It’s hard for me to write a personal post. Mainly because usually the thoughts in my head are very jumbled up and incoherent. And this post in particular has been a work in progress for quite some time, I think what I really wanted to delve into when I started this was to explore what it is that I love so much about travelling and life on the road.
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey” – Pat Conroy
I think my earliest traveling experience was probably taking train trips in China from where we lived in Guangzhou to the provinces of where my parents were from. In those days, travelling by train from Guangzhou to Guiyang (where my mom’s hometown is) probably took at least 2 days and 1 night. Now, you can fly the distance in about 1.5 hours and a high speed train will zip you between the two in 4 hours. I have so many fond memories of those train journeys. Although when I recall them with my mom, she likes to remind me how unsavoury it was then to travel by train. The trains were often old, quite dirty in places and very crowded. If you can’t get sleeper berths, you have no choice but to sit through the 2-day-1-night journey.
My favourite thing to do then was to sit by the window and just stare out at the landscapes and scenery: rice fields, lakes, rivers, and always, mountains. This was before air conditioning became a standard feature. Which meant the windows could be opened back then. I would stick my arms out, sometimes my little face, and on a few occasions, dangle my feet out the window. Even now, if I close my eyes, I could still conjure up the feeling of hot, humid wind on my arms, the coolness in the mountain tunnels and the thundering sound, and the smell of those train compartments.
I wondered what it is about those train journeys that I love so much. Maybe it’s because unlike driving, you don’t have to worry about how you’ll arrive at your destination. You are not tied up by the logistics, instead, you are free to just enjoy the ride.
After we moved to Canada in 1999, there was a long period of no travelling because we couldn’t afford it. And in the middle of establishing a home and adapting to a new country and culture, that was probably the furthest thing from our minds. Then in late 2007, my mom called me one day while I was in my university residence: we were going on a cruise! It was a 7-night cruise to west coast Mexico. It was fun, and something I think I sorely needed in my soul; no, not the bottomless buffets (but mind you the food was surprisingly good) or the casino or duty free shopping on board, but simply to move, and to be out there and experience the world, even if it was through a cruise ship. I think that trip had awoken something in me.
After that trip, we started to travel more and more, from one-week trips to two-week sojourns, to a whole month away for our wedding, then 3 months last year for our big adventure. Each trip further cements my love for the road, and each trip we explore further into nature. Reading about these places and seeing photos are not the same as actually experiencing them. Just like being in love, just like life, only when you experience them will they actually leave impressions on you.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
Oh but what essential things they are! You don’t realize how little stuff you need in order to be happy, to be content. I travel simply, with as little luggage as possible, and it gives me such a sense of freedom. You are not weighed down by the things you’ve been told you need all your life: a house, a mortgage, a fancy car, too much furniture, another fancy gadget.
There’s nothing wrong with those things per se, but maybe not everyone wants them or needs them in order to live a happy, fulfilling life. I firmly believe that we don’t own the stuff we have, they end up owning us. You buy a house, and all of a sudden you have a mortgage that needs to be paid monthly, you can’t just up and leave one day if you want to. You buy a lot of things, you need to make room for them, you need to tidy them, you need to maintain them. They incur a lot of your time and resources (physical as well as mental). At a certain point, they become noise. Sometimes I think that we collect stuff when really it’s experiences that we want. But for various reasons, we collect stuff instead. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we have limited ability to collect stuff – not enough room, not enough money etc. But our heart has the capacity to record and remember all the beauty this world has to offer.
Of course, some of us prefer it that way: to be surrounded by things that keep us firmly planted on the ground and rooted to a certain place. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But maybe it’s not for everyone.
We humans are complicated creatures. We crave adventure at the same time that we crave stability and constance. I think in a strange way, travelling satisfies both adventure & constance: you are constantly on the road, but each place brings new experiences.
I read a while ago that people who never want to stop travelling are perhaps running away from something. That really made me think. On the surface, it sure seems that way. Especially the perpetual travellers. But lately I’ve given this a lot of thought. And I think for me, it boils down to how I feel when I’m on the road, and especially in nature. I feel a sense of calm and peace that I don’t feel when I’m “at home” in a square box with four walls and the same daily grind that reduces us to a machine-like state, each day bit by bit, no longer open to the simple beauty the world has to offer outside of our high-tech, high-stress life. I feel connected, and fully present when I’m travelling slowly. When I think about it, the best experiences in life happen when we feel fully present and everything else, including time, just falls away and becomes irrelevant. Like the saying “at that moment, time stood still”.
On an even deeper level, in the past few years, I realized the decisions I’ve made all lead me to one thing: freedom. Quitting my day job to become a wedding photographer, travelling, these things have helped me experience a sense of freedom that I think I’ve always wanted, even as a kid. The freedom to be able to decide what I do with my time, how I live my life; to be the master of my own destiny. There are already so many things in life we can’t control, the two big ones being birth and death. Since the start and the destination are the same, why not have some say over the in-between state we call life?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain