November 22, 2016

An Open Letter To Travellers Looking For That ‘Life-Changing’ Adventure

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Unsplash / Julien Lavallée
Unsplash / Julien Lavallée

Dear Future Traveller,

Get ready to embark on what is about to be one of the greatest adventures of your life. I trust that you expect a letter soggy with personal epiphanies and stories of self-realization. Maybe you anticipate a letter spotted with filtered Tumblr pictures and over-quoted one-liners about travel. Remind me to tell you in this letter about how open-minded I have become from four months at sea, or we could count how few pages you and I will have on our passports once we return home. Perhaps we could take a melodramatic walk into the sunset and talk about what transformed global citizens travel molds people into. Or, I could just save you a hell of lot of time and tell you the truth. Cold and real, just the way you hate it.

I took it upon myself to break to you a certain reality that hit me hard in the face only after 102 days, during which I sailed around the world to different countries. If you were anything like me, or any of the other ones out there who seek other lands by a means of travel, you told yourself that during a single journey in your adolescent years, you would “find yourself,” whatever that is supposed to mean. You convinced yourself during late night library cram sessions with double-shot espressos that you would answer certain questions, questions that lingered above your head like dark clouds as you walked between college classes. Deep, philosophical questions like “What is my purpose?” “Who am I?” or maybe something along the lines of “What the hell am I doing with my life?” These questions kept you tossing in your bed. They stared at you in the face between Netflix episodes, followed you into late Sunday evenings as you scrolled through filtered pictures on overly bright phone screens. And chances are, you decided to travel because someone, somewhere made you believe that answers to your questions were inconveniently buried in exotic lands far away. You packed your bags, saved up some extra cash and took off, determined to find The Answers. Well sorry to sink your ship, but you don’t really find an answer. I for one really believed I would find not just find one answer, but would find all 94045 of them, perhaps one in each of the cities I visited. How stupid of me. But that’s the best thing about being a young traveller – you’re stupid and confused. What better combination of traits to get you safely to your destination and back?

To those wise ones out there who say they have found the answers that all of humanity is looking for, please leave your contact info at the bottom of this page so I can get a copy of them. To my fellow travelers, my fellow confused misfits, don’t unpack your bags just yet, because although you won’t find answers on your journey, you will end up finding something else, something a lot more interesting. You’ll find questions. And you will find something more, something that you had all along. You’ll find hope.

Let me play this out for you.

After weeks, maybe months of strolling through beautiful alleys, hopping off trains and stopping on highways to take in the views, the time will come for you to return home from your amazing journey. As you walk into the arrival terminal, backpack slung around your shoulder, you will run into the arms of those you love. In sometime, you will go back home, you will change into your favorite pajamas that you forgot to pack, lay down on your same bed, and let your head sink into a familiar pillow. You will fall sound asleep under the familiar clicking of your fan. And then suddenly, your eyes will spring open, and tiredness will escape you as quickly as it came. You lie awake not because of the jetlag, because you are far used to that by now, but you lie awake because you remember lying there, in that exact same position a few months before, convinced that you would return from your world travels an Enlightened One. You were so sure you would find The Answers to all those questions that kept you tossing late into the night. And now, here you lay, with more questions than ever before, wondering how the hell that happened.

Your thoughts will begin to wander, uncoil the mess you made in your head, and you will filter and processes everything you saw but didn’t have time to understand. A universe of thoughts and questions will spill from your mind and fill the darkness of your room. Your thoughts will drift to Myanmar, where at 5:00 am, you stumbled out of the Elite Express bus somewhere in the middle of dawning Bagan. Hair messy and a Sony camera wrapped around your neck, you stood there wondering where would promise the perfect sunrise. You decided, then and there, that your life passion would be travel. You would use your life savings to live out of backpacker hostels and satisfy your hunger for adventure. Forget the over-rated nine-to-five desk job that every second person back home works so diligently for.

Then, your mind will drift to India, and you will remember the days when children came up to your car window asking for a morsel of the food that you carried in plastic packets in your North Face backpack. You decided then and there that you would give up everything, move to India and start up an NGO to stop world hunger. Maybe eradicate poverty while you were at it. How convenient – you found your life purpose, all pre-packaged in a perfect little box with a silver bow.

You lay in your bed, staring into the darkness wondering how foolish you were to try and find answers. Leave it to humans to think that after 13.8 billion years of unguided circumstance that somehow the universe would cease to exist if we do not put meaning where it doesn’t belong. Answer questions that don’t have answers.

* * *

Dear future traveller, let me tell you a story. In South Africa, I was robbed. A man broke into my room at 1:28 am and stole everything from me, my phone, my laptop, my camera. Everything. That same day, I decided to go bungee jumping. And just before I jumped off the bridge, I was looking out onto the Indian Ocean, with valleys of Africa below me, do you know what the guy who pushed me off told me? Just before I jumped, he looked and me and said – “Aditi, I heard what happened to you this morning. He took your phone, your computer, all your money. But, he did not take your hope.” And I jumped off that bridge, leaving everything behind, everything but my courage; everything, but hope.

As you are lying in your bed, you will think back to the day in Vietnam market when you left your wallet in the cab. You will think back to when you were stuck in the Beijing airport because you forgot to change the hour back on your phone. You will remember how you thought it was the end, but you kept on going because there was something inside you that was telling you that it was going to be okay. You will remember that you had hope. And when you made it back home, back to the very bed you are sleeping on now, you will realize that everything turned out fine. You are safe, and the world keeps on spinning. You had hope all along.

As you go about hopping from country to country, under the great Arch of the India Gate, over the Great Wall of China, under the blue waters of Hawaii’s waves and over the sand dunes of Morocco, you will see so many amazing things, but you won’t find Answers. Don’t even look for them. What a tragedy it would be to find all the answers and live a life of a once extinguished curiosity. Look for questions and seek hope.

In a few days I will complete my journey at sea, disembark the ship and not return. And I have never been more confused about the world, and curious as to who I am. But I have never been more hopeful for my future and for the person I am going to be, and let me tell you that those are so much better than Answers.

Wishing you safe travels.

From,
A fellow confused traveller TC mark

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