There are some great perks when working for an airline/travel company. Not too long ago on a Friday night, I took a 7 hour flight and crossed the Atlantic. On Saturday morning, I was in Paris. I spent the day wandering around the beautiful French capital then headed to the hotel for a few hours of sleep. On Sunday morning, I boarded another plane, crossed the Atlantic once more and arrived back home. Despite having worked for my company for over a decade, this was the first time I did a 24-hour getaway across the pond. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Those 14+ hours of flight time gave me ample opportunity to reflect on my travels and on the impact they’ve had on my life. The late Anthony Bourdain used to talk about traveling and I believe that he explained it in an absolutely perfect way:
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.Anthony Bourdain
Truly traveling with an open mind and an open heart is not always pretty. When you go out there to experience the world and learn to appreciate all the differences that make us so unique, you are bound to encounter situations that will take you completely out of your element. You are bound to encounter not only good times but also bad times and that’s all part of the journey.
On a trip to India a few years ago, I went to visit the Karni Mata Temple in the Rajasthan region. What makes this Hindu temple famous is the fact that it harbours over 25000 (yes, twenty five thousand) rats. Contrary to our western culture, these rats live in the temple and are revered by the worshipers. As in all other temples, visitors can only enter the temple barefoot (that also includes us tourists). To add to this already fascinating visit was the fact that it was raining that day. That means that the floor was covered with a brown porridge like substance made of rain water, dirt, rat droppings and food. It looked exactly as it sounds. Now just imagine how it felt walking on that barefoot. Now add to that the rats. It was far from being pretty but the experience was surreal and I would not hesitate to do it again.
Traveling is also often uncomfortable. There are many levels on which you can be uncomfortable during your travels but the most common will surely be the physical one. Let’s face it, sitting in economy class between 2 strangers for 15 hours on a flight from LAX to SYD is far from being comfortable. Riding on a barely padded seat in a worn out and overcrowded bus in some hot and humid country is far from being pleasant. Holding on for your life as you sit on top of a tricycle (tuk tuk) in the Philippines because there was no more space below can be quite a scary and rough ride.
But those uncomfortable situations are some of the most memorable parts of the trip. You don’t remember that comfortable bed you had at the Hilton and even if you did, nobody wants to hear about it. You do however vividly remember that awful time you spent 12 hours on an overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok… after having spent the whole day sweating in the jungle with elephants. The amazing thing is that these experiences will eventually harden you up and at some point, using the squat toilet on a train in India will not seem that bad anymore.
Traveling can hurt. I once fell down a waterfall in Australia and had a few bruises here and there but things could have been much worse. My camera on the other hand, did not survive the fall. These physical injuries will eventually heal but sometimes you will see, live, hear or experience things that will hurt you from the inside and that’s when the journey changes the person you are.
7AM in Varanasi, India. I had been watching the early morning bathing rituals by the Ganges river and was heading back to the hotel when I noticed a long line of men sitting on the ground waiting for something. I soon found out that they were lining up to get food. At the very beginning of the line was a huge cauldron sitting on top of an open fire. To my surprise, the fire was being maintained by a young boy. He was working quite hard to keep the flames raging on. From time to time, he would also stir whatever was cooking. He must have been at this for quite some time already. I’m not sure if he was doing all the cooking of just helping out. It was heartbreaking to realize how different his world was. I remember being his age. Back then, running out of my favorite cereal would have probably ruined my morning and here you have this young child maintaining an open fire and cooking food for 40 men at 7 in the morning.
My perspective on life, on work, on what happiness means have all been shaped by those journeys I’ve undertaken throughout the years. Travelling has opened my mind and my heart to not only new places, new people, new culinary delights but also new visions, goals and dreams.
Every time I purchase a plane ticket, I’m investing in myself. I’m creating my greatest life memories. I’m fulfilling one of my dreams. I’m going on an adventure. I’m learning. I’m living.
To whomever is reading this, if there’s one advice I can give you, it’s this: travel and travel as often as you can.