As long as he was merely pulling down the curtain of one landscape behind him and raising that of another in front of him, as long as he was merely driving, he did not need to make plans for the future, to decide how he should live, or even whether he should live.
The above sentence, taken from George R. Stewart’s seminal post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides, describes summarily the reason why so many people travel. It is not only a desire to see the world. Nor is it simply a desire to immerse oneself in new cultures. Nor is it the wish to create texture in the fabric of life. It is, in fact, the meaning of life.
While the motivations of Ish (the main character) are rather specific to his despair-wrought solace, his thoughts ring true for anyone who has taken a risk and bought a one-way ticket. Shoot, even in traveling with a group, it is possible to find solitude and opportunities to sort through one’s thoughts.
This photo, taken during my trek through England, is of one of our strongest hikers. He was comfortable in solitude, and as such, sought it regularly.
I can relate. For as long as I can remember, I have been introverted. Though I can speak skillfully and confidently in front of a crowd, I would generally rather be in the audience.
Traveling allows us the luxury of both of those things. When we travel to a place where people are physically different than us, or we do not speak the language, we become the speaker on the stage. And just as easily, when we leave town after a few days, we become the crowd. One of a throng of travelers whom have passed through, lifting the curtains of landscape, carrying on to wherever the whims carry us.
Those capricious decisions allow us to live in the present moment. When we are running down the train platform, hoping to make the 10:42 for Edinburgh, nothing else exists. We are not making plans for the future. We are not deciding what our next career move will be. We are chasing the wind.
After all, is there anything other than that moment when we are sprinting down the platform?
These are the lessons from travel that become apparent to us only after we have returned from a trip. And only after we have integrated all that we have seen and experienced in our sojourn. These are the lessons that people who have not traveled far and wide may never understand.
These are the lessons that make the time between the trips bearable.