“I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my love for others. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to – I just don’t care.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love
Despite what your opinions may be about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book (and I have very mixed reactions to it, but still identify with SOME parts of it), this is a great way to capture how I feel about traveling. I have let travel barf all over me but for whatever reason my love is unconditional, and I am always hungry for more. In many ways I feel like I’ve gone through an evolution in my traveling spirit, and I still continue to. In every trip that I take and expect to take, I realize that the way I saw the world was different each time and my mindset was very different as well. I eventually do hope to go on that crazy year long (or longer) journey that Elizabeth Gilbert had, but of course I hope to make it my own.
I do not hope to just walk in with expectations of what each place will give me personally or spiritually because then what is the fun in that?
1.) Protected Travel
Still within the confines of my teenage mind and the overprotectiveness of my family the first time I felt I truly “traveled” was after high school. I was originally planning to go to Pakistan for the summer, but still take a side trip to Europe. Unfortunately, that was very much out of my control and I did not get to go. I was extremely annoyed, and threw many annoyance fits. Much to my surprise, I instead I had the chance to experience something much more meaningful. Rather than shop around in Pakistan or take a luxury vacation, I was lucky to see parts of Pakistan that I had never considered seeing. I had the opportunity to see, outside of Karachi, Islamabad, Muree, Bhurban, Abbotabad, and my favorite place of everywhere I went – the Tharr Desert in Sindh. I find myself dismayed when my mother told me that from the last time I went things have changed so much in terms of safety. I hope I get to go back at some point.
The most memorable thing ever said to me, however, in Pakistan was a line from an old man in the Tharr Desert, when my immature 18 year old self asked if I could look inside of his hut (mostly out of curiosity). He said: “You can see inside of the hut, but you will never be able to see our pain.” It was at that point that I understood that while this was a great experience for me, it may have not been for him. It only reminded him of his poverty, and although that was not my intention, it was the first time I understood the concept of “exoticisaztion of the poor”.
2.) College Wide-Eyed Youth Travel
My first time to go to a foreign country ALONE. No, I was not daring to make it immediately to a developing country and I could not be because my parents were helping pay for it. It was already a miracle to even have their permission and a milestone in my freedom-seeking. It really was not too long ago as I think it to be, almost 3 and a half years ago.
I was at the time dealing with a lot of personal angst. I was just ready to enjoy that studying abroad experience that you hear about in Facebook statuses and general glossy magazines at universities. However, I was happy to make my study abroad my own simply as being an exchange student. I had no set program, and that really helped me meet people on my own and form connections that I never would have imagined. It was great and my first time learning how to do my own planning for traveling and putting myself out there. It was enthralling to meet people so quickly, and while not all friendships lasted, the ones that did are so important that I always know that no matter how much time passes I will see them again no matter how far they are. Surprisingly, it really has been working out that way.
3.) Young Adult Starting To Seek Something Deeper Travel
This was my first time really going at it alone and not in a safe, developed world country, with no friends I knew before. Still, for whatever reason I still confined myself by deciding to do a month-long “tour group” in the Middle East (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt) with some bouts of time alone in Lebanon and Istanbul. By no means do I claim it to be as brave and adventurous as other travelers, but it still was another small, but important travel leap for me.
Let’s just say I’ve developed enough bravery to say I would never do the tour group thing EVER again. EVER EVER EVER. I certainly enjoyed the places I saw and made the most of THEM, but I was not incredibly impressed with most of the company I was traveling with and eventually found myself wanting to steer off on my own. Some people were pretty cool, but I realized after this trip, I was all for independent travel. I wouldn’t mind tour groups for just like a few days or a week, but THAT IS IT.
I also started finding myself deeply annoyed by “traveler competitors”, or rather people who could list so many countries they went to but not really care about the cultures they were “viewing”. I by definitely guilty of this sometimes, and I think many avid travelers are and do not know it. It is great to recall how many passport stamps one has and count the number of countries one has been to. Nevertheless, I found myself starting to not feel necessarily an admiration for how many countries or tourist sites a person has seen, but rather what their experiences were while abroad. Even if a person has only gone to one country outside of his or her homeland, I am more interested in knowing his or her experiences with people and the place.
4.) What Next?
I really cannot name stages, as they happen as I go. I haven’t reached that “mid-career” point that many chronic travelers reach, but do I want to reach that? I sure hope not. I have truly taken, at least in my own opinion, baby steps with my traveling. I perhaps did not leap into it because I wanted to build my confidence, the way I built it when I decided not to let my dad be the only one teaching me how to drive and said, I want to pay the money for a driving school. It made a difference and I would say I learned to drive way faster (almost 2 months) and with more confidence than the 6 months I spent learning from my dad and dealing with impatience.
This time, my trip is a language fellowship and public health practicum in India. I would say much more professional than my last three trips, and frankly just wanting to be acquainted with a few places rather than being so attached to the idea of trying to see everything possible. I will be living in Lucknow, but will definitely be taking side trips. After May, I am not sure where I will be or what I will be doing. I am not sure what stage of travel I am on this trip, but it is a first because it is my first time actually spending a longer time in a developing country. Though I understand that there will be many challenges, I am excited to stay busy with my language coursework and practicum.
Till then, readers, I will (hopefully) be updating my personal blog: wanderlust institute. I still need to work on its decoration and aesthetics, so excuse the basic design.