After the most recent blow up of our emergency savings on a five-week trip wandering around the Iberian Peninsula, I remembered the story of the Chinese man again. I was weirdly satisfied with spending our hard earned money on something that will pay us back in intangible memories.
But, is it really worth it?
I think it totally is. But, it also depends. It depends on what we get out of traveling. Paradoxically, what we get out of traveling depends on our not having expectations of getting anything specific out of it. I am pretty sure that I got more out of those trips for which I had harbored no real expectations. Instead of taking a trip, it is better to let the trip take you, as John Steinbeck said.
Traveling demands a lot from us in time, money, and effort. It promises nothing particular in return for our investment. Yet we know that experience is worth something even when we can’t pinpoint what that is. One of my relatives asked what I learned from our last trip. I struggled to come up with an answer. Ultimately, we traveled just to travel, for whatever that is worth.
At times, having no purpose other than just wandering through foreign lands seemed pointless. One could possibly learn more about the culture and history of a particular place from reading books than by passing through the actual place. We learned little about many of the towns and cities we traveled through given how little time we spent in them.
However, part of me stubbornly relished the pointlessness of being somewhere just for the sake of being there. That is how we sometimes stumbled onto interesting experiences and people. And isn’t that actually the point? Life rarely goes according to plans, instead we stumble onto ideas, people, and situations that usually end up steering our lives in one direction or another.
What makes traveling worth?
I think stumbling onto situations worth learning from and remembering makes traveling valuable.
When we were in Barcelona, we learned about ongoing protests against mass tourism that were happening there and in other parts of Europe. Blending in with the hordes of tourists, we could understand why many of the local residents were bothered by the signs of all-consuming massification happening in their communities.
I consoled myself that we were travelers and not tourists, even when the line was much blurrier than I liked it to be.
Later when our son’s friend’s family went to Mexico to participate in a project to help build new homes for local families, I finally clarified for myself the distinction between being a tourist and a traveler. I’ve longed to be a traveler who can give something back to communities I travel to, even if in some small ways.
Three years ago, when we traveled in India, I was struck by buyer’s remorse for days. I couldn’t understand why we had spent thousands of dollars to put ourselves through intensely confusing and uncomfortable situations in what seemed like an impossibly chaotic place.
I didn’t think that it was worth it at the time. Now I think and know it was totally worth it. The trip left its imprints on our minds and hearts and it gave us adventures to remember for lifetime.
Dr. Seuss once said:
Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
Remembering matters because whatever we forget, ceases to exist for us.
Parts of our lives becomes obsolete if we can’t remember them. The scary thing is that those parts we can’t remember can add up to years and even decades of our lives.
Traveling is perhaps one of the best ways of disrupting our easily forgettable life of routines. At least, it is the only way I know of shaking my life up once in a while. I traveled to both forget who I had become and remember who I had wanted to be.
For instance, I remember the day when our son had a high fever and no appetite. He hadn’t eaten anything substantial for three days. We were in Jaipur, India staying at an Airbnb flat. Our energetic Airbnb host who looked like Queen Latifah drove us to her doctor’s office after feeding us with an amazing breakfast.
In Northern Spain, our Galician hosts invited us over for homemade chicken pie and chorizo lunch in a small village on a green hill near Portugal. We learned pieces of local history and village life from them.
In Bali, our Airbnb host brought her son to play with our son when she saw how lonely traveling could become for a child. She also invited us to participate in her sacred village festivals.
The key to getting something memorable out of traveling is not do what most other tourists do. I’ve forgotten lots of more touristy things we did on these travels, but memories of kind gestures of locals stay with me.
I longed to become part of other people’s memories like these people became mine.
We were fortunate to find a quite long slot of time for traveling despite having not enough money saved up for it. What I resolved to remember after that trip was that time is not money. Time is worth infinitely more! Money comes and goes, but time goes and never comes back. No one reaches the end of life regretting the time and money they spent on traveling.
People do regret not having made enough time for traveling.
Gerontologist Karl Pillemar interviewed 1,500 people aged between 70 and 100 and concluded that the single most important thing to remember is that life is short. Many of those he interviewed had regrets of not traveling enough. He wrote in his book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans:
The experts counter by saying that travel is so rewarding that it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on. They believe travel has special benefits for the young because it broadens their horizons, helps them to find a focus for their lives, and challenges them in new ways.
I surely would have regretted not taking the opportunity to travel because of insufficient funds. We somehow managed to survive and be okay as we had hoped. We recovered from those travel related financial setbacks much faster than we expected.
Being able to travel is a rare privilege. Many people can’t afford it. We can’t afford to travel whenever we want, but I believe that if and when we can afford it, then we cannot afford not to go for it.
I know what motivated me to want to leave home in the first place. It was a desire to break routine and get out of a rut, at least for a little while. Prior to our most recent trip, I went through the motions of going through the days, weeks, and months in ways that felt identical. I had a comfortable job that didn’t mean much to me except it paid the bills and allowed us to save a little.
Looking back I remember very little from those months at my job that now seem like they passed in a blur. Going through the same boring routine day-after-day makes life seem to go much faster while making weeks seem to go slower.
On the other hand, traveling slows life down in the mind. Traveling has shown me that our perception of time is very much dependent on the content, motion and rhythm of our lives. Perhaps increasing the quality of time is what we seek when we travel.
Still, our last trip taught me something unexpected. I’ve learned that I don’t always need to travel to get out of the rut. I can be a traveler at home if I am open to seeing my life as one big curious trip through time.
I came to see it as a challenge worth taking on. I now explore other ways of having a sense of awe and wonder without having to leave for a faraway land. Though, I won’t stop traveling as long as I can find ways to do it.
Traveling for me was the most powerful way of experiencing the idea that a map is not the territory. Reality is infinitely larger and more wondrously richer than what our mental maps can ever capture about it.
Originally published at https://ordinarybeautifulthings.com.