Why We Travel

Why do we travel? My recent trip to Thailand gave me pause for thought…

Travelling is always a beautiful experience. Having said that I probably also need to define what I mean when I say ‘beautiful’. Because the truth might not always be Disney princess beautiful, but it is the truth. Therefore it should be admired or explored or enjoyed for the mere fact that it is simply there. It is real. It is what is in front of you when you travel and so should be appreciated. So deep for a Tuesday I know, but let me explain…

We recently went on the most eye-popping trip to Thailand. But coming home I have found it so frustrating sharing our travel adventures with friends and family. Some of my pictures have been received with horror and ‘Oh how awful, how can people live like that!’ comments. They were so confused as to how I could have possibly enjoyed a country where there are pockets of poverty and pollution. Where I had to make a bit of an effort to get to where I needed to go. Where there were stray dogs. Where the best restaurants weren’t Michelin starred and didn’t have a well-lit sign on the door or a menu with pictures on it. Where I wasn’t lolling by a pool having cocktails brought to me 24/7.

I think this is where the point of travel differs for so many people. While planning our 2 and a half week holiday I didn’t want to just find the most Insta-worthy beach and remain plonk. I wanted to go exploring. I had never been to Thailand or anywhere east of Mauritius for that matter. This excluded a brief work trip to Sri Lanka which did open my eyes and make me want to see more but also made me fully aware that a week-long stay in a 5 star resort with auto-connect Wi-Fi and afternoon tea does not an explorer of Asia make.

A week-long stay in a 5 star resort with Wi-Fi and afternoon tea does not an explorer of Asia make.

And for me the joy of travel is delving in. Immersing myself fully in another world, be it similar to my own or completely alien. And actually the more alien the better. Any experience can make us grateful for overlooked necessities or open our eyes to what is missing in our own day-to-day existence. But the point is that if we don’t engage and just keep sitting on those beautiful beaches in those all-inclusive resorts we learn nothing. We might catch up on some sleep, catch a tan and yes we pay our way and support a country’s tourism industry but we ourselves don’t grow.

At this point I must be clear that I am not a hater of 5 star resorts. I am as keen to indulge in a gourmet meal or exclusive balloon ride as much as the next person. And picture perfect beaches don’t offend me in the slightest. In fact I fully appreciate the need to sit on the sand and stare at the ocean for hours at a time. This is also good for the soul.

I guess my point is that every experience is exactly that – an experience. If you can afford the balloon ride do it, but taking a walk through the local food market is just as important. You need to give a little of yourself and see what comes of it. You will be surprised. The fish market will smell, the temple guaranteed to be hot and crowded, the jet lag all too oppressive and the mosquitos on the boat cruise will drive you insane. But oh the adventure! The memories! The world with all its faults is something to be seen and this is where the beauty of travel lies.

The fish market will smell, the temple guaranteed to be hot and crowded, the jet lag all too oppressive, the mosquitos on the boat cruise will drive you insane. But oh the adventure!

Our trip to Thailand definitely didn’t disappoint. The tuk-tuk chaos of the cities, the soul fueling street food in the north, diving off pearly islands into endless sea gardens, markets teaming with life both edible and otherwise.

In the capital I walked through streets of spare parts factories where grease covered men stripped old cell phones and scooters for parts which they stored in tiny jumbled sheds. Somehow there was order to the chaos my untrained eye could not see. As a customer came in with a problem they would dash into a specific section and triumphantly come out holding the spare part that was needed, existing in a second-hand world that our auto-updating consumerist culture cannot fathom.

I meandered through a cool, quiet market directly behind the noise of the Grand Palace Complex in Bangkok. Never-ending stalls of dried fish made me realise how much we are draining the ocean, just how much mankind ‘needs’. Women sat on grass mats cutting ginger and chillies into slivers. That ginger was the entire day’s focus, fueled with gossip and fuzzy radio for company. Suddenly the countless meetings in my comfortable, temperature regulated office didn’t seem so bad.

I stood on a train in afternoon rush hour, watching silky skinned teenagers in sailor themed school uniforms watching YouTube videos of beauty bloggers applying layers of foundation. I was there when a scooter driver knocked over an old woman and an entire 6 lane intersection come to a standstill. Everyone stopped to make sure she hadn’t been hurt and admonish the rushing driver who hung his head in shame. Then the beeping chaos immediately resumed.

These moments made my trip breathless. I saw and sampled a different way of being, unconsciously learning so much about myself at the same time. The exhaustion and confusion. The inspiration and wonder. This is what the all-inclusive resort goers will never understand. And actually in the moment you yourself might not fully grasp the importance of it either. But on the plane ride home or in your kitchen or on your commute you will think of it and you will smile. Because in these experiences there is a beauty unlike any other and should not be so carelessly discarded.

all images my own