‘Buy the ticket, take the ride… and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well… maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.’
– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Travel has become a modern day accessory. It holds its own in braggadocious garden-party conversations, weaving seamlessly amongst updates on new cars, pretty new dresses and the latest jetskis. A deep tan used to be the mark of a hard days work in the field. Somewhere along the line it became a badge of honour, primarily to be worn in the winter of one’s home country, and flaunted to express the expendable income and flexible working arrangements that come as pre-requisites to any tropical getaway.
When did this happen? When did our main purpose for travel become bragging rights over headfirst plunges into the unknown? To risk it all, for no other reason than to relish a moment in which we knew our fears and witnessed our courage as we stepped into them? When did we lose our appetite for adventure? I don’t mean feigned adventure. Not the contrived kind we’ve fallen into. Cuddles with stoned tigers in dingy cages. Waiting in line at ancient temples like we’re at bloody Disneyland. Standing with arms spread wide at peaks of natural monoliths, working on camera angles to hide the guard rails from photographs.
We know how to buy the ticket. We’ve forgotten how to take the ride. There are repercussions for this. They are not immediate. They will fester behind poolside margaritas and resort mariachi bands. A part of you knows it’s not real. Every country has more to offer than management-approved entertainment and rentable sunbeds. Beyond resort walls lies the reason you flew to that country in the first place.
Something will find you outside the comfortable. It comes through breezes in jungle canopies. It’s written in stars above endless deserts. It’s woven into smiles on the faces of children who have nothing but the clothes on their backs. It finds you when you’re alone. It comes softly. Without warning. It will rob you of words. There is no mistaking it. You will not forget it. If you are lucky enough to find it, you will not be the same. It is the reason we live. Moments of magnitude in which we know ourselves as minuscule and monstrous at the same time.
Wait for it beyond the safety net of comfort. Beyond the city sprawl and highways that split the desert in two. Find the way that few have gone. At the end of the road, when the track turns to dust and the brush gets so thick, you need to cut your own path – wait for it there. Wait in silence. Move if you have to. When you get disheartened, know that it’s waiting for you. Speak to it. Hear it in the birds call and the blood pulse through your ears. Tell it of heartache in purpose and loneliness in meaning. Tell it of your struggle and it will find you.
Don’t wait until you’re old. Don’t rock in a wicker chair, grey hair blowing in the breeze, and wish you’d found it. Find it now. Let it find you. It will meet you beyond the reasonable. You are not the first. You won’t be the last. When you meet another, bask in their awkward attempts to describe it. But you’ll know. And their eyes will tell you that they know too. You need nothing more than that. Because you’ll know. And once you know, you’ll never be the same.
Don’t ask others to help you. Don’t scuttle behind tour guides or bow before gurus. You won’t find it with them. It won’t be woven in the threads of new garments, nor coiled in the networks of wiring behind phone screens. It does not lie in the outward. Not in schedules or deadlines or safety standards. It waits in empty deserts. Cold nights on snowcapped peaks. Oceans that could swallow you whole. It waits there.
Go beyond the others. Run from trends. Avoid the plights of the common man. You will not find it with him. Find the strange and indescribable. Drink with pirates and savages and those who have given it all. Know gentle women and careless men. Trust with no reason to do so. Make mistakes. Walk without direction. Speak without agenda. Lose your way and rejoice in doing so. You’re closer to it there.
When it finds you, stop. There will be no mistaking it. It will soar through your chest and catch in your throat. Spend time with it. Speak to it. It will not be there forever. It will not be there for long at all. Relish the moment. Let it humble you. Take note of the space that it found you in. Do not take pictures. They won’t capture that moment. Be still. Know that you found it. And know that it found you.
This is where true travel leads you. To a glimpse of something greater than yourself. You will stay silent for fear of ridicule. It’s for the best. Description is a fruitless endeavour. The stakes will be high and the walls will be low. Let it change you. Let it wash away your fear and know what it was to live. Recognize yourself in the banks of snow on the mountainside and when the rains washes it away, recognize yourself in the river. And when the kikuyu grass grows from the Earth, know yourself in it. And in the cherry blossoms in Japan in Spring. And the storm swells over the Pacific. Hear yourself in the howler monkey’s call and the beating drums of distant parades. Don’t follow the common man. There’s nothing for you there. You will find it where his feet never trod and his eyes never gazed.
You will find it. And when you do, you will never be the same.
John is currently finishing his first novel in Nicaragua. The novel discusses the travels of a young man who is struggling to understand the death of his best friend and uses travel as a way to get closer to answers on death. We will be travelling to New York in December to pitch the novel to publishers. If you would like more information on this novel, please send an email to email@example.com