In the golden age of exploration when travelers were mapmakers and would run into pesky ‘trouble with the locals’ travel was considered a noble quest for knowledge. For young travelers it was a rite of passage and. as Paul Fussell said, “travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and the formation of the judgment. The traveler was a student of what he sought.”
Travel remains to be a wonderful source of enlightenment and education for most. I would like to think that it has been for me. I initially went travelling for six months as a little buffer between studying and starting a career search. As is sometimes the case, wanderlust took hold and six months turned into seven years. I moved from place to place working wherever I could in whichever job I could find, saving just enough money to get to the next place. It was in that manner that I slowly worked my way around the world.
During this nomadic time I read often and collected quotes, scribbling the meaningful ones into dog-eared journals. A few special ones were powerful enough to change my life and the way I viewed the world. Often the timing was crucial; I would be grappling with a particular issue and I would come across a quote that would shine a new light on the matter. The following are the quotes that I found particularly powerful;
When I initially started traveling I wanted to understand the world better and find my own answers to life’s most basic questions; why am I alive? What is the purpose of all this? What are we doing here?
I had this intuition that my destiny would unfold, that the grand design of the world and the answers to all my questions would magically unveil itself. I was wrong. I waited and waited but life failed to present any rhyme or reason. I began to suspect that there was no great unifying purpose.
Initially, I did the sensible thing and despaired. Eventually, however, I came to understand that these thoughts and feelings were normal and, most importantly, that one does not find one’s life purpose, one creates it. One must create an individual purpose through which one may receive a sense of meaning. This can be anything from family building, caring for people or creating art. Basically do whatever floats your boat and gives your life purpose and meaning and you won’t feel quite as empty or lost as a human being.
Travelling without plans might be adventurous and exciting but there are times when it can be straight up nerve-wracking. Arriving in a city without any friends or knowledge of the city is as invigorating as it is daunting, especially with only a handful of money. I quickly learnt that things had a way of working out either immediately or eventually and that worrying about possible future scenarios was a complete waste of energy.
Trust in yourself and that you will do whatever you have to do when you have to do it. Adopting this positive attitude makes almost everything much easier. As Chopra says, “Attachment is based on fear and insecurity, while detachment is based on the unquestioning belief in the power of your true Self. Intend for everything to work out as it should, then let go and allow opportunities and openings to come your way.”
One of the joys of travelling is the freedom to be whoever you want to be. Away from the pressures and conditioning of one’s old life we can indulge in a new version of ourselves. There are no expectations to live up to, no restrictions on how we have to behave. We can escape our influences and enjoy the opportunity to freely bloom and become a truer more organic version of ourselves. This is one of the grand achievements of life. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’
Freed from the clutter of ordinary living one has a freer, lighter and even happier life. With just a backpack it becomes clear how few, if any, material possessions are vital for happiness.
Buddhists believe that simplicity contributes to a peaceful life, and so they have not bought into the utopia promised by consumerism. There is a stirring in my soul that agrees with this and that a simpler life really is a happier life.
Like most young travelers I initially went in search of a good time. I wanted my life to be a non-stop party and traveling was the ideal way to do this. At first it was fun and exciting but eventually I grew disenchanted with the emptiness of it. It was a meaningless cycle of getting wasted and then recovering so I could do it all again and provided no substantial fulfillment.
I then discovered the simple philosophy that we have two types of happiness. There is the fleeting physical happiness and a second, more fulfilling, longer lasting happiness.
Now my attention has turned to creating a life that is harmonious where my thoughts, beliefs and actions are in sync and I experience the second happiness more. As the Dalai Lama explains, “We can see in our own lives that the latter form of happiness is superior because when our mental state is calm and happy, we can easily put up with minor pains and physical discomforts. On the other hand, when our mind is restless and upset, the most comfortable physical facilities do not make us happy.”
At the core of my thinking throughout the journey I wanted to know; what makes a life a good one? Essentially it a basic calculation; did you give more than you took? In other words, did you make other people happy? Did you help others? It is that simple.
All this navel gazing and contemplation of our existence can only get one so far. Eventually one needs to put down the cocktail, get out of the hammock, stop seeking a meaning for life and start experiencing it. At the end of the day life is not some equation that we can try to figure out. It is about going out and living your life.