To travel or to show?
According to all the pictures spread on social networks – mines included –, travelling appears like a necessary step, without which you’d be nothing but an ignorant with no curiosity nor courage, doomed to fail to find the intimate meaning of life. It’s true, you just need to go I don’t where in Turkey, Romania or Canada to amaze your audience and be praised with many waow. Do you prefer to stay inside your home this summer? Oh my poor friend, your life is so dull!
This is why I started to wonder do we have to travel, if travelling is an imperative that we have to fulfill. It seems that an outdated fantasy of an Odyssey, of an Ulysses who has known the obligatory initiation of life, who has drunk sips of sea water and seen what nobody has seen, is still vivid in our imagination. Travelling gives us adventure, this exciting allay of risk and discovery which ensures us adulthood like a diploma promises us a star situation in society. But when I think about it, I find it funny that this dust of odyssean dream is still lying in our spirits old attic, in such a period when we have Google Earth, travel guides which do all the work or us, and big comfortable planes for a soft journey. Risk and discovery? Let me doubt and laugh a bit about these fake adventure diplomas that rely more on our instagrammed pictures than on the danger encountered.
Now that I am speaking about it, it’s probably these beautiful pictures that dictate the imperative: “travel!”. If I log in my Facebook account, I’ll be so wondered by someone in New Zealand, another one in Vietnam, so quick I should find an original destination to publish things myself, because my virtual existence would be more intense, I would have things to show to prove that I lived indeed and that I’m living now, I’d have hundreds of witnesses of the abundance of my experiences. In fact, there is indeed an imperative, but it orders to show rather than to live, like if a bunch of Facebook status and tweets could fix our existence in a eternal and perfect statue, vestige of what we are, validating us forever.
Beside the fact that it won’t work, because you’ll always have to fuss and show the fuss to exist, it also presents some problems. We could first yield to a relentless gluttony which asks for more and more new places to visit, more and more original and stunning, always a new elsewhere. The wolverine collects places like a child could collect kinder toys, he visits them superficially and don’t even try to actually live in them. Then, sometimes, this attitude is accompanied by a doubtful form of neocolonialism. We don’t respect the local people anymore, but we would pay a lot of money to get a picture with a poor African orphan, because yes, we are good persons, can’t you see? Yeah, meh. And there is tourism as well. Even if I don’t really like to practice it myself, I have nothing against it. But we must admit that it is above all a commercial and lucrative activity, which make out of you not a traveler but a customer buying a service enabling you to bring your own comfort with you anywhere in the world, world that you’ll discover through a preconceived plan with other customers wearing I<3NY t-shirts and guides faking the indigenous to let you dream even more. Why not, if that’s what you’re looking for, that you fully assume it as it is, and if it helps one country’s economy. But no, sorry, it doesn’t mean that you’re Ulysses. If the displacement can be bought, money can’t offer you the very act of travelling, without any other effort from you that a disbursement.
Yeah, understood, mate. And so, how do we travel?
The meaning of travelling
Only dream? First, travelling it’s also bloody annoying
Oh! Yeah! All these beautiful landscapes, all these incredible people, these new cultures and this wildlife! That’s travelling! Yes, you’re right. But before that, it’s hours in front of your computer looking for which insurance you need, if your visa is updated, if you have the right one, how to save money and living with almost nothing, seeking for some testimonies, looking for backpackers or guesthouses or couchsurfers hosts. And when you arrive, you feel so tired because of the jetlag, your bump hurts because you’ve been seating in the plane for ages. And then, hard time begins, you walk in the street during hours to find a job, your strong foreign accent doesn’t help and betrays your inexperience. And oh shit, I forget the insect repellent, I’ve been told that there are so many mosquitoes and they might give dengue, bloody animals, why did I take the tweezer and not the insect repellent, can you tell me? And then there’s loneliness sometimes; money problems, often. In fact, all this pain is nothing compared to all the fun you’re going to have. It’s sure. You just need to know that it exists as well and that you’ll have to overcome it.
What is exoticism? About the non-necessity to go and risk your life in Amazonia
About that, we forgot a bit what means the “exoticism” that we find through travelling, even more now that we have satellites and Medias. It’s easier to find to say firstly what travelling is not, or rather what it is not anymore. Its essence does not lie in heroism, you don’t have to be Ulysses and to face ordeals after ordeals, waves after waves, to be a traveler. I don’t say that you shouldn’t be seeking for adrenaline if you like it – I’m saying that the myth of the comeback to the sweet and nice shack after having struggled against thousands of monsters and dangers, thanks but we don’t believe in it anymore.
I would even say that to get the idea of travelling and its exoticism, we should begin by our own home. You don’t have to be surprised and remember than travelling and migrating are two different things. You don’t need to go really far away to actually travel. To travel, this means to navigate, to let yourself get carried away by the waves of the unexpected, to leave the dock of your daily routine, surely having a hard time once in a while, embarking on a narrow alley which didn’t seem to call for you before and where no bus goes, meeting there nothing else than the fleeting gaze of a tabby cat, or a city flower, fragments of the mundane unnoticed and therefore exceptional. If you travel this way, without any other guide that your intuition, to the heart of a territory which in the sunlight of your daily life appears like a familiar ground, in the nights of your walks with no road it will reveals itself to be strange and astonishing. And you, you’ll become an exoticism archeologist, excavating every nook and cranny of wherever you’ll happen to be, to unearth the jewels of the unsuspected that this territory would have uncovered for you. Travelling, it’s to go meeting all these things, it’s digging, coming back, unburying, carrying on, and blossoming in this miner task. If you know where you’re going, if you follow a plan – a metro, book or even your mental map’s plan –, you’re not absolutely travelling, and you won’t be discovering anything. That’s why I believe that we can travel in our own home. There will always be some exoticism to dig up, because exoticism, it’s just what renews our gaze by ephemeral and fresh flashes of strangeness and intimacy, by the delicacy of a dazzling meeting – it is what enriches our vision of the world by opening it on mystery and by curing it from the customary. Anything may be exotic: a sound, a breeze, an insect, an impressive building, there is no other law than your astonishment’s one.
If we learn better how to travel in our home than in a foreign country, it’s because once you’ll be at the other side of the world, it is the exoticism that will come to you, because everything is new. The first time that I set foot away from home, I could walk for hours without any precise goal, without any idea of where I was going, only to feed myself with this ocean of novelty. I would never have been stuffed, I deliciously felt my hunger not willing to calm down, to get passionate for any little piece of landscape that the local people didn’t notice anymore. I found myself with plenty of remembrances and beauties all of a sudden. When we are at home, it’s a bit more difficult, we must really dig and sail through the streets and the fields to make exoticism spring. We must incessantly deepen the landscape and navigate for hours. In the end, travelling stimulates a lifelong curiosity.
For an adventure without any Cyclops nor Kraken: to shake up our comfort
The other component of travelling, after exoticism, would be adventure. Still I believe that the meaning of adventure is much easier than it seems. No, it’s not a big deal if you don’t meet the Kraken on your way, if no mermaid has been whispering a lullaby in your ears, and if you don’t have braved furious storms. You don’t need anything of this to be credible – you don’t need to be credible.
Adventure is a state of mind, a little bit courageous, but not too much, without temerity, that pushes you to go out of your comfort zone, of our kind daily life. Ulysses, well, he at least needed to meet a Cyclopes, to go out of his comfort zone, but this dude had been through Troy war by hiding in a wooden horse, he set the high standards you know. We who live a quiet office life and who, to get our food, just have to go to the supermarket in the corner, we need far less than this to shake a bit our lives up. You just need to find what is suitable for you, and it might appear really little at the beginning. I personally needed to travel alone in a foreign country far from home, integrate myself there, find a job even though I had no previous work experience. Carrying three plates and serving impatient customers war tougher for me than doing rhetorical feats in essays at school. Even knocking at a door to ask in approximate English please would you hire me, no I haven’t got experience but yes I am really motivated, yes of course it is legal to hire me, look, here is my visa, well, this required a significant effort from me., a little courage, but still courage. Because I had never done it before, and I was frightened to do it. Adventure while travelling teaches you about life, it put your fears in perspective – and going out of your comfort zone, it is exactly overcoming your intimate fears.
Simply stuff yourself with the delicious energy of exoticism won’t teach you anything if you don’t push a little bit yourself to learn and experiment. You are going to start by eating in a restaurant on your own. Then, you’ll meet people in the streets and public transports; you would have approached them to finally break your loneliness. It won’t seem much for some people, but never mind, for you it will be a great step; you would have got out of yourself. And in the end, you’ll feel more fulfilled and confident, and each time you’ll push the limits of your comfort zone a little bit further, expanding your being. You’ll be leaving again with your backpack in a destination that appears less easy, you’ll do things which you believed impossible, or only in books and on TV. We are not all starting from the same situation, but there will be an appropriate adventure for everyone. So, tell me, what would shake you up? Going two weeks in Normandy? Or in England because home is not to far away and also with a friend, because you don’t want to be alone? Do you wish to fly away to Mongolia and live in a yurt and ride the wild Steppe horses? There is no such thing as a best Odyssey, there is only the one that would cater for your own needs, and make you grow up, a little bit, and dispel your fears, a little bit. And that’s it, the very promised and wonderful initiation of life.
Do I have to travel?
The more we think about the meaning of travelling, the more the question asked in an imperative way seems to lose its relevance. It sounds a bit silly to affirm that is an obligation to be in search for exoticism and adventure, especially if we don’t feel the need to get them. Obligation it’s a pressure coming from the outside: it can for instance emanate from the social model which encourages you to show yourself as an adventurer, so that we feel forced to travel to fulfill our existence, to validate it. Once free from all this vain pressure, travelling does not appear anymore like “something that is absolutely to be done in your life”. However, it remains an unbelievable experience to discover yourself, push your limits, break your daily routine, meet the unusual and different ways of thinking, try to shape who you are. It has this tremendous capacity to make astonishing and curiosity grow, while stifling fears and prejudices. The imperative that pushes you to travel can’t be coming from the outside, but from the inside, it is an inner imperative. Then, the question which you should better ask to yourself is not “do we have to travel?”, but “Do I have to travel?”.