Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Three Reasons for Roaming

Why do I travel? That's a rather silly question that some people ask me. Some of my Korean students seem perplexed by the notion that I would actually want to spend my hard earned money on travel. Conversely, I feel perplexed by the notion that everyone wouldn't want to gear their life towards travel in some way or another. To each his own is what I've always thought, but it's difficult for me to ignore the wonderful benefits of travelling the world, and slowly shedding off layers of ignorance. However, I don't just travel for the "cliche sunsets" and "epiphanies" that so many travel writers enjoy watering at the mouth over. After visiting nearly 40 countries, I believe I'm starting to understand just what makes me tick, and why I prefer ticking on the road. If I hadn't, I sure would have wasted a lot of time and money. Realistically, if I'd saved all the money that I'd put into travel over the years I'd probably find myself with a fairly decent car in my driveway. However, cars break down, and memories don't. Here are three reasons that I prefer being "on the road" more than driving on it.

1) The People

Travelling if you don't like people is like going on a brewery tour if you hate beer...you'd might as well just stay home. I find that travellers almost gravitate to each other on the road. That's likely because you have similar objectives when you're visiting a city, but I think it also has to do with the individuals who choose to travel in the first place. You have to make the assumption that most of these people are open-minded to cultures around the world, and somewhat outgoing. When I was travelling through Eastern Europe on my own, I'd have to say that I never truly felt alone. You're only one person away from not travelling alone any longer. The hostel is the bread and butter of meeting new people abroad. You can spark up a conversation and build a remarkably strong friendship in only moments. In fact, I still keep in touch with many of the people that I've met along the way, although that's not such a feat in the world of social media. It's also not wholly unlikely that someone you meet on the road might tag along with you. I met Jason and Sean in Latvia, and we ended up on the same bus to Lithuania (a surprisingly comfortable bus, at that!). Bri and I met a great Kiwi by the name of Callum in Athens and he came along to Mykonos with us, and later met us in Istanbul.

Most importantly, the people you meet from the country you visit will give you a wonderful window into their culture. I've witnessed some incredible hospitality all around the world that makes me want to give back when I'm in Toronto. "Couchsurfing" (http://www.couchsurfing.org/) is a particularly good way to meet like-minded people across the world and lend a helping hand (or couch in this case) to the wandering traveller. The premise sounds a tad sketchy, but it isn't in the slightest. It's people that have built the civilizations travellers are so eager to visit, and it's a bright idea not to forget that. New people bring new possibilities, and the world revolves around possibility. I've met some of my best friends in the world...around the world.
Friends from around the world, gracing the narrow streets of Copenhagen with our love.

2) The Backpack
There are few things I love more in life than my travel pack. I bought it several years ago from M.E.C (Mountain Equipment Co-op) and it has passed every test I've thrown at it with flying colours. Although, I must note that the front zipper did have a momentary malfunction, but that's all in the past. It's unquestionably dirty now and it looks like it has been through several wars, but it's mine and I love it. When I was travelling alone, it was my silent, padded brethren that always had my back...no pun intended. My pack is the grey Gregory 60L Triconi backpack, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering any sort of serious travel. I'm not quite sure, but I'd estimate that it has entered and exited dozens of countries on my back, and I am quite sure that it's been lost on two separate flights. But, alas, it always finds its way back into my possession. I'm hoping it still has enough gas for the 14 week trip across Southeast Asia that will begin for Bri and I on September 1st in Hanoi, Vietnam.
August 2010. Athens, Greece - In the heat.

There's something remarkable to me about the notion that everything I will need for the foreseeable future is currently on my back. I don't have to worry about rent, my mortgage, or whether or not I closed the garage door or left the stove on. I'm especially looking forward to repacking my belongings for the Southeast Asia trip because I'll certainly be packing lighter this time around. There's a saying I once heard when I was travelling that went, "pack half the clothes, and twice the money." While I won't be packing twice the money, I'll certainly be carrying a light wardrobe with me. Lastly, the responsibilities of laundry essentially go out the window when you're trekking with a pack. No one is going to chastise you on the road for smelling like you haven't showered in a few days, or haven't done laundry in a while because those are simply realities. I'm not stellar with laundry on the road, or at home for that matter, but I always carry a small dry-pack inside my main pack for laundry, thus effectively separating it from my relatively clean clothes. My pack has seen more action than Bruce Willis in "Die Hard", but as Bruce knows from "Die Hard", there's always room for another movie to be made.

3) The Food
If the sheer variety and deliciousness of food isn't a sign that there is indeed a creator of this place we call earth, then I don't know what is. The fact of the matter is that a fruit like the pineapple is nature's candy, and single-handedly proves the existence of some kind of god. By now, it may be clear that I am a food enthusiast and hunger aficionado. I'm not exaggerating when I suggest to you that I read "The Hunger Games" because I initially thought it was centered around a gluttonous, detailed feast. My wallet is constantly made lighter by my stomach, but at least my metabolism has kept up with the challenge as of yet. The world is one giant buffet, and my goal is to try as many dishes as humanly possible. Eating a wide array of foods around the world is a great way to keep establishing "firsts." For example, Bri and I are currently looking into eating live squid here in Korea. Food provides me with immeasurable joy, and I have always wanted my life to be full of joy, so I try to stay full of food.

Feta galore. Paros, Greece - 2010

Real Turkish delight. Istanbul, Turkey - 2010

Salmon sashimi from the capital. Tokyo, Japan - 2012

Evidently, I enjoy taking pictures of food as well munching upon it. With complete honesty, all this talk of food has given me an insatiable appetite, but for travel as much as food. Like the people, the cuisine provides intimate access into the culture of a nation. I find this to be especially true in Asia, specifically China, where the meal calls for social protocol that must be followed. Both social protocol and taste have a way of providing information to a traveller that just can't be found in your Lonely Planet guidebook. The bottom line is that a country's approach to food says a lot about their approach to life. Look no further than the Italians or Greeks for verification of the aforementioned statement. Food can also define your experience, as it only really feels like you're in a German beer hall with an enormous beer and a gigantic salted pretzel. Indeed, I spend a pretty penny on food, but it's worth each and every one of them.

There are of course about twelve thousand other reasons that I could provide you with to explain my nomadic tendencies. However, I want to avoid the cliches and overused terms that you can find in just about every travel magazine. Simply put, travel deeply excites me and ultimately provides me with a unique rush. I love the fact that I'm constantly learning and experiencing life. It's the small things that make travelling all worth it. All of a sudden, the Olympics become a whole lot more interesting, and the world map becomes strangely familiar. Reading the world's news every morning becomes a whole lot more personal. But mainly, travel gives me the opportunity to constantly have my eyes open wide, wondering what may be just around the corner.
Life on the Lysefjord. Stavanger, Norway - 2010

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