Have you ever travelled?

But when I say travelled, I mean really travelled. I’m not talking about 10 days in a Bali resort or a trip over summer to a coastal town - that’s a holiday. I’m talking about a challenging journey to a distant land where your goal is not just to see the sights, but really get a feel for a place and stay as long as you can, or to go as far as you can; or to as remote a location as you can.

If you’re one of the ever increasing numbers of people who have travelled like this, then chances are that right now you’re already planning your next journey, and it’s probably to a place that’s more obscure and remote than the last trip you did.

So what is it about this type of travelling that’s so addictive? Why is that as soon as some of us arrive home we start thinking about getting away again? Is it simply a case of wanderlust or ‘catching the travel bug’? Perhaps we’re just running away? Or perhaps we’re looking for something - something that we haven’t been able to find at home.

Since the beginning of our existence, certain humans have yearned to travel. In the earliest of times this was a necessity in order to fulfil our need for food, but with the invention roads and sailing came a desire to take this travel to the furthest possible place. And while in the earliest cases much of this travel was done under the guise of trade or missionary work, there was still a cohort who longed for a life that took them to faraway lands.

As stories of these travels spread so did a romantic desire for it, and by the by the 17th Century young males from the English and European aristocracy would take what came to be known as the Grand Touras a rite-of-passage. This continued up until the industrial revolution when the invention of railways and steam boats made it affordable for all socio-economic classes to travel vast distances. This gave rise to the Hippy Trail in the 1960’s and 70’s, and it’s here that we first see large amounts of people travelling with the intention of immersing themselves in non-Western cultures while staying for as long as possible and living as cheaply as possible.

Most recently, cheap air travel now means that virtually everyone, at least if you’re from a Western country, can travel anywhere they desire. It’s not so much a question of where can I go, but where can’tI go. Some places maybe are more difficult to get to than others, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and because the way is so affordable, anything is possible.

But why is it that once we start it’s hard to stop? Travelling for me is about experiencing the world in a way that is not possible at home. When you’re home you know how everything works, you understand the language and social protocols, you know how to use things like the public transport and postal systems, and you have friends and family who you can rely on. Everything is familiar. But when you travel you remove all of this familiarity. Absolutely everything can be different. Money, tipping, queuing up, ordering food, buying clothes, sending a letter, catching a bus, finding accommodation can all be challenging because you have to re-learn the things that you take for granted.

And this is where the true adventure of travel begins. You become venerable on some of the most fundamental levels - if you don’t work out how the bus system works then you will not get where you’re going; if you don’t learn words to order food, then you don’t get to eat. But within this vulnerability breeds an openness to new experiences, and this leads you down paths that you otherwise would not follow. If it wasn’t for this willingness to be venerable I would not have traipsed the markets of Port Moresby or tried Betel Nut in the PNG Highlands; I would not have gone to a see a grind-electro band in Portland or visited almost every club in New Orleans’ French Quarter; and I certainly wouldn’t have ended up at a house party in Beijing with three French guys who got so drunk they thought that going for a swim in the Houhai was actually a good idea.

But it’s even more than events and locations. There’s a certain earnestness that comes out when you’re vulnerable to such mundane things and consequently you find yourself opening up to people more readily. You learn that it’s possible to be emotionally intimate with someone who you only met three hours ago, and you learn that it’s okay to love someone even though they’re leaving you in a day or two. You learn that you can be friends with people you never thought you would be friends with, and you learn that making friends is a decision that you make. And ultimately, you learn to look at the world with a more open-minded perspective because you begin to see the positives in everything and everyone.

But then you come home and everything is the same, except for you. You’ve changed and grown from the experiences while everything else remained the same. And you have a longing to travel again because you know that every time you take a journey a new experience will be waiting for you. New experiences at home are rare, and perhaps it’s because of your familiarity with everything that causes this. Travelling is more than just going somewhere; it’s about having a series of new experiences that stay with you for the rest of your life. And that’s why you never want to stop; because when you stop travelling you can feel like you’ve stopped growing.


Stuart Prendergast