Author: MarekMengel (---.prn.estpak.ee)
Date: 07-07-03 21:50
//Järgnev tekst pärineb LP Comet arhiivist
COMET - April 2002 - ISSUE 43
Why do we travel...really? (If you think the answer to this question is
too bleedin' obvious, then you may wish to leave the room now.) There are
more answers to this question than you might at first think - Lonely
Planet author Sam Benson has a crack at some of them:
Exploring the psychology of travel can be like visiting an open-air
hospital for the mildly deranged. Wandering the grounds, you might find
neurotic travel virgins, addicts to extreme adventure, masochist budget
slaves and those with obsessive-compulsive disorders who count countries
they’ve been to the same way Rain Man counted cards. After a time, some
families begin to wonder if, in fact, their most nomadic members should be
committed – just ask my mother.
What drives some of us to this madness is as vexing a question as – not to
put too fine a point on it – the meaning of life. Yet the majority of
psychologists have neglected to speculate on why some of us are recklessly
driven to travel beyond all reason and often beyond our means. Amusingly
enough, one road warrior from the Thorn Tree writes, 'My shrink tells me
it's the result of an unstable personality and sociopathic tendencies,
[because then] I don’t have to be with the same people all the time.'
Another anonymous source from inside Lonely (or should we say Loony?)
Planet confesses she’s travelled for love a few times, to escape herself
at other times, and that 'If you see a pattern of desperation here, please
send therapists’ contact details.' Does this sound familiar?
Some of the reasons we trot around the globe are obvious – escapism,
family vacations, chasing after lovers – but others, those hidden deep
within our psyches, are as quirky as our own DNA. Yet, oddly enough, the
typical traveller's inquisition usually starts off with 'Where have you
been?' and 'How long are you out for?'. It leaves the burning question of
'Why are you traveling?' to rank somewhere down around 56th place, along
with other unimportant details like your first name. Is it possible that
many of us actually travel for no real reason at all, that the emperor of
travel-land has no clothes?
The genius writer Bruce Chatwin was obsessed with travel, so much so that
friends began to think him slightly unhinged when he began theorising
about why humans don’t like staying in one place for too long. According
to his unfinished notebooks, Chatwin believed that the nomadic existence
was the natural human state. Violence, war, suicidal depression and other
maladies were the debilitating effects of modern civilization on trapped
psyches. For him life was rosy when we were all packing up our tents and
riding camels off into the sunset.
A seductive theory, and one I personally agree with, but where does the
modern couch potato fit in? Who can really explain why some of us exchange
comfortable hearth and home for sleeping on the dirt floor of a Nepali
trekking hut, fighting off battalions of mosquitoes in Congo or enduring
tipsy ferries en route to remote Mediterranean islands?
Perhaps Freud, the granddaddy of psychotherapy, can enlighten us. Some of
the psychological roots of our wanderlust do seem to come straight out of
the id, which in Freud’s model of the mind is the hedonist inside us all.
Lust, gluttony and all of the other sensational urges we keep on a short
leash at home tend to go a little wild on the road. I’ve seen folks chase
the best ganja from Baja to Kathmandu, or fly thousands of miles to meet a
lover for a rendezvous in an anonymous hotel room. As travel fuels the
fires of our loins, it also wraps us in an opiate cloud of forgetfulness
that lets us reinvent ourselves. Hell, rogue criminals have known this for
centuries. As a Lonely Planet author, to keep my anonymity on the road I
often find myself creating so many false identities that the Mission
Impossible theme song might as well be mine.
But, we hate to say it, even the most headlong pursuit of pleasure – sheer
escapism – can be a bore. Eventually floating from country to country, as
any long-term traveller will testify, can lead to ennui. At last, 'Why do
I travel?' becomes a relevant question.
For some, travel is the university of life. It may be a cliche, but as one
Thorn Tree pundit points out, 'While working in Holland a few years ago, I
learnt how to roll a joint while riding a bike. Name me a PhD course that
teaches that.' More sober folks really do travel to learn, whether a new
language or something more intangible. My grandmother gallivants around
Europe to see the things she read about while growing up, anything from
the Passion Play at Oberammergau to the British Museum or digging up
genealogical roots in Ireland.
Some of the earliest Western explorers were actually quite learned
travellers too, like the French seaman La Perouse, who carried botanists,
astronomers, geographers, zoologists and naturalists on his ships. One
poet tells me that her passion for travel comes from her passion for
literature. 'I always work literary landmarks and local bookstores into my
itineraries', she says. 'In Japan, I lived in Kawabata's hometown and
visited Rakushisha, a rustic hut in Arashiyama, Kyoto, where Basho spent
some time and where visitors are encouraged to write their own haiku.'
For others, daredevil risk will always be a necessary ingredient of
adventure. As Albert Camus wrote, ‘What gives value to travel is fear.’
Some travellers get their dose from extreme sports while surfing giant
waves in the South Pacific or hauling their snowboards up Mauna Kea
volcano sans lifts during the few times it actually snows in Hawaii. A
documentary filmmaker I know always goes straight to the 'bad
neighbourhoods' of anywhere she visits, successfully searching out the
cultural underground. Then there was the Japanese guy who was seen
pedalling his way across the Australian outback last year on a
non-motorised scooter with only a water tank, backpack and didgeridoo!
Many travellers dream up their own no less eccentric, if a bit more tame
quests. A fellow hosteller admitted to me that he always went in search of
the local beef jerky wherever he went. His adventures in tracking that
succulent delicacy to the source were always revealing of the local
culture in ways simply visiting a museum couldn’t be. I am personally
bewitched by border checkpoints, the more obscure and difficult, the
better. Having a bit of trouble getting somewhere adds value to my
If you still need to whet your appetite for globe-trotting anew, perhaps a
little armchair wandering over travel literature is in order. Or start
digging into the culture before you even leave home, like the acquaintance
of mine who immersed herself in sacred hula before her trip to the
Hawaiian islands. Volunteering can be an excellent way to a different sort
of adventure. How about helping to restore ancient ruins or battling alien
invasions (of plant and animal species, that is)? Instead of travel being
an impediment to a real adult life, as my aunt so succinctly puts it, the
experience you gain can actually further that elusive thing called a
career once you return home.
Many people eventually find that travelling becomes more about the
process, not the destination. For them, travel is a way to live purely in
the moment, all five senses fully saturated but unfiltered by books, TV or
the experiences of those who have gone there before them. Travel fills our
heads with images that we can’t get anywhere else. 'When life has its
blank moments, you have nothing to work with but your memory', says a
friend of mine in New York City. 'One of the best ways to give yourself a
good databank of things to dream about is to travel.'
As one airline advertisement recently intoned, 'The next time your life
flashes before your eyes, make sure you've got plenty to watch'. In
today's world, maybe the only unbeaten paths are intangible ones between
people and cultures, not to places. At night when I close my eyes and try
to soak in the experiences I've had, it's faces that I remember: the chef
who cooked our yak steaks in Nepal, the Tibetan nomad who gave me her baby
to take care of while she made tea, or the truck driver who snuck me into
Northern Ireland on an old bootlegging road.
Why do we travel? Perhaps this is a question without a rational answer.
After all, it may be as simple as, 'Why eat breakfast in your boring
kitchen when you can eat it in the Amazon or in Paris or on a mountain?'
as my old roommate suggests. The passion to roam the earth may be in our
bones, but hopefully we can pick up a little enlightenment along the way.
It is all a matter of perspective – the more global the perspective, the
better. So let your crazy love of travel shine this year! Even your shrink
couldn’t possibly object.
So, why do YOU travel? Should we be committed for even bothering to ask
this question? Do any of the above reasons for travelling fit you? Or do
you have an even deeper, more demented explanation of what makes you pack
your bags time and again? What other passions/quests do you tie in with
your travels? If your life flashed before your eyes, would your home
travel movie pack out the house or leave your audience (ie, you) snoozing?
Tell us what really motivates you to hit the road by emailing us at
firstname.lastname@example.org - we'll publish the best answers in a future
issue of Comet and send those published a free Lonely Planet guide of
their choice to say thanks.