Aug 6, 2011

Why you need to see the world

My family are headed to Europe today, without me. We used to take trips together (eleven of us, sometimes). They invited me to come with them but I said not this time, I've got work to do here. I'm fairly sure the big ole family vacation is over for me. But I'm not over with travelling. Just started, actually.

The novelist Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Travel is not about comfort. Rather the opposite: we travel to be made uncomfortable, to be challenged and maybe just a little bit frightened.

On the road I've been all of those things, which is probably why happy moments on the road seem, by contrast, more full of joy than any others.

In the southwestern Chinese mountains of Yunnan province, near the Tibetan border, I was once sicker than I've ever been before (or since). I couldn't eat anything and I couldn't keep anything down. I spent the night stumbling between a bed in a rooftop room made of split pine boards, down a ladder to the open central courtyard, and into the communal outhouse, which was a squat hole in the ground.

During the night I thought of a fellow I'd gone to school with, a fellow who'd been offered a full-time job at a newspaper back in Halifax (while I'd spent my time learning to ride a motorcycle and thumbing through the Lonely Planet).

How sensible he must be, I thought, as I dry-heaved into a hole of sewage.

In the morning when the sun came up, I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat on the roof. The sky was so wide open. I thought: "I wouldn't change places with him for anything."

At this stage in my life, I'd recommend travel over buying a house, over starting a family, over a master's degree. Watch the sun come up over some strange city, eat food you can only order by pointing, share things you're carrying with children, get ripped off by con artists, haggle, win, lose, get violently sick, be rescued by strangers. It changes you.

I would also recommend a one-minute film called "MOVE" from director Rick Mereki, which along with its companions "EAT" and "LEARN," is a good reminder of all the reasons to hit the road.

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

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