on the beach at the edge of our farm, looking out across the Pacific Ocean, marvelling that there was nothing between me and South America. Knowing there was something else out there that was different, made me want to go see it. I’ve never liked knowing I don’t know things, or that I can’t peek somewhere, or find out what’s going on. Why did I first want to travel? Like the bear going over the mountain, I also wanted to see what I could see. And you know, that song is just plain wrong and stupid. The other side of the mountain is always worth seeing. It is never just the other side of the mountain.

Reason 2: To experience diversity.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine.
Variety is the spice of life. I can’t imagine only ever eating one type of food, or reading one genre of book, or studying one subject. And likewise I can’t imagine spending my entire life in one country, only knowing one way of doing things. I know the US is vast and different. But it is still the US. People sound the same (pretty much) in Delaware as in California, in Ohio and Florida. The cities largely look the same. The differences are small, and in the grand scheme of things, everyone is an American. They still call a holiday a vacation. They still add tax at the cashier, and expect a tip. They still say “have a nice day.” Likewise, Australia is still Australia, whether you’re in the tropical north or a continent apart in the barren western deserts. They still call a duvet a doona, and ask for a skinny latte. They still like to win, and they always tease kiwis about our accents.

But fly from Australia to Singapore, closer to Perth than Brisbane, and marvel in the differences. Then drive from wealthy, efficient Singapore into Malaysia, and cross the border into Thailand, and you’ll be overwhelmed with the differences. You’ll see them, hear them, taste and smell them. And each time, you’ll learn new ways of doing things, new ways of being.

Reason 3: Genetics and Geography

New Zealand is a country of travellers; everyone here, or their ancestors, immigrated at one time or another. In our genes are the genes of people who held their heads up, sniffed the air, and said, “let’s go!” And my genes still say “let’s go” on a regular basis.

Geography: New Zealand is small. Yes, it is geographically diverse. You can drive from snow-capped mountains to the beach in a matter of hours (or less than an hour in Taranaki), ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon. We have rolling plains, moutains, sub-tropical rainforests and fiords, volcanoes, barren desert-like areas, icy lakes, and steaming geysers and mud-pools. It’s about as diverse as a small country can get. But still, it is small. About a month ago my husband and I went to Marlborough (the home of the world’s best sauvignon blancs) for a weekend. We’ve been there many times before, and know it really well. But this time we drove up some rural roads we’d never taken before, and discovered new and exciting vistas. It was fun. Suddenly we were tourists in our own country, and we enjoyed it. This doesn’t happen a lot in New Zealand, because it is small, and so much of it is familiar.

So getting out of our small islands, escaping our own geography, is essential to me.
New Zealand is on the edge of the Pacific, a long way from, well, anywhere. To get anywhere outside New Zealand is an effort, a conscious decision. To stay here it is possible to feel isolated, far from the rest of the world, possibly even trapped. And human beings like to feel connected. So we travel.

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