You know when people ask you how something has changed your life? And expect a nice, 100 word answer? Hehe, sometimes it isn’t so simple 😛
Because the thing that people don’t realize is, is the fact that travelling has been one of the defining elements of my entire life. Literally, I had crossed 2 continents before I’d reached my second birthday. The first few years of a child’s life massively influences them in every way, studies have proven it. Babies imprint on people, things and places, whether they remember or not. My feelings towards a Russian refugee who helped my parents with me during the first 6 months of my life are inexplicably deep, tenderness to that only a handful of my blood family share. In the way some kids grew up in a city or rural town with their close family, I grew up with misadventures across Hong Kong and China, St Petersburg and Amsterdam, Turkey and Portugal.
Kids start primary school with a few friends from the neighborhood, I began feeling foreign and strange, missing my best friend from Edinburgh. In the way the old folks have kick-knacks on shelves that “No, don’t touch that, it’s fragile” we have Zambian wooden carvings, Russian dolls, Indian drums and Moroccan cushions. It was much as part of our family as religion is to others’. Just as my family settled down, and Time in Oz > Time Overseas, and our world shrank to ours and the neighboring state and travelling became a distant dream, we took off for 2 months in Indonesia. My sister and I, who barely remembered more than lingering fragmented memories of Before, truly discovered budget travelling with a backpack. It completely opened our eyes, our conscious minds, to how wonderfully easy it all was, to catch a plane or a boat or a bus to wherever your finger landed on a map. Especially if you took the cheapest option and paid attention when the locals started haggling. Not only was this incredible adventure more economical, it was more real. We learnt the language and met people and went to the least-visited tourist sights. I think it had the most effect on my littlest sister, who was 3 the first time, 6 the second. We made sure to show her, when we flew over the coast of Darwin, to explain how we weren’t in Australia anymore, and she took to it all like a duck to water. Watching your country fade by, with the scuttle of clouds under sky more impossibly blue than you’ve ever seen before…it gives you a profound message of exactly how small the world really is, how easy it is to find your place in a brand new city with fragmented communication – smelling and hearing and seeing things more vividly than you thought possible. Your senses go into overdrive when you travel, you learn to drop ingrained expectations and habits, to adapt to new (or less) road rules, to manners and reactions in everyday interactions, to savor everything that is new, different or even slightly the same.
And this is doubly the case when one travels by oneself to the other side of the world. To be completely alone, and completely free, in a completely alien environment…it is one of the most incredible and indescribable life changing experiences. When everything, down to the weeds in the cracked pavement, the direction of traffic, the language on the tv’s, the clothes, the music, the buildings and the weather are utterly brand new, the metaphor of soaking things in on a wonderful family holiday is akin to playing in the rock pools and then being swept out to the ocean in a storm. You see so much, you don’t have time to absorb a fraction of what you’re hearing, everything that was your bedrock of support – lost at sea. It’s a psychological onslaught combined with an ecstatic sensory input. The textiles and aromas from crafts that are a blend of Incan and European worlds, ocean, sierra, rainforest and desert climates – waterfalls and glaciers that went thousands of meters in every direction.
Living with teenagers who only knew a tiny square of the universe, so small and yet so rich with heritage and history, showing clearly in their eyes and their blood. And then there were others, explorers like myself, who understood the joy of flight and the thrill of travel – and bonding with them, sharing our adventures with like-minded spirits, together from so many places in a moment of coincidence. It was 12 months of magic, 2012; a Balinese Christmas and a germanic Argentine Easter, India on the phone and Bolivia across the river, where I never stayed in the same place for more than 8 weeks solid, travelling from almost the Antarctic circle to within the tropic of Capricorn…and when I went home, my world shrank to a 50 km radius. Ire turned back to my secure family, friends who had never left the city and going to the beach 15 minutes away a special occasion.
When you travel, you are bombarded by the majesty of the chaotic life on earth, until you learn to adjust your sails and navigate the winds of the universe. Your mind expands more, than you ever thought possible, to span oceans and languages and cultures – you see how much more there is to the world. How much more there is to living.