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Monday, 25 January 2016

Be the World

When I was young(er), all I wanted to do was travel. I was aware of how big and varied the world was and I wanted to see it all. It was such a driving force that I spent hours at a time collecting info on all the different countries - even the small unknown ones like Tajikistan. After high school, I went to TAFE to study retail tourism. I was going to be a travel agent. But when I discovered that becoming a travel agent just for the travel opportunities was a bad idea, I shifted my focus.

Now, at 24 years old, I've been to a lot of places around Australia. I've visited every state capital except for Hobart and Darwin, as well as The Gold Coast and a few country towns that no one's ever heard of. But disappointingly, I haven't been overseas since a family trip to Italy when I was 14. I used to lord it over everyone else with my superior travel experience - I'd been overseas three times before I could drive. But now all my friends, entering their twenties, are catching up to and overtaking me. I used to think that I just didn't yet have the money for a big overseas trip. But then I had this conversation with my friend Jerida:

Me: 'Oh you're going to New Zealand! That sounds awesome!'
Jerida: 'I'm so excited.'
'I'm jealous.'
'Why are you jealous?'
'I haven't been overseas in so long.'
'Well, why don't you take a holiday?'
That made me pause. Why don't I travel more? I do have the money really. I have enough saved up to spend three months in Paris if I wanted. So why haven't I been overseas without my family yet?
'...I guess I need a reason to go,' I mused.
'What do you mean?'
'Like, most of the time I've travelled, it was to see a festival or a sports match or for work. It gives me something to experience while I'm there.'
'Mike, if you're going to another city for work, that's not the same thing. You can't see the city that way.'
'That's not true. When I went to Perth to work for a week, I was only occupied between 9 & 5. In the evenings, I organised to do some stand-up gigs and meet friends that lived there.'
'But you didn't actually see the city, did you?'
'No, I guess not...'

Later, our other friend Kelsey managed to round up a bunch of people to take a trip to Singapore and Thailand. I was invited along, but I hesitated. At the front of my mind was an audition for a touring kids theatre company that I'd just had. I didn't want to pay for flights and accommodation and then find out I'd got the job and have to cancel. But if I'm completely honest with myself, I have to admit I just didn't want to spend the money, period. It's taken me a VERY long time to accrue that money in the bank. I didn't want to blow half of it in one fell swoop. I eventually bit the bullet and joined in. I paid for my flights and accommodation while hanging out at Kelsey's house. Then, later that night, I had this conversation with him:

Kelsey: 'This is going to be so great.'
Me: 'Yeah... I wish I could get that excited.'
'You're not excited?'
'I am, just... not as excited as I used to be.'
'What do you mean?'
I'd had more time to think about it and realised I knew the problem.
'Travelling used to be the number one thing I wanted to do with my life, but it isn't any more. My priorities have changed.'
'Not me, I want to see the world. I want to open my mind to other cultures and learn what they're about.'
'Yeah I used to be like that too. But now I'm saving up for a house. I want to get into a position where I can support myself and a family. If I have to sacrifice travel for that, I don't mind.'
'Yeah look, I want to do that too. But you have to travel while you're young. See the world now because when you have a career and kids, you won't get to do it any more.'

Kelsey may not have realised it, but his philosophy is nothing new. While in the last generation you were seen as a success if you had a nice house, a nice job and a nice partner with nice kids, now success is measured by the places you've been and the experiences you've had. But just as a feminist is still a feminist, even if she chooses to be a stay-at-home mum, a new-age man is still enlightened if he prioritises a house and kids over travel. Don't get me wrong, I still measure my life by experiences... I just get my life experience elsewhere.

I was happy that I'd come to that realisation. It felt good knowing that I didn't have to dedicate all my effort to such an enormous task as seeing the world. Kelsey still didn't get it, but that was okay. He had his plan and I had mine. I wished him all the best.
But a few days later, I was thinking about it again. Something about my logic didn't quite add up.If all I care about is getting a house and family, then why do I still have a bucket list typed out on my computer? Why am I trying to visit every Australian capital city and why do I want to travel to every continent? When we were discussing what to do on our upcoming trip to Asia, I only had one suggestion and it was the only thing I got properly excited about - I wanted to go to a Buddhist monastery, experience that lifestyle and hopefully learn to meditate. I mulled that idea over, then it finally hit me.

I don't want to see the world. That's too sedentary for me. I'd much rather be the world.

If I'm going to Thailand, it's not enough to just see first-hind how they live. I want to actually live like them - to become a local. See the world through their eyes.
If I had a choice between going to China to see the Great Wall or living for two months in an Aboriginal community, I'd pick the latter.
When I was in Italy, my favourite memories included playing cards with the locals and attending a 21st birthday. It made me feel like I was a part of the group.
I was in Canberra for ten days with a large group of friends and each day I would text someone to come and have breakfast with me in Canberra Centre. By the end of the ten days, I knew my way around the streets of the CBD and that felt good.
Things like my new experience challenge, where I tried one new thin every week for a year - that was designed to help me really experience things that are outside my zone of familiarity.
I've taken dance classes, cooking classes, martial arts classes, guitar lessons and now I'm learning to write Java script.

Let's take it a step further. I feel like I have a good amount of world-knowledge. But everything I see comes through the point of view of a rich western white man. I want to find a way to get down from my perch and really learn what's going on in the rest of the world. I hear so much talk of how hard it is for some people to get by, but I'll never really understand until I've lived it. I want to know what it's like to struggle.

I dream of wearing a turban one year, camouflage gear the next and a spacesuit the year after that. I don't want Lonely Planet, I want Eat Pray Love. I never watched Getaway, but I couldn't get enough of Things to Try Before You Die. I don't want to see the world, I want to be the world.


  1. You've come to some amazing insights about yourself! Introspection is always a good thing.

  2. what a beautiful sharing ,traveling is always source of learning and learning is purely a source of pleasure

    1. Mastering something new will always give you a great feeling.

  3. I think you have a fabulous idea. At 24 you have lots of time for all the stuff that ties you down, and you would have regrets. Now in retirement, we have the time to travel, but get a bit concerned about making our money last. Ah to be young again.

    1. One of the most sadly true sayings I've ever heard is "Youth is wasted on the young."

  4. Do missionary work and you'll definitely be immersed with the locals.
    I do enjoy traveling but like you, I don't like to spend money. Not on myself. But I have no trouble spending it on my wife, which is a good thing. So we do travel some.

    1. Missionary work, that had never occurred to me. Hm...

  5. I love the way you think. My dream job would be to travel to new places and meet with the locals and experience their world. I know some travel shows do this but to me that would have been the perfect job. Travel makes a person broader minded and able to handle change well. I know people in their 50's and 60's who have never left their state. I can't imagine a life without travel.

    1. But like we said, it;s important not to act like we've got it figured out and they're missing out. If they've chosen their way in life, I hope it works for them :)

  6. Wow, I like this.. I've always wanted to travel the world, but I never really thought about it like this. Wanting to hit landmarks when I should be going to events and meeting people. I don't know. I've gotten no closer to traveling the world, but I figure.. I'm still young. Got a lot of years to see whatever and so do you :) (buy a house so you have something to come home to)

    1. I do still want to see all the biggest landmarks - the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids etc - just because they're so ingrained in pop culture. But basically the aim is to really be able to see the world through a set of eyes that I'm totally not used to.

  7. I love to travel, but I also find local things just as fascinating. A stranger on a bus has a story they can tell. There is something to learn everywhere you go. I think that's what intrigues you too. It's not just a collection of post cards of places you traveled through. It's learning something new.

    There's nothing wrong with adjusting your goals. And the idea that you can only experience life in your youth is absurd. As long as you are breathing, you keep on living.

    1. That's what I hope to never lose sight of.


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