“Where is your favourite place”
It’s the question I’m asked most frequently and yet it’s the question I find most difficult to answer. Not just because there are so many places that have made an impression on me but because I can’t help feel like people are asking me the wrong question.
Travel, although most commonly defined by the geographical locations we visit, is rarely about places; it’s about experiences, and by that I don’t mean sky diving and bungee jumping. I mean life changing, perspective altering, humbling experiences.
So, here’s the answer to the question that I wish people would ask. Here are the 10 travel experiences you should have at least once in your lifetime.
1. Sleep under the stars
Shun that luxury hotel, leave the tent at home and go spend an evening under the fresh, light-spotted canvas of the night sky. Lie on a camp bed, sleep on the beach, find a comfy patch of grass and rest your head so that before you sleep and when you wake, the vision you see is the vast, expanse of the sky, the world and the universe. It will make you feel small. Very, very, small. And in that moment know that this world and this life is not about you. Not even close.
2. Take a long voyage by sea
Since the age of commercial flight we hop entire oceans giving more consideration to the in-flight movie menu than the distance we’re travelling. Board a boat and travel changes. See a harbour grow dim in the distance in full knowledge that for the next 18 hours all that awaits is the open water.
Watch the sun set and rise on your journey and appreciate how half a day of travel has not gotten you even half way to where you want to be. Stare out at the water and appreciate the beauty, tranquility and potential power of nature. Appreciate how vast this under-traversed part of our world is and relish that moment when you see dry land again.
3. Experience the hard, cold slap of culture shock
Culture shock isn’t just a word for experiencing a different continent. It’s not Bangkok or Iran or Peru. It’s a feeling that comes like a hard, cold slap across the face.
It’s that moment when the whites of your eyes are triple the size of your pupils because familiarity is so far out of reach you wouldn’t know how to begin to find it.
Culture shock is the very opposite of your status quo. It’s where the air is palpably thicker…or thinner, the humidity confronting or the chills arctic. It’s where the roads are ten times wider and more thrilling than you’ve ever seen, or where the roads don’t exist at all. It’s where the electricity comes and goes as it pleases, or where the sodium glare is as bold as the light of the sun. It’s where the landscape envelops you every time you see it and where the people are strange, so very very strange compared to every other person you’ve ever known.
Find somewhere that shocks you culturally and understand the diversity the globe holds.
4. Spend a day travelling by foot
We don’t wander any more, not like our ancestors used to, but there is something soothing about the pace that comes with a steady walk. If you thought that travel by sea could teach you a thing or two about the enormity of earth, restrict yourself to the speed of your own two legs and you’ll really come to appreciate the vastness of our planet.
Sure, we can zoom in and out of any spot on earth with Google maps and you can chat to your friend in Thailand thousands of miles away. But contrary to modern belief, the world isn’t smaller than you think. It’s huge. It’s actually really f%king huge. And only the human speed of travel can reinforce that.
Lose yourself in the journey. Find your thoughts. Savour the sights that don’t rush by in a blur. Relish the lack of traffic jams. Sure, you’ll probably travel less than 60 km in a day but you’ll remember, perhaps with blisters, every single one of them.
5. Eat and drink the thing you love most in its country of origin
Foods have travelled as globally as man, but be under no illusion – for every mile a recipe travels, it sheds part of its essence. Tacos may taste good in California, but there is no comparison with those you can buy in Mexico. Pizza: Napoli; Guinness: Ireland; Kobe beef: Japan. Go and taste your favourite food or drink in the place from where it came. You’ll be consuming the ingredients that have been grown, reared and harvested by local hands. The preparation, serving and seasoning will be just as it should be. And in all likelihood, the food will be a fair departure from the taste that you though you knew. But I’d make a safe bet it tastes much better.
6. Travel alone
Being comfortable with your own company is a vital life skill because you never know when you’re going to have to call on it.
Travelling independently, making your own way, taking your own decisions and accepting responsibility for them (especially when they go wrong) will help your personal growth more than any other travel experience there is.
Enjoy the freedom of autonomy, face the worries of loneliness, make peace with your incessant thoughts, question your own judgement (and existence), celebrate when you succeed, suck it up when you fail and move one. Keep moving on. Alone. Growing. Expanding. Getting to know who you really are.
7. Understand another country’s religions
The media tells us what it wants us to know about the world, the religions that exist within it and the conflicts that arise out of them. Whether misrepresented by the media or misunderstood by us, prejudice is born through ignorance. So go and obliterate that lack of knowledge.
Go explore countries that possess different religions. Go meet the people who live their lives by the rules of their dearly held beliefs. Become your own investigator and seek out the reality. Spent time understanding Buddhism, let an imam show you around a mosque, respect another culture’s religious customs.
Take time to understand the history, the practises and the precepts of the world’s different religious beliefs and you will better understand the world and the people in it.
8. Do something that scares you – really, really scares you
Fear is fundamentally personal. Jumping off a bridge with nothing more than a bungee cord attached to the feet might inspire fear in some and exhilaration in others, yet leaving home for another continent might induce panic in others. You most likely already know what it is about travel that scares you – eating alone on a Saturday night, getting lost in the streets, buying a train ticket in China when you don’t possess a single local word, conquering a mountain, taking a pilgrimage that seems dauntingly far.
9. Stand in front of something almost as old as time
Many people have said to me that the Pyramids of Giza were a disappointment, yet I really don’t understand how they can be? The only existing of the original seven wonders of the world. A method of construction that still can’t be explained. A piece of history that stretches back over 4,500 years in time. Let me repeat that: 4,500 years!
The Colosseum in Rome and its barbaric gladiatorial battles; 2000 year old churches, petroglyphs and cave paintings from our early ancestors. Gaze at, witness, touch (if you’re permitted) and try as hard as you can, despite the presence of 21st century life, complete with a McDonald’s fronting every historic landmark of note, what life must have been like so far back in time.
Consider each of the centuries of change that have passed in between and stop in amazement at how the building or site has survived them all.
10. Try living on USD$2 a day
According to the World Bank, 648 million people live on less than $2 per day. Think about that for a moment and then think about how much it costs to run your life each day – a fair amount more than $2 I’d bet.
See if you can spend even one day in a foreign country living off a fraction of what you usually spend. Start by cutting your food and drink budget to just $2 then see if you can go further – eating, sleeping, travelling and having fun for such a small amount.
Dispense with your usual travel routines. Say goodbye to restaurants. Look for locally cooked food. Scour markets for fruit and vegetables. Haggle…though never too hard. Borrow a book. Get around on foot.
From the moment you wake, consider every purchase that you’ll need to make that day. Understand the lack of clean tap water, consider the litres your body requires just to function and the cost that such necessities require.
Feel like a success when your stomach is full of chicken, rice and fruit for less than $1. Feel satisfied. But feel humble, oh so very humble that this is nothing more than a temporary experiment and challenge in your otherwise extremely privileged life.
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