“Watch the way you react when you don’t get what you want”
– Someone Wise
Travel is exhaustion. Travel is frustration. Travel is 400km taking 15 hours in a bus without air-con. Travel is screaming babies. Travel is never getting a window seat. Travel is no vegetarian options. Travel is getting ripped off because you don’t speak the language. Travel is crowded dorm rooms. Travel is “Please, dear god, could that man just stop snoring for one minute”. Travel is missed flights, broken down buses, weird looking food, miscommunication.
Travel is also ten minute conversations with strangers that leaves your head spinning from the sheer number of epiphanies revealed to you. Travel is trying things you never imagined, fruits and vegetables you never even knew existed, saying yes to a spontaneous adventure because where else do you have to be? Travel is bonding with strangers and feeling like you’ve known them for a thousand lives. Its late nights spent exploring the hidden corners of an unknown city, its kissing a beautiful stranger overlooking a sea of glittering lights, its saying goodbye a thousand times, its some fried delicious cheesy street food thingy that you cannot get enough of, its playing with kids on long bus rides, its staring out the window in awe, in awe. Travel is doodling and sketching and scribbling poems onto napkins, its observing, its connection, its uncontainable laughter, its a sensation of liberation that cannot be defined, its reading in a hammock beside a turquoise ocean, its trusting the voice in your head, learning to be guided by your intuition. Its being in the moment, wanting to photograph everything, its bottles of red wine in tiny bars amidst the andes mountains, its smoking a joint on Machu Picchu (what…who did that?), its jam sessions that make your hands hurt, its being brave enough to sing in public because why the hell not, its synchronicity that just cannot be dismissed as coincidence, its asking the universe for what you want and watching it manifest, its walking alone through foreign streets feeling like you can do anything you desire in the whole wide world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about travel and life lessons and the things one learns along the road. And the words that keep coming to mind are humility and appreciation. And I guess it all relates back to the western world and the way we live. To our dependence on luxuries. Our cappuccinos, our fast internet, our comfy beds, our hot water, our reliable transport, our hot cooked meals, everything instantaneous, now, now, now. And of course, no doubt, when one travels there are luxuries too. While on the road, I can easily walk into a fancy cafe and buy an overpriced juice or coffee and connect to wifi and sometimes I do do just that, but as convenient as this experience it is, I’ve come to realise, it never teaches me anything. It’s when I go to the market and I sit down and order a juice for a quarter of the price and have a chat with an old señora about her life and learn some Spanish or I tip her and she is so grateful, she offers me more coffee and another sandwich and we end up having an exchange that really makes me stop and think and feel something inside. Those are the moments of travel that remain.
Im learning that putting ourselves out of our comfort zones, and stopping to talk to the people we never normally have time for can give us so much. The other day I read my tarot cards and my primary card was exhaustion. And at first I didn’t really understand it because I was convinced I had had all this energy but then I sat down and thought about it and I realised I am exhausted. I am exhausted of always rushing to places, trying to do everything at once, trying to tick every box, trying to say yes to everyone and be there for everyone at once. I am tired of not having time for the small interactions, to stop and watch a street artist paint and speak to him about his art instead of brushing him off (sorry) in my pursuit of what? Where the hell do I so desperately need to be? Travel slows you down. You have the time to stop, the time to process, the time to watch the world passing you by outside the window, the green valleys and ancient mountains. You have time to breathe. No schedule, no distractions, no phone plan here so no way to indulge in all the unnecessary scrolling or the really rude thing we all do when we’re on our phones in the presence of someone we’ve planned to spend time with. Just being here, in the now, engaging in the world around me. I could never meditate back at home for all the distractions. Why? Because I didn’t have time? Bullshit. I had the same amount of time as I do here. I just didn’t want to stop. Stopping meant stillness and there is no time for that in the grind.
No wonder my card read exhausted.
Through discomfort we learn to appreciate our comforts. We learn to cherish all those times we had a whole seat to ourselves or we didn’t have to sleep with ear plugs. When you travel pretty cheap, most of the time the hostels have no hot water, or no water at all, or you end up sharing a dorm with really loud snorers or the bus breaks down, or you get stuck in a train for 5 hours on your birthday. Or there’s no toilet paper, or toilet seat, or the toilet doesn’t work at all. Or the wifi doesn’t work, or theres no wifi, or theres no pillow or the rooms are freezing. I could go on, the point is there are million times when I’m traveling that I get frustrated. And a part of me even wants to complain. Throw a fit. Stomp my feet because nothing works and nothings ever on time and where the hell are my western luxuries?
Yet, what I’ve come to realise is this lack of comfort, this “struggle” is precisely what makes it all so worthwhile. The art of humility. “Humility can be defined as the articulation point between two modes of the self (psychological and metaphysical): it means acknowledging my metaphysical condition (the “I am nothing”) even when I am in the midst of social interactions, surrounded by others, just like others.” It means instead of complaining when the bus breaks down you turn around and chat to the man next to you. Or you make friends with the artisans on the street and they end up teaching you a new song on the guitar, or it turns into an all-night jam session on a Bolivian street corner, dancing until 3 in the morning, high on life and rum and the ridiculous altitude. Or you just laugh at yourself as you drip dry for the 100th time in the toilet cubicle, because it is kind of funny.
You learn to pick the meat out of your empanada and giving it to the ravenous street dog.
Travel is not about comfort. Travel is not about getting everything you want. In fact most of the time it’s about getting what you need. A life lesson. The realisation that the things we take for granted everyday, running water, internet access, heating, plumbing, are all luxuries that a large majority of the world does not have. Realising that what you actually need to survive and be happy is very, very little. Travel is about being so far out of your comfort zone and learning to love it, not only because it makes you appreciate your comforts but because you realise that sometimes you comfort zone isn’t the best place to be. Because sure its warm and dry and cosy and made of Egyptian cotton and hot baths and expensive imported coffee, but its also a place where you don’t grow. Where you don’t need to push yourself. Where you don’t bother to talk to strangers (why? I have enough friends right here) or learn a new language or pick up a new hobby, or draw, or read a new book, or learn the instrument you’ve been dying to learn, or hike that scary looking mountain because you are just too goddamn comfortable to move from your spot, or too damn distracted to take the time to try something new.
Im grateful not only for all my luxuries, for having a home with hot water and a warm bed and a fridge filed with food, but conversely I’m grateful for the broken toilets, and the freezing dorm rooms, and the late buses and the broken down trains and the “No hay wifi” and the conversations I’ve had with strangers on the side of the road when the buses tyre has burst. I’m grateful for the interactions with the artistans and the señoras at the market, and the flower sellers and the street dogs. I’m grateful for all the times things didn’t go right because those are the moments when you realise all these things we think we deserve, all the time we complain because things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to, as if simply because we are born onto this planet suddenly we deserve to have everything we want, all those times that make you realise life doesn’t owe you anything. Just because you are here doesn’t mean you automatically have earned the right for everything to go right all the time. Im grateful for all those moments because they are grounding, they give you the realisation that just being here, just being in alive, just getting to eat something in the first place, just having the literacy and eduction to read, let alone log onto the internet is a goddamn beautiful, incredible, miraculous blessing. How easily we forget, how quickly we come to think that life owes us something. The universe doesn’t owe us a single thing. She gave us life – can we all just stop complaining for 5 minutes and listen to our hearts beating in our chest – just for a moment. That right there, that heart beat alone is the single biggest luxury we could ever be granted.