Travelling for different people means different things. Some are high-paced, frenetic, book-at-the-last second lone travelers; others indulge in a sedentary style of travel, on a sunny beach with cocktail and book in hand; while for others travel means museum after monument after museum.
I, myself, have been the adventurer for a long time. Opting for a tuktuk to circumnavigate Sri Lanka, or trains, planes and buses to cross the continent of Europe.
None of these styles of travel are incorrect, and none are really any better than the other, given travel and experience is about as subjective as film preferences.
But, having just crossed Europe, I have to say that balance is important. Over the course of less than one month, I’ve travelled from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Madrid, Spain. In that distance, however, I only took two flights. Both were less than two hours each. The rest has been by bus or train, of up to 16 hours, overland.
It has been a pleasurable journey, but one can take a leaf out of the cocktail-swilling relaxers’ book when it comes oot the end of such a journey. The travel is exhausting and, from what I’ve come to understand, I think it’s important to make sure that travel is always secondary to the destinations. Travel is, I believe, about the destination. Travel is not about the travel itself, unless you’re a train- or plane-loving individual prepared to enjoy the transportation. For me, who couldn’t care less about the autobus or flying terror machine, I’ve found my suspicions confirmed.
In the almost 5000km I travelled, I didn’t spend more than three days in one location. I didn’t spend more than 12 hours in a couple of cities. I tried to fit in the most important locations, but a lot of my time ended up being on research for the next location or place to stay. That’s where the geeky travellers’ work comes in. While they might be content with a day in a museum, learning about Azerbaijan’s Ottoman and Russian histories, that would be an entire day wasted without seeing Baku’s Medina or old city, or even the perpetual fires outside the city. That’s also not taking into account the fact that there’s mountains that could be skied and countryside that could be hiked. But, they gain context and and understanding of the country, city or site, that many people might not have. A visit without context, or some understanding of history, is just about as effective as reading a book in a language you don’t understand.
And the last point of my rant comes to people. People are everything when it comes to travel. There are some of us who are happy to take solo adventures, but that is always contingent on finding people along the way. Some places don’t lend themselves to a backpacking culture, so it gets hard. Being comfortable in your own company become increasingly important, and if you’re not, things get lonely quite quickly.
For me, seeing the faces of old friends from New Zealand at the end of my journey was a godsend. Feeling lonely from 20 days without familiar people, their faces were welcomed and heartwarming. The ability to bounce ideas off, laugh with, share stories with, drink with, eat with and confide in, is something so important you can only know when you’ve plunged yourself into a solitary situation.
At the end of the day, as trite as it may sound, it’s all about balance. Balancing company, with doing your own thing; museum and geeking, with spontaneity; relaxation and bacchanalian behavior, with adventure. It’s all balance, and if it’s achieved, it’s more than a wonderful thing, it’s a life changing experience.