Why Do We Travel? And Can We Really “Find Ourselves” Out There? The Wonderful-Awful Truth-and the Genuine Magic-About “Getting Away From it All”
Can you and I really go “find ourselves” in the Great Beyond?
Well, yes and no.
Let’s start with the NO, you can’t really get away from it all.
When you toss your toiletries and all those duds into your bag or backpack, your stuff tends to sneak its way in as well. That’s your highly personal collection of idiosyncrasies, fears, prejudices, beliefs, angers, hopes, insecurities- all the junk that is uniquely yours and mine, which in some, if not many cases, we would dearly love to leave behind.
All that crawls, unbidden, into the on board bag, only to leap out at brutally inopportune moments, to remind us that yes, indeed, wherever we go, there we are. Stress does that. A lost ticket. Not enough sleep. Jet lag. Overly hungry. Can’t speak the language. The guide/bus/flight is a no-show. Oh the list is endless.
Suddenly there we are in all our glory: annoyed, short tempered, angry, rude, whatever it is that we really do not wish to have leak out. It down right puddles around us, our reality.
We cannot escape our nature. We can, however, learn to understand what invites our less-than-attractive “parts” out, if you will, for we all have them.
Sometimes when we travel, those parts can get unhinged. Say, we hate being lost (my hand is up). We hate to be out of control (like most folks). We despise looking foolish (as in, being lost, see above). Well, welcome to the human race.
Each of those situations, and I guarantee you they will happen- will bring out those unattractive parts that cause us and others pain or deep discomfort. Or both.
Why? Because we need to see them, that’s why. This is where the part about “finding ourselves” when we go exploring is embarrassingly true. We most certainly do “find ourselves.” In situations we’d genuinely like to avoid, if for no other reason than those parts we just found are getting us arrested for spitting in Singapore, detained in Seoul by the TSA folks, tossed onto an island sans clothing, gear and wallet in the middle of the Amazon River by Colombian rebels with AK-47s (you laugh, that happened to two very arrogant young Californian acquaintances of mine in Ecuador in 2014).
Yah. We find ourselves all right.
On the other hand, said travel also brings out unbelievable opportunities to face those parts, and find ourselves rewriting our life scripts.
Among my favorite tales are those of folks who sign on to some kind of major adventure, head out rather reluctantly, and then are coaxed and guided gently into doing something unimaginably brave — for them. That could be heading up Kilimanjaro, or riding a difficult horse, or heading out to parts (very) unknown on tropical seas.
The Indonesian sailing operator SeaTrek Sailing Adventures (www.SeaTrekBali.com) is one of my favorite excursions, because folks who head out to the distant islands of this enormous archipelago often don’t know what they’re in for when they initially climb up the ship’s ladder. Their fleet is made up of UNESCO World Heritage traditional Indonesian boats, which adds to the flavor of the experience ( to say nothing of the beauty).
A while back I was on a trip to see Komodo dragons. After we spent time on the island to observe and photograph these remarkable beasts, we anchored not far off shore.
There was going to be a sunset hike the next day. These hills aren’t always easy to climb. The sand can be slippery, the trails narrow, and at times the incline steep. Most of us are in flip flops, which don’t lend themselves to hiking. This hill was pretty high. However, the sunset promised to be spectacular. We had videographers on this trip and they were going to get some superb footage.
There was one person with us who simply didn’t think she could make it to the top. Too old, she said. Too hard, she said. Nobody pushed. Nobody argued.
However, when we got to the top that late afternoon, a few of us were gazing at our ship on the azure waters below. Her graceful, massive sails unfurled to catch the glory of that sinking golden sun. Suddenly, there this woman was, standing with us.
You could see the exhilaration on her face. She didn’t have to say anything. I did it. My God. I did it.
She might as well have been a lighthouse, she shone with so much joy.
By the time we all got back down to shore to take the dinghy back to the phinisi ship, she had been transformed. You could tell that an internal script had just been rewritten. She felt more like a part of the whole group rather than the woman who always stayed on board. Her new confidence connected her, uplifted her, transformed her.
So yes. In fact we can “find” ourselves, in that regard. When we find ourselves questioning, doubting, making excuses. Resisting, fearing, and quaking at the prospect of something we think is beyond us. Adventure travel in its truest sense allows us to face those limiting beliefs and fears and address them for what they are: lies. Life-stealers. Containing only what power we give them to put our happiness on hold. Soft adventures, which is what most adventure travel is around the world (as opposed to climbing Everest, for example), offers untold chances to do just that.
So yes. You will find yourself when you travel. Good, bad and ugly at times.
Those parts are in full view. In that moment we can run. Or we can rise.
In rising, we can find ourselves becoming something else entirely. It doesn’t have to be some huge effort. Sometimes, just a small step in a different direction is all it takes.
What we take home, then, isn’t quite what we brought with us. Better than any souvenir, better than any mountain sunrise, better than any perfect ‘gram shot, is having given ourselves permission.
For so many of us past fifty, and my hand is enthusiastically up here, at this point in our lives there can be a feeling of something lost. Perhaps a chance not taken. A growing sadness, perhaps, that there isn’t much left. This kind of trip- when you’re surrounded by competent guides and staff and fellow travelers like yourself- offers the rewiring of those assumptions. Sometimes big, sometimes small. Sometimes, without your noticing it, you’ve taken a step towards rewriting the rest of your life.
Just what the doctor ordered, in effect. A long way from pills, procedures and a parade of predatory health care providers. This is a whole other highway.
In some ways, that highway circles right back to us, when we “find” remarkable aspects of ourselves that were there all along.
In other words, rather than getting away from it all, you’ve come home to it all. Smiling back at you in the mirror.