I’ve been getting this question a lot recently.
Well maybe not a lot, but more than usual.
I suppose I’m at that stage where it’s getting kind of weird to be on the road all the time.
One or two years; that’s normal. You have some adventures, see the world, then go home and get married.
Three or four years; not so normal, but it’s interesting. People have a lot of questions, they want to know where you’ve been and how you do it and and all your craziest stories.
But five years? Six years? This is odd. I mean, is he okay? What’s he running from? People don’t travel for that long, unless something isn’t right with them. Right?
I doubt I’ll explain things very well here, but I’m going to try.
The short answer is no.
And the simple reason is, I haven’t finished what I started yet.
A few years ago, I Couchsurfed for the first time in Nairobi. And my host didn’t live in the nice part of Nairobi, with Uber and KFC and vegan cafes. She lived in the gritty part, where the roads weren’t paved and the electricity cut out all the time. Shortly after I arrived, I went to the kitchen to wash my hands and a few drops of water dribbled out. I just figured the tap was broken.
Later my host explained they hadn’t had water for a few weeks. Instead, a guy came by every other day, bringing water from who-knows-where, and filled up all the buckets in the house. We paid him a dollar or two per bucket, something like that. And we used that water to bathe, cook, brush our teeth, even to flush the toilet.
I’d never lived in a place without running water before, so it was new to me. But I quickly learned the tricks of the bucket water life. In the morning, you’d go and fill up a small bucket. Then you’d brush your teeth. Then, you’d sit on the toilet, do your business. Then, you’d get the shampoo out, stand over the bucket and give yourself a bucket bath. Since you were recycling the same bucket, you’d start with your face first, while the water was clean, and then your body and arms and legs, and you left your less glamourous parts for last, obviously. And once you’d finished, you’d take that bucket of bath water and use it to flush the toilet. You only had a few litres of water to use, and it was ice cold, but you learned how to make it work. Wash your face, brush your teeth, flush the toilet, take a shower. Five or six litres. And guess what? It wasn’t even that hard.
Of everything I saw in Nairobi during that trip, that’s the thing I remember most. Trying to save water in the morning. I learned how to be more mindful of such things, I learned to be more efficient, I became aware of how much water I wasted at home and how I took it for granted, I learned empathy for those who lived that life every day, but most of all I realised how much I don’t know about other people. I learned the importance of not judging someone without stepping into their lives first. Sometimes I would stand beside someone on a bus who smelled a little, and I would think “Is it really that hard to take a shower every day?”
Now I know the answer: Yes, sometimes it is.
So what’s the moral of that story? Well, like most things in life, travel transcends itself into something much bigger. The things I learned in Nairobi really had nothing to with Nairobi. It might be the novelty that draws people to travel in the first place – you saw the Grand Canyon, smoked some weed in Amsterdam – awesome stuff. But once you’ve done all that, the reason you keep travelling isn’t about sights and photos anymore. It’s about using your craft, whether it’s travel, or the guitar, or dancing, to become a better person. To give your best self to the world.
Michael Jordan dedicated his life to a sport that made him one of the richest people ever. His entire life, from when he first dribbled a ball to the 54 year old legend he is now, has been about basketball.
But if you ask Michael Jordan today, what were the most important things he learned during his career, I’m quite sure his answers would have nothing to do with basketball. He wouldn’t say, “Well, I learned the perfect angle to release my fadeaway jumpshot…and I learned how to beat a double team…”
He would probably say, “I learned how to stay calm under pressure. I learned how to trust others. I learned how to believe in myself. I learned how to accept criticism. I learned how to build a team. I learned the importance of working harder than everyone else. I learned how to be fierce. I learned how to be humble. I learned how to be a leader.”
He mastered basketball but the real gift was, it turned him into a better person. And I know those things aren’t unique to basketball. I know this because travel has taught me all those things, too.
Obviously, it doesn’t start off that way. A few weeks ago, Travel Republic asked me about my inspirations for travel, which got me thinking back to why I started in the first place. Was it a movie, a song, a story somebody told me? And more importantly, why haven’t I stopped yet?
The thing is, travel is a very personal journey – our travel lives are not displayed on a television or movie screen for everyone to see. Therefore it can be hard for people to understand why we love it and need it. I think for most, it starts off being something superficial, about all the beautiful places we want to see. But eventually it changes to something inward – a way for us to learn about who we are, and how we fit into this world. Perhaps we learn a new language, become part of a new community, fall in love. That helps us understand people, gives us perspective, teaches us compassion.
Travel helps us become better people.
Are you ever going to stop travelling?
I used to find it weird, to get asked this question. It’s not like anyone ever asked Jordan, “Are you still playing basketball? Don’t you need to like, get a real job or something?” I doubt people ever meet Tom Hanks and say, “So this acting thing, you’re still doing it? Aren’t you bored of it yet? When are you going to go back to real life?”
I suppose it’s the private nature of travel that leads people to ask this question. Nobody really gets to see what happens to us out there, so they don’t really understand why we keep doing it.
But if you love something, you do it, and if it gives back to you, you keep doing it. You continue doing it, until you can’t anymore. It’s not something you get sick of, like a video game. It’s a lifelong journey. Something you can always take more from. Something you can always get better at. Maybe the travel photos and the travel parties and the travel sights lose their twinkle eventually. But like I said, travel isn’t really about travel.
We use it to challenge ourselves. To learn about ourselves. To learn about other people. To love each other.
Travel is the tool we use to become better human beings.
Like any craft that you love, there is no finish line. It’s an endless journey. There is always more to learn, if you dig deep enough.
As long as you love it, why would you ever stop?
What about you? Did you ever stop travelling? Why? Let me know in the comments 🙂