On matters of travel
Life is a sum of all our experiences. A collection of moments that with time, become memories you ponder on, and stories you tell.
I’ve always found it hard to find fault in this saying.
When you break experience down into definition, it is simply practical contact with an event or object. It’s an encounter. Observing a tree is an experience. Hearing the tram rattle past your street. Any kind of sensory contact with the world is defined as such.
But definitions are practical and never really live up to the true meaning of a word. Experience especially. It’s so much more than that because in life, there’s no better substitute for knowledge or learning.
In the Art of Struggle, the poetry collection of Michel Houellebecq, the author makes a strong statement about experience in one of his poems.
“Experience does not enrich human life but diminish it; in fact, destroys it.”
If you’re familiar with Houellebecq’s work, then you know that he projects his depression onto the world he creates in his writings. This statement however, supersedes even his quintessential gloom.
To argue that experience counts for nothing is to deny much of what constitutes life.
For me, experience has always held precedent. And travelling — the pinnacle of experience.
Encounters with the world enrich our being, not diminish it as Houellebecq claimed.
Since the first time you journey away from home, you realise that being away increases levels of awareness. Every particle of our being becomes conscious of the things it sees and senses, because travel gives us the opportunity to explore, taste and try new things.
Our eyes forget to blink from constant ogling. Our noses inhale deeply, trying to make sense of new smells. We feel with eagerness because we want to take in everything so hastily.
Outside of our daily routines, travel brings us to the foreground of the unfamiliar, the interesting. In a way, roaming and wandering without obligations becomes a kind of active idleness. Unlike routines and work, travel gives us leisure, and the capacity for stimulating thought. We contemplate and we reflect outside of what we typically see or know. In other words, we learn.
While I haven’t been as brave and fearless in my travels as some people I’ve met, I’ve encountered many unforgettable experiences.
In 2012 my girlfriend and I left for Europe. After twelve months on the road, the eagerness to explore wouldn’t die down. We were both in the pursuit of something greater than the sum of the experiences we’d already had. Together we embarked upon a journey to meet new people, make new friends, see new places and even more importantly, explore new ways of thinking.I’ve always been attracted to architecture but it wasn’t until we visited Venice that I began to think differently of it. I gave in to the historic urban design. I let go and became truly lost in the only pedestrian city in the world. I no longer saw architecture as buildings; I began to consider it as the true dictator of man, for nothing else guides us with such brutal authority. Our paths are dictated. Doors forbid, walls push us aside, we can’t break free like in a field.
The unfamiliar experience informed new ways of thinking, thus enriching my self-discovery. A thing I cannot comprehend would make Houellebecq think otherwise.
The word wanderlust is used to describe a longing to travel and wonder. I believe we all possess this desire. Travel is simply inherent in us all. Germans have a beautiful word to describe this feeling; ‘Fernweh’ which translates to farsickness, coined as an antonym to ‘Heimweh,’ homesickness.
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell foretold that the modern mind is constantly revving but rarely engaged in gear.
Today our lives are dictated by technology. We have escaped the real for the unreal, where we encounter engagements that rev our minds with technology. They are fun at first touch, but they don’t possess the impact of longevity. They keep us out of gear.
Pokémon Go won’t last forever.
Our dreams won’t get lost on the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo or beneath the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. But they will get lost in a load of digital feeds. If it’s true that in our lives, 70 percent of our time will be spent before screens, then travel must take precedent.
Be it a trip down the coast, or a flight to an island, we need to fulfill our need for farsickness.
It doesn’t only have the ability to teach us about true empathy. More importantly, it has the power to teach us about ourselves.
There are many great ways to summarise what life is, but the sum of all our experiences’ seems close. Our thoughts, our footsteps and encounters. Our loves lost and regained. Our tears and anger. Joy and bliss. Fear and danger. Rapture and sexuality.
And travel? Let it be the biggest fraction of that sum.
Thank you for reading.