Someone asked a group of travelers if they had posts regarding this question. I went searching on this site, and while I talk about travel, long-term travel, why we’re doing the nomadic life, etc., I realized I’ve never addressed why I travel. I guess it’s about time!
How it all got started
When I was a child, we did lots of road trips within the US. I still love doing road trips, but traveling within my native country hasn’t been nearly as exciting for me as visiting other countries.
My first international experience, not counting a brief visit to Tijuana when I was a kid, was during a road trip with a foster family. I was 16, and we drove from California to Texas and down through all of Mexico to the state of Chiapas. We lived for a month in a small wood cabin in a village in the woods. I remember the milk boy who went from house to house while riding a donkey. He would dip a long ladle into the large canister and pour the milk into our container.
I also remember walking through a giant spider web while hiking in the woods. I have a thing about having cobwebs on my skin, and I freaked out. I saw a bush and started smacking it to get the sticky web off my hands. Until I noticed pain. I looked at my hands to see several cuts from thorns.
But no spider web!
I was relieved and brushed my hair with my hand. I thought I felt something fuzzy and ran my hand through my hair again. Nothing.
Then I noticed the gargantuan spider at my feet which promptly jumped into the air sending me almost screaming as I ran through the woods yet again. This time I was holding a stick out in front of me to catch any of those horrible webs hanging between trees.
Our stay was noticeable as well for the parasite I had to get treated for and for finding 4 ticks enjoying a nice meal from me after we swam in a pond. One of them had found a rather unique place to burrow into, and I was more than a little nervous about plucking it from an unmentionable part of my body.
I also remember buying pineapple that was as sweet as candy from a wizened old lady sitting on a colorful blanket.
Plastic bottles weren’t in use widely back then, and since the glass bottles were expensive and recycled, when you bought a soda it was poured into a plastic bag. Although, you could always drink from the bottle as long as you were staying there at the shop.
I remember seeing the black soil in Oaxaca and smiling at the friendliness of Mexicans.
Even more exciting was the day our yellow VW Bug was pulled over by either army or guerillas. They searched our vehicle while machine guns were pointed at us. One of the apparent leaders wouldn’t let me take photos, though. I was so bummed I wouldn’t have pics of this momentous experience to share with my classmates back home.
Everything was so different. So relaxed. There was so much life!
I was hooked.
Major culture shock
In my 20s, I traveled to Ecuador and lived in Quito for a few months. It was the first time I experienced true culture shock. Or at least that’s the closest description I have. I expected lots of rice and beans and instead constantly found corn, potatoes, and meat. I wasn’t complaining!
Boiling the water took forever, so we usually just added bleach to the large containers. That left a fairly nasty taste, so we were always armed with packets of Tang. Add a little of the powder to your drinks, and it had just enough flavor to hide the unsavory essence of Clorox.
I was overwhelmed by the children begging, though. It was incredibly challenging to have little 3- and 4-year-olds come up with their sad faces, their hands clasped in a begging position, mumbling words I couldn’t understand. What made it even worse were their parents (or some adult who was in charge) sitting in the shade of the building while the kids begged in the equatorial sun or during a torrential downpour.
By the time I left Ecuador, I was sick of South America, tired of cold showers, and completely over bleach/Tang-flavored water.
It would be a long time before I would have the opportunity to leave the country again, and by that time I looked back upon my time below the equator with fondness.
What I love about travel
I love the challenge of visiting a new country. Even if I know the language, there are different terms, and different usages. Such as the time I inadvertently asked someone to “f**k that book for me.” I assure you that verb has a totally appropriate, different meaning in Ecuador!
Then there was the moment I told my roommate it was going to be his turn to wash the dishes if he kept teasing me. When our Argentinean friend recovered from his fit of laughter, I was informed that in his country’s vernacular I had just informed my friend it was his turn to “wash the butts.”
Every place has its own vibe. Hanoi and I parted on reasonable terms, but I absolutely feel no need to go back. However, Saigon seduced me and left me wanting more time. Jakarta seemed like a huge waste of space to me, but Bali fills me with wonder, curiosity, joy, and inspiration.
When a person is open to it, travel transforms them. I’ve found healing, confusion, maddening frustration, and ideals that force me to reconsider my own notions, values, and views of society, religions, and cultures.
And, of course, there is the food. Different flavors, different animal parts, and even different kinds of animals for food. Fruits and vegetables that are delicious, exotic, and sometimes scary looking.
Travel is something that touches on all the senses. When you allow it, it reaches deep inside your core. I don’t believe I ever leave a place the same person as entered.
This is why I travel. Yes, for the experience, but also for the effect it has on me. The more I travel, the more connected I feel to the world, both physically and existentially.
Why do you travel or want to travel?
June 17, 2013
It sounds like you have lived a very exciting life. I travel for the same reasons.