With the current journey approaching its end, I have found myself considering my reasons for travelling. I’m going home in two months for the third time and I’ve been thinking. I have a philosophy degree doncha know, so I thought I might put it to use for once, or twice in the coming weeks. All jokes aside, I often think one of philosophy’s most important tasks is asking the question why. This leads me to ask myself why do I travel?
I find it difficult to remember exactly how the conversation came around almost five years ago. David, Michael and I had decided to catch the train across Europe the next summer. Michael accidentally got himself a real job before we’d finished planning. It was up to David and I to go ahead with the journey ourselves. I can’t speak for David, I don’t know his reasons for leaving. I’m not even sure what I wanted to get out of our travels.
I suspect it was a mix of many things. The lack of desire to settle down into a job at home, no real commitment to any particular walk of life, and maybe just maybe a hint of wanting something more from life. I have no doubt our trip was successful. David and I ate, drank and walked our way across the magnificent cities of our home continent. We experienced more life in those three months than either of us could have ever done sitting in an office cubicle at home. Living the dream out of our backpacks had given me a taste for a more transient life.
I wanted to go again, more importantly I wanted to go alone. Nothing against David, he’s a top bloke and I’d travel with him again. I wanted to experience the challenges of being alone in an unknown environment. My journey across North American filled me with confidence. I was looking for personal development. I don’t think anyone realistically hits the road with the intention of finding themselves, but it’s impossible to avoid an encounter with your self while travelling.
Personal identity has haunted me since my university days. I wrote my dissertation, submitted it and walked away feeling as though I’d left something unfinished, or unsaid. What is it that defines who I am? Travel solo taught me how to survive. I learned about trust, building relationships and how to navigate public transport systems. I haven’t always made the right decisions. The good times and the bad are what makes travel so rewarding. Each time I’ve left home I’ve returned more in tune with my self.
A large part of my recent adventures had been spent searching for solitude. To a lot of people I imagine what I just said makes almost no sense. Solitude is what I find most people to be afraid of when it comes to travelling. “Aren’t you scared,” they ask, “about being on your own?” People are aware by now, travelling is rarely a solo adventure. You might leave home on your own but as soon as you step foot on a train or bus, or into a hostel bedroom you become surrounded. The six weeks I spent in the Australian bush picking oranges was when I had the strongest encounter with my self. On top of Mount Tongariro I met my self again in quite different circumstances.
I realised my normal life had become a means to an end. I was just waiting for the next adventure, I wasn’t pushing myself, challenging myself or doing the things important to me. I was alienated from the person I used to be, and the person I wanted to become. Time spent too long in the same place had become counter productive. Melbourne is as much my home as Basingstoke. I had slipped into old habits. In many ways I am waiting for the next adventure: the journey home.
I’m just as often lazy, lacking in motivation and discipline, and would rather spend the day browsing empty articles online as I would be out on the road, on a train, or paddling a waterway. Home and away become one and the same. My reasons for travelling remain the same, I want to grow as a person. Unfinished notebooks from every trip are littered with ideas about becoming better but why should I isolate this development to travel?
Life at home will be different, and it will be the same. Nothing will have changed from the world I left behind almost two years ago, but I am not the same person who left. I’ve got a commitment to my self, to development, to taking the next steps even though I’m still not sure what that might entail.