Traveling is every free spirit’s wet dream, one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, well before I hit the road for my RTW trip in early 2009. 18 months and 4 continents later, I’m back in peaceful Melbourne for the Australian summer, reflecting on what became one of my biggest adventures yet.
Traveling Vs Vacationing
For me, traveling is not a vacation activity. I had many of those while studying and working in Australia. I see traveling as an opportunity to immerse myself in new areas and environments, and it’s that experience of stepping outside of my comfort zone that excites me. I see it as a profound, soul enriching experience; an ongoing process of growth and self-expression. Perhaps more than anything, traveling for me is about holding less tightly my so-called certainties, and re-evaluating my assumptions about the world.
For this trip, I wanted to experience freedom on a whole new level, freedom which seems more difficult and rare to attain these days. I purposefully avoided setting an ending date and traveled on one way tickets, which meant that I stayed in places as long as I wanted and moved to wherever I felt like moving. The abundance of time and richness of places provided me a unique opportunity to look deeper and gain broader insights about traveling in particular and life in general.
Slowing Down (Or in other words – Start walking)
One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked is related to the number of countries I’ve visited. I think the number is hovering around 20, half of which were visited during my European trip, thoughif you ask me this question today, I’ll add that the number is fairly meaningless to me.
Allowing enough time in one place toappreciate its richness, instead of rushing from city to city is true quality. There is a chance to get a real sense of our destination by pausing, looking, listening, even smelling. A place is experienced quite differently when we walk than when we speed by in trains, buses or cars. The number of stamps in my passport in a hurried trip, is less valuable than the slow and immersive experience of one place.
I could get to famous Machu Picchu via a short train ride or instead I could trek it for 4 days via a dense jungle Inca trail with massive waterfalls, picturesque mountains, long bridges, amazing sunsets and a feel accomplishment at the top of the hill.
Inca trail was only one example for me in a long list of learning experiences, and after speeding across Europe I really slowed down. I spent more than a month in Buenos Aires learning Spanish, meeting locals, sensing the rhythm of Argentinean people, feeling the vibe of the city, the dark smoke of thousands of city buses filling my lungs.
But you see, traveling is not just about enjoying a place’s beauty but also bearing its ugliness. When you slow down, you gain a real picture of a place, rather than a superficial Photoshop image of a traveling agency poster.
I recently took a very slow stroll through Melbourne’s botanical gardens, a place I visited many times in the past, and felt more invigorated and inspired than ever, perhaps truly seeing it for the first time.
Being Fully Present (Turn off the mobile)
Emailing, Facebook & text messaging around the clock, perhaps the new 21st century epidemic, has crept into our lives and made us all addicted, contributing to our already growing attention deficit. I think internet addiction medications will soon be available, if not already.
I remember trekking to Everest base camp at the beginning of my trip, passing remote mountain villages with very little utilities, but with big signs of “Internet access”. One time I went in to check emails and started responding to a business matter, thinking to myself, “Just this one and I’m out of here”.
I did indeed keep my promise and responded to only one email, but my mind was elsewhere for the next hour or so, thinking of business matters rather than delighting myself with the magnificent mountain views.
While being connected has its benefits, especially in a foreign country, the downside side is that we’re not fully engaged in where we are and in what we’re doing. Focused attention is quality. The more focus we bring to something, the more acute our experience will be. This is also true with intentions; the more focus you give to your desires, the more energy will be directed towards their manifestation.
I think my biggest challenge in that sense came during my Vipassana experience, when I had to focus on the air coming out of my nostrils for 2 days straight. Quite extreme, but it helped me appreciating presence and at some point during my trip I decided to turn off both my mobile and internet, as they currently are while I’m writing this.
Incorporating Simplicity (Go light)
21st century tourism marketing has led us to believe that traveling is all about visiting popular sites, staying in comfortable hotels, and doing the same activities we do at home, or more precisely, consume the same things they tell us we need.
Perhaps that’s the way for vacation travel but it’s a different story when we travel long-term. RTW trips by their very nature demand simplicity. You carry your whole world in a backpack and get to meet locals who never had the “privilege” of consuming so much. After a while you start realizing how much you enjoy feeling independence from your possessions.
When I trekked Nepal, by far the happiest people I met were the ones living in the mountains who didn’t have much in terms of possessions, but have a joyous spark in their eyes. They appreciate the simple things that we tend to take for granted. They see the beauty in nature, the rising and setting of the sun, the spectrum of colors of a rainbow, the essence of a rare flower. They live a humble life within their means, and have something most of the western world desperately craves: wealth of time.
At age 21, I wanted a high paying job so I could buy all the expensive stuff I saw around me. When I was 24, I wanted even more, so I worked harder, earned more and spent more. When I was 27 I did get my high paying job and got to own lots of other expensive stuff, but it came with a price. I had no free time and I was exhausted from running around. I started craving for less, and continue to do so to this day.
Embracing the Unknown (Throw away the lonely planet)
When I did my first long trip after the army, my idea of adventurous travel was to take on activities such as a level 5 rafting trip, bungee jumping, or skydiving out of a plane. I did them all in less than a week in New Zealand, and they were exciting. But as I grew up I learned that adventure is not necessarily about physical activity, but rather the journey into the unknown. Not knowing where you’re going, who you’re going to meet, or what you’re going to experience next is truly adventurous.
We all want an exciting adventure on our trip but at the same time we also want to know what’s going to happen. Well, one comes at the expense of the other. The more we know about a place the less adventure we’ll experience.
So at some stage of my trip, I threw away my lonely planet and traveled without a guide. Far more exciting to get advice from locals or other travelers than it is finding it in a book. It also meant that I was off the beaten track and away from the popular and busy tourist destinations.
Sometimes the best things actually happen on the way to our desired destination than at it. The most enjoyable part of my trip to India, for example, wasn’t being hoarded along with the thousands of other tourists at the Taj Mahal’s courtyard, but spending the day with some brilliant people whom I met on the way.
The same thing happened during my Italian adventure; I traveled all the way to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower, just to take a photo and tick another box in my list. Far from exciting.
In sharp contrast, some of the greatest adventures of my trip happened when I let the adventure find me instead of me finding and planning it, like building a house in Peru, or going into the wild in Patagonia, or even getting engaged in Canada.
This is true in life as well; if we truly want our life to be an exciting adventure, we might want to stop forcing experiences and start embracing the unknown.
The journey is always more important than the destination. Always.
Live your dream life!