The Peaks and Valleys of Travel

By: leelefever on December 28, 2006 - 3:01pm

 I wrote this pretty early in the trip - around the middle of March 2006, just as we were coming to terms with how extended travel actually works.  It sounds a little negative, but it's real. 



We’re learning every day, learning to be better travelers. For us, it’s about being able to find fulfillment in the bulk of the time between the absolutely fantastic and the miserably horrible experiences.  The continuum is long between the two and filled with mediocre and boring attempts to find excitement when none exists.

The idea of a year away from home, away from work, away from normal life was fascinating to us, as I think it would be to anyone.  One pictures a montage set to frantic music that displays a life of freedom, exotic locations, new people, interesting cultures, new experiences and drinks with umbrellas.  These things are all parts of extended world travel.  But, what one doesn’t imagine is the constant, constant fear of losing bags or passports or tickets.  Far from expectation is the feeling of running for a train in 95 degree heat only to miss the last train of the day.  No one looks forward to only having three pairs of underwear and having to wash them by hand in a sink every few days, along with every other piece of clothing.  Sweating yourself to sleep is not high on the list of people who look forward to travel.  In the list of reasons to see the world, being lost in a strange city late at night with all your belongings on your back does not rank high. Yet, these are all a very real part of the overall experience. The key, for us, is attitude and finding joy in the journey, or making your own joy.

It’s easy to get frustrated.  As you might expect, the world does not work as you’d prefer sometimes. Despite having spent a whole day to travel to a location, it is sometimes closed for renovation or doesn’t allow your type of shoes and you just have to deal with the fact that no one told you, or that you didn’t listen, or couldn’t understand.  You just have to suck it up and move on. Being able to move on and put it behind you is absolutely key, and something I’m currently working on.

Making up for the valleys are the peaks.  Unfortunately, it seems that the highest peaks are not something you can plan - they come unexpectedly.  It’s easy to get excited about the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal, but you expect that excitement and plan on it.  The expectations are so high sometimes that the reality cannot measure up and there are pangs of disappointment.  I battle this feeling often, perhaps because I’ve psyched myself to too high a level.

The peaks we find often arrive on the wings of chance, happenstance or the kindness of others.  The random person that gives us a bit of advice that saves us time and energy is reason for us to celebrate.  Finding a hotel at half the price we expected is cause for joy.  Sharing a meal with other travelers from other countries gives us a reason to be happy.  Capturing a scene with my camera in the way that I want gives me great pleasure. Having clean laundry, charged batteries, good health and tickets to our next destination is almost nirvana. 

More than anything else, we are most gratified by knowing that we are learning- learning to be smart travelers, learning about the people of the world, the history, the politics, and the quirkiness.  Museums and galleries are nice and we often visit- but they don’t often give us great joy.  We’ve found that the good stuff comes from the locals, the driver, the friend of a friend, the person who lives there and has an ear to the ground.  Given the choice, we’d spend 10 times more time drinking beer with a local than walking around a museum.  Though we’ve wanted more, connecting with locals have represented some of our highest peaks on the trip.

In the end, it’s a balance, a balance of expectations and reality, of fun and boredom, of frustration and success.  Joy in travel does not always come from the places you visit, the people you meet or the pictures you take – it comes from the little things that present themselves in the nick of time –  just in time to renew your excitement and remind you that travel is a wonderful and complex event and one that, more than anything else, is what you as an individual choose to make of it.

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