I sincerely hate that question. I hate it because it’s impossible to answer. It’s impossible because it all depends. You would have to come up with your favourite road trip, shopping destination, tropical island, club scene, hiking trail, diving location…you get the idea. When you have been to 100+ countries and regions, you have seen a lot. You also developed a sense of what travelling is all about. And found some unexpected benefits.
Travel more, live longer
Travelling has an interesting side effect. It makes your life longer. It’s not the actual traveling that extends your life, but the primary impressions you are exposed to. That’s why a two-night-stay in a yurt on the heights of Kyrgyzstan, will feel longer than three weeks of ordinary work at home. Always wondered why the way back often feels shorter? It’s the same mechanism in play.
Travel affects your psychological time. It forces you to live in the moment, by continuous feeding you with small, small surprises. This mindfulness kind of state makes you aware and relaxed in the same time. And when your mind gets occupied, it can’t really worry about things that might go wrong in the future. So stop worrying and start prolonging your life by always being in motion.
I don’t speak Slovenian. Something that came in very handy when I traveled the Istrian Riviera last summer. You might think it’s a disadvantage not knowing the language, but it comes with benefits. If you understand the language, you are automatically engaged in all the things going on around you. Annoying chit-chat that constantly interrupts your Dostoevsky reading project. And unfortunately, you can’t unlearn something you already learned.
This lost-in-translation detox makes wonders for your mind. When you can’t focus on the things going on around you, you will transcend into a higher state of harmony, filled up by the present moment. It’s a bit like being in nature, listening to the birds singing or the trees blowing in the wind. People chatting becomes pleasant background noise and a stroll through an Asian neon light city transforms into a street art exhibition instead of boring street messages. So think twice before you learn a new language next time.
It’s the little things
The most memorable experiences tend to be those small things that differentiate your destination from home. That is, the things you tell your friends when you are back home. Ironically, the more popular a destination gets, the less exotic things you probably will encounter. Mainstream places tend to adapt to the conventional habits they think tourists want, and gradually get rid of everything that might seem strange. Alas, no things to tell your friends when you’re back home.
Let me give you some examples from my personal collection. How about that people greet by putting their hand on the heart in Brunei, that bubblegum is strictly forbidden in Singapore, or that you have to eat with your hands in Kathmandu. Or that you can borrow a book at a pop-up library in the Taipei metro, visit a authentic jungle tribe in Vanuatu, and enjoy a camel beauty competition in Muscat.
Ever got confused when traveling in different time zones? Hopefully, you are not heading to New Zealand with quarter-hour deviations, to Jerusalem where Sundays are Mondays, or Nepal where you have to set your clock forward 57 years, according to the Vikrami calendar.
Speaking of odd things, please note that you can order a cup of coca leaf tea in La Paz and buy some deep-fried Tarantula spiders in Phnom Penh. Not to mention that Kyrgyzstan has conserved all its Lenin statues, that Jakarta transforms into a car free city every weekend, and that it’s illegal to forget your wife’s birthday in Samoa. Now, that’s something to tell your friends at home.
The second time around
Did you ever go back to the same place just to realize how different it felt compared to the first time? I call the first visit to a place the undergraduate level. Just like in school, you have to pass all the mandatory ”sights” to qualify for the optional excursions. And that’s when things start to get really exciting, allowing you to do the things you enjoy the most, but in a new exotic context.
Being free of “mandatory” things drastically change the experience of a place. You can finally indulge the place like a local, be spontaneous and free minded. Take a long walk, read a book in a cafe, hit the cinema, socialize with locals, and organize a house party. So start returning to the places you like, or even better, the places you didn’t like the first time around.
What’s it all about
So, what’s traveling all about? For me, it’s about understanding the world. The people. The culture. The surroundings. To get a feeling for how people live. Interact. What they do for a living. To recognize the places you hear about on the news, simply because you have been there yourself. Not to mention the real time updates you get from friends you made around the world.
It’s also about living in the present, every second of the journey. A bit of adventure. Randomness. Not knowing what awaits around the next corner. An opportunity to grow as a person. Reflect. Separate from the warm cosy comfort zone at home. And, of course, to make my life a little bit longer.
All images © 2020 Erik Ekberger.
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