Most of what you read below is from 2012, when I took a year off to travel around Latin America and Europe and I thought this current leg of travels in 2015 would be a good time to reflect and update my writing on questions that pop up quite often in my head with regards to the lifestyle and thinking of those people whose social, economic status is similar to mine – why am I traveling and why are you not? Why do I feel alone amongst my peers and friends when I say I am not a consumerist and do not wish to continue accumulating wealth and possessions at an uncontrolled rate but rather focus on giving.
NB: I’ve put the year in brackets to illustrate when it was written.
How it all began (2012)
Let’s first go over how it all started. Four years ago I would never have imagined myself globetrotting armed with merely 15 kgs of my personal belongings and an ultra optimistic attitude. But then, due to a chance encounter with Nadia Klein Martins (back then known only as Nadia Klein) in Kuala Lumpur, it all changed. I call it a chance encounter for the following reasons; I was in KL for training with Accenture and on one glorious summer evening I dislocated my shoulder whilst indulging in an amateur game of water polo at the Marriott pool. Shameful, in that it was not even dramatic; merely a missed shot at the goal and my shoulder rotating a cool 360 degrees without resistance. So in a fair bit of pain, I stumbled out of the pool to make my way towards reception to get myself to the nearest hospital and it was then that I bumped into Ms Klein who was merrily chatting away to the soft spoken lady at the reception. She turned around, and upon seeing me clutching my arm in ‘the sling’ position, asked if I was alright and from then on – magic happened.
Over the next 2 weeks, as my shoulder recovered, we got friendly and chatted plenty. I was captivated by her Facebook album (yes Facebook albums were a thing back then) titled ‘Life is one big trip’ which encased 60 of the best travel photos I’d seen at that time. I’d never been to more than 3 countries so a flurry of questions ensued from my side on how she managed to do it all at just the age of 30, how did she afford to to travel for long periods of time and I slowly found myself being drawn towards the magic and the thrill of throwing on a backpack and exploring foreign lands. So each time someone asks me, “Where did it all start?” – Nadia Klein Martins is the answer.
Then here’s the usual traveler’s interview and my answers do not differ a great deal from your average next door traveler.
Q: Why do I travel?
A (2012): Because I love to see new places and the people in those places. It’s the people that make up the place and eventually people that make the world around you so getting to know a slice of their lives, whether it is their history, culture and traditions, current state of affairs or predicaments is as great a souvenir as you’ll ever take back. Then there’s the language. To me, there is nothing more comforting than being in a country where you do not know to speak the language. The challenge is to learn as much as you can and revel in the marvel that you get from the locals watching you try. English is just one of the many spoken languages in the world, try to learn atleast one other in your lifetime, and no, not having time is never an excuse.
A (2015): I still have the thirst to see new places, but the charm of going to see a foreign land merely to see an ancient archaeological site, a modern city crowded with eateries has worn off. I now prefer to travel slow and live in little towns with lesser crowds, preferably in the mountains. My desire is to know as much as I can about people’s lifestyles, the politics, style of government, the socio-economic status and try and leave people and the places a little better than I found it. I see that as the primary objective of traveling. It is a privilege and I see myself as very fortunate to be able to do so as there are so many of us out there who cannot afford to go traveling even for a few weeks, let alone a longer period of time.
Q: Why backpack and couch surf v/s staying in hotels, motels and the likes?
A (2012): Because you can travel longer! How? Without demeaning the essence of couch surfing, the practicality of it lies in that it’s at no cost! You can stay at a resident’s house in THEIR city, hear from them about THEIR lives, hear from them about what places THEY recommend to see – so essentially you get a tour of a local’s life at no charge to you!
Now couch surfing is often perceived as travelers sleeping on people’s couches, and has the quintessential question hanging over it’s head – is it safe? How can you trust someone you’ve never met?
This is where the optimist in me kicks in. I believe there are more people in the world like you and me, your average nice person who intends more good than the opposite. If you’ve walked into something with noble intentions, only good can come from it. And let me clear this misconception of sleeping on couches – The Pai and I’ve stayed with people who’ve given us their spare room with plush beds and ensuites! 7 out of 10 times! I could go on, but the fact remains – give it a shot atleast once, you won’t regret it.
A (2015): I chuckle when I look at my response above in 2012. Back then, I never understood why people would want to have luxury holidays when you could could it in an authentic fashion with CS. Over the past few years though I’ve learnt that each one has their own way of exploring. Most of us see traveling as a means to escape the stress of the daily grind so a fancy holiday serves as the perfect escape. (why one would subject themselves to that, I’ll address it later on here)
Q: Do you not get tired by it all? Walking miles, lugging backpacks, viewing scenery that all looks the same after a while – surely you are becoming travel weary?
A (2012): Of course I am! There are only that many cathedrals, churches or squares you can see! After the 7th one, they all tend to look the same. The history though of each place fascinates me, each very diverse from the other but they all tie up to create global history. To keep myself motivated, I change the type of activities I do. If we’ve seen too many monuments, squares and museums, it’s time for a hike or a trail walk. Or even a day of R&R at the beach. Keep varying what you do, and you’ll never get sick of it.
A (2015): When I visit a new country or city, my first objective is to try and meet someone local for a stroll or chat so I can give myself a good chance at finding about as much as I can about life there (politics, social traditions, current issues etc.). Given that I have always loved talking to anyone who would care to listen, is has never been a problem approaching strangers. When you travel for long, staying fresh in mind is the key. I now see traveling as the opportunity to lead my vision of an ideal lifestyle, i.e. stay health physically and mentally by exercising and meditating, eating healthy by cooking fresh produce, read and write as much you can for there is no better way to develop yourself and share knowledge and practice silence for there is no pressing need at times for you to communicate as you might in your daily lives back home.
This is the 2nd time I’ve taken a year off to go traveling. Today, the word traveling seems to have taken upon a different connotation as to what it was 5 or 10 years ago. Today, it seems to be all about that exotic location, food and amazing activities for a period of typically 1-3 weeks. Which is great because these attractions have got a lot more people leaving their homes to go venturing.
My questions to you all – do you all feel like doing what I am doing? Do my thoughts resonate with you? If so, what is it that holds you back? If not, what are you thinking? I am curious to know all your answers.
A question I have of those privileged like myself is “What do you seek from your limited life here?”. You have all the resources and you can make the time if you want to; so what is it that you seek? You are possibly aware that you are not immortal and that as harsh as this might sound, you might not wake up tomorrow, so what do you look to do with your time here?
Keeping the above in mind, would you still go on with your daily lives even if it doesn’t offer you the ultimate satisfaction? I understand some of us are not as privileged and have certain commitments which are non-negotiable but for those who are consider themselves as free individuals, what are you seeking?
Are you looking to accumulate wealth now and make time for yourself later and possibly give back to society. (assuming there is a time for later. Am I doing it all wrong?!). I am especially keen to know what those in my age group think.
Do you see what I see? That the only things we can accumulate is knowledge and the only permanent things we shall pass on to future generations is knowledge. The rest of our purpose and time here is to give and share.
What is your idea of an ideal life and how much of it revolves around self cherishing?