Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why I Travel

Traveling has always been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest and most cherished memories involved getting onto an airplane, and going off to somewhere far and exotic. Starting in the spring, I am planning on taking a trip around the world. With little more than a backpack, I hope to spend the next 6 months traversing the globe.

Is there such a thing as a travel gene? A desire to experience other places, languages and culture that is passed down from generation to generation? Both my parents are avid travelers and most of my immediate family have studied or lived abroad at one point in their lives. Growing up in Singapore, weekend outings to the airport was a family affair. Till this day, I enjoy staring at the departure boards at large international airports, dreaming about the romance and excitement of jetting off to some faraway place. I still frequently pick large wide-bodied jets when I fly, even on short domestic trips when they are available, as I associate large planes with long exciting trips to a foreign land. Could it be that our adult lives are shaped and determined by positive experiences at an early age when we were at our most impressionable stage in life?

Ever since the summer of 2002, when I spent 6 weeks backpacking through Europe, did I first encounter the pleasures of staying in hostels, meeting like minded travelers from all over the world, and experiencing the concept of budget traveling. Any apprehension that I had going into that trip was cast aside the first night in Paris, when I met a rowdy bunch of backpackers at my hostel. After a few beers and cheap wine, we caught the Métro to the Eiffel Tower - stopping briefly to get more cheap wine – before claiming a spot on a grassy park, and swapping stories of love, life and travel adventures till the sun came up. That trip marked a turning point in my travel habits, an evolution from tourist to traveler. Visiting a place now goes beyond just taking in the sights and landmarks that it is famous for. A true traveler goes off the beaten track; they see a city both for its grand boulevards and dirty alleys; live with a local – with no climate control; and eat what is considered a delicacy – even if it does not look all too tasty. Could this one experience conceivably change my entire outlook in life and the way I travel?

The great American novelist Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Maybe all I want is to fulfill a lifelong dream. Maybe I need to live with no regrets.

Perhaps the attraction to travel extensively is not just due to one’s upbringing, or the result of a past travel experience, but rather, it is a combination of all those reasons brought about by an intimate desire for self-discovery. Will I find what I am looking for? Uncover my El Dorado or perhaps my inner Atlantis? Or maybe, just maybe, instead I might discover within me a little piece of paradise…


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