It’s a New Year, a new start, blah blah blah. I’m sure that along with those cliche resolutions to ‘lose a few pounds’, ‘same more money’ and ‘find a new hobby’, there is the best cliche resolution of all, and it will be something along the lines of ‘go travelling’, ‘see the world’, ‘have an adventure’.
I’m a big believer in the importance of travel. It opens our eyes, it stimulates the mind, it helps us to gain new perspective, to try new things and to meet new people. I am also a huge, huge believer that nothing good happens within your comfort zone.
Therefore, for those of you who are sat in your rooms, surrounded by maps and globes reduced to tatters by a thousand push pins and magazine cut outs of exotic locations taped clumsily to our wallpaper (I know that ‘with a computer full of Pinterest boards of exotic travel photography’ would be more accurate for this day and age, but it doesn’t quite have the same visual zing to it, does it?), dreaming of a life of travel… where are your balls/lady balls?
I’m sorry. Yes, travelling is scary. Especially travelling alone. Especially without a lottery win or a billionaire’s trust fund as a comforting safety blanket. Especially if you can only speak one language, or no nothing about the customs or cultures of anywhere beyond your own tiny town. Of course it’s scary. As someone who’s been there, believe me, I know.
However, I’ve been thinking about exactly why you should make 2015 your year of adventure.. step by step:
Just think, if those 86,400 seconds could be converted into pounds (or dollars, euros.. rupees.. whatever currency you care use), what would you do? How many countries would you see? With 86,400 £/$/€ in the bank, wouldn’t you make the most of your life? Wouldn’t you be able to check off at least a considerable chunk of your bucket list, simply because your bank balance allows it? Isn’t time more precious than money? And yet we’re all so willing to wallow it away without a moment’s thought?
A strangely common argument ‘against’ travel that I’ve heard is that ‘people who travel just do the same as they would at home in other countries’. Ok, so we could take that literally and say, yes, regardless as to where we are, we still eat, drink, poop. Sure. But the way I see it, if we’re going to sit in our homes, pondering the meaning of life, pondering on our existence and how we plan to spend our 2,522,880,000 seconds of life (give or take), why not ponder on the road? I think it’s more likely to find some sort of answer to those big, life-defining questions if we actually venture out into the big wide world anyway, no?
Travel sends us shooting out of our comfort zones like a circus man shooting out of a cannon (there’s a terrible innuendo in there somewhere..). We meet people we, obviously, would not have otherwise met in the comfort of our own homes – unless said person just so happens to visit not just our country or our town, but our neighbourhood. Equally… holiday romances can’t happen if you spend your life in the same town. Dating your school friends, or your work colleague, or your neighbour. Seriously, that’s how those inbred village ‘rumours’ start. Be passionate, date through the language barrier and discover that there are far more ways than simply speech in communicating our thoughts and feelings to each other. Who knows – maybe you’ll meet the man/woman of your dreams! Or make a new BFF for life!
How much time do we all waste simply because, ‘oh, there’s always tomorrow’? But consider for a moment; the average life expectancy is about 80 years old, and roughly the first two decades are dedicated to grasping an education and preparing for life, and just as you step out of university with a shiny new degree, bam, a quarter of your life is over. Just like that. Ok, I’m not saying that you should throw in the towel before high school and run away on a worldwide adventure. Education is important. But I am saying that these are the golden years, before the commitments of busy career lives, serious relationships, marriage, children, mortgages, pension plans, elderly parents to care for. As we get older, it gets harder and harder to run away for that dream adventure. Life won’t last forever, and life like this won’t last very long at all, so if you want to travel, travel, while you can. It’s as simple as that, really.
This one is I guess, the second half of number 4. Say, you live a long and healthy life, with a great career, you meet someone great, have a couple of great kids, pay off a great house and drive a great car. You reach the age of retirement, the kids are all grown up and have moved out, and you’re finally in a place where you have all the time in the world and a nice, fat pocket of savings to help to finally kick start those travel dreams. What about your health, though? Sure, I know people who are fit as a fiddle and well into their 80s and 90s, but equally, I know people who started to struggle in one way or another not long after retirement. Try seeing the world if your eyesight fades. Try hearing the crashing waves on a postcard beach if you’re on a waiting list for a hearing aid or two. I’m by no means saying that it’s simply impossibly for anyone over 60 to travel. That’s ridiculous. Look at this guy, for example – in his 90s and backpacking around the world. I’m just saying, don’t count on being that lucky.
Take a quick look around your bedroom or apartment. Look at your possessions – your clothes, your books, your electronics, your musical instruments, those memorable items that you have collected through life. You’d have to sell them or leave most of them stored away somewhere, either with Mum and Dad or in a lock up while you’re travelling. Shocking, I know. Everything is so precious and meaningful. I tell you, it’s so easy to surround ourselves with material items in order to ‘keep up with the Jones’ of society. However, I bet that very few people who have chosen instead to spend their money on experiences and travel would tell you that they wish they had spent that money on clothes or DVDs or the latest copy of Vogue instead.
Sometimes it’s just good to get away – healthy. Studies have shown that there are many benefits to taking at least an annual holiday. Travel helps us to manage stress and improve our sleep patterns (as someone who walks hand-in-hand through life with insomnia, I can personally vouch for this one! Like. A. Baby.). Travel reduces blood pressure, lowers the risk of heart disease, and those hours in the sun have been shown not only to give us that much-needed Vitamin D top up during these gloomy winter months, but also lower cholesterol levels.
What’s more, travel is great for our mental health, as well as physical. In some ways, it’s a given – we are free of those stressful responsibilities of life during our holidays. We trade those long hours at our desks for long hours roaming cobbles streets and coastal paths. During tough times, travel can be the perfect remedy. It can be that much needed escape, an eye-opening journey of self discovery, or the life-raft we’ve been searching for.
The stereotype of travel is to wander aimlessly down that long, winding path which searches the crevices of our souls and opens our eyes to which we were once blind. No? I don’t understand how a person can really claim to understand themselves without first bursting free from their comfort zone. I don’t see how someone can claim true wisdom or knowledge without experiencing other cultures, opening ourselves to new ideas and simply experimenting with life. For me, travel is a fundamental part of getting to know myself.
As a photographer and a writer, there can never be enough books, enough photographer, enough art or enough beautifully strung words. I have a shelf full of travel writing, a dozen travel journals of my own, several gigs of my own travel photography and a whole board of travel photography on my Pinterest page. I make an effort with every adventure to try and capture every sight, sound, scent, taste and touch. I write down my conversations with new friends and acquaintances, I write my thoughts, my feelings, I fill hard drives with what my eyes witness. I am addicted to documenting life, basically. However, regardless of all that, I know that the pictures and pretty words of places I have not yet seen will never match up to the places themselves, seen though my own eyes and felt with my own being. I love hearing about the adventures of others, but it will never be a good enough alternative for me to my own future adventures.
We all have those bad holiday experiences. Be it food poisoning, a hotel from hell, losing our luggage or getting stranded in the middle of no where at 1am with no signal and no language skills. I have vague memories (all documented in full in my travel journals, of course), of sitting somewhere vague, in various European cities, or towns, or villages, or no-mans-land, nameless strips of land, and thinking to myself, ‘ok, this is probably the biggest pickle I’ve ever found myself in. I don’t know how I’ll get out of this one. I don’t even know where I’ll be sleeping tonight.’
Yet I would have to consult my journals to fill in the details of any of those experiences. They are now so insignificant, because I did find a place to sleep, and I did get out of whatever ‘pickle’ I was in. One day my journals will jog my memory and they will become dinner table stories to entertain friends.
Travel, even at the worst of times, is the best of times.