It perplexes me when people profess they hate to travel. The airports, physical insecurity, food, smell, cost or culture – what exactly repels?
For myself, travel is perhaps the most wonderful thing known to mankind. To travel is to live, breathe, smell and taste – it awakens the senses and broadens the mind. It’s also one of the greatest educators we’ve got, outside of the classroom. Travel teaches us to adapt, to listen and to respect.
I’m not referring to the ‘schoolies’ piss-up of debaucheries revelry, where the only morsel of ‘original culture’ is a printed T-Shirt with the words: ‘I Love Brisbane’, or of wherever your after-school alcohol fueled soiree may take you.
Rather, I refer to the immersive adventures. Backpack, a little money and a phone, of sorts, with a hunger and desire for adventure and originality.
There are a few journeys that have shaped, changed and utterly confounded me. I would leave Sydney airport with insecurities and blips and return, utterly the same person, but with an aura of change slightly etched into my character.
These journeys are as follows:
Cambodia 2007. It was the atypical school trip – 3 weeks abroad with your friends. But, the people whom elected to go were not my friends, only acquaintances – quite a daunting prospect for a 16 year-old girl. Additionally, I went on behalf of the Tabitha Foundation, a sustainable non-profit organization which aims to assist the poorest people within Cambodia.
This trip was an epiphany, of sorts. I knew nothing of the recent tumultuous and bloody history of Cambodia. I did not know that the Khmer Rouge, also known as Pol Pot, killed around 25% of his population, and that this only ended in the mid-90s.
Subsequently, people over the age of 50 were an anomaly. I recall that our beautiful Cambodian guide was the only one left out of her family of 20.
For 3 weeks, I was enveloped in a country of barbaric beauty, still suffering the hangovers of a recent genocide. On a visit to the Killing Fields, deformed beggars decorated the streets. In desperation, they would advance towards a credulous tourist (myself). Their faces were completely burnt and seared off – these men had been chemically tortured during the regime.
How could such an experience not leave a lasting impression? Even now, 10 years on, I reminisce and remember.
Italy 2010. I was adamant – ‘I do not want to go from one institution to the other’. I didn’t want to spend 18 years of my life studying to then go to university and spend another four or five locked into an academic regime. Rather, I wanted adventure, to go abroad. I wanted to revel in something other than my hometown, and that place was Italy.
I became an au pair and an English teacher in Brescia, Italy. I was 18 with no grasp of the language, no contacts and no friends. No surprise then, I was utterly homesick. I cried myself to sleep and read Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s North and South religiously. I sympathized with the protagonist Margaret, who had been ripped apart from her native south and placed unwillingly in the barren north.
Yes, I had decided on this adventure, but I was naïve and alone. But, I rallied. I joined a ballroom dance class, became an English teacher at the local school and slowly started to make friends.
Consequently, those friends I still have today. This was certainly one of those 12-month sabbatical adventures where the young, naïve and ingenious girl returns as a – somewhat – woman.
India 2014. An important trip for me. Firstly, I was positively heartbroken and awash with my own emotions.
Someone who was certainly not for me had unceremoniously dumped me via phone. He called. I picked up. ‘I don’t love you anymore’. He hung up. I dropped to the ground.
Even those of the most stoic of dispositions would find it hard not to lament.
Chocolate, I had plenty. Wine with the girls, dinner’s out, ‘rebounds’, walks and chats with mum – nothing could soothe or placate. I knew that I was saturated in an unrequited obsession? (it certainly wasn’t love), and I had to get out.
There was a chance to go to India, to complete an internship as a cultural journalist for the Madurai Messenger, and I took it with both hands.
India holds a special place in my heart. My beloved grandfather, who I always looked up to and cherished was born in Lahore (now Pakistan), but was then British India. He spent most of his childhood surrounded by Memsaabs and servants (as they were then called).
Evidently, India has changed since then, and rightly so. I have never been so overwhelmed with sensation. The smell, heat, taste and sound – it punctuated and infused itself into every facet of my sensory being. It was a culturally intimating place, so unlike my own, an ‘assault on the senses’ – if you will.
But, it was marvelous. The people, food, language and customs were so decidedly unique.
For an investigative feature, I was sent up into the Ooty Mountains to live the Todas tribe. The trip was 12-hours long, by bus.
The Ooty Mountains were a favoured spot by colonialists, as they found the temperatures cooler and more in taste with their native England. Indeed, it was cold. Keeping warm that night was somewhat of a challenge. I had one blanket and I put socks over my hands. There was no hot water and the temperature had dropped to below minus.
I lived with the Todas for approximately a week. An amazingly unique people, they are one of the only vegetarian tribes in the world. Additionally, they practice polyandry – where a woman can have more than one husband.
The epicenter of their culture is the buffalo. This beast etched itself into every humdrum element of their daily life. Moreover, when a Todas member is convicted of a crime, they fight a buffalo. If they kill the buffalo they are proclaimed innocent. If, however, they die – well, they were guilty after all.
I’ve had many more adventures. Some within the confines of my native home, but many of them abroad.
So, my advice? Get your backpack and get out. There’s really no better educator, liberator or emancipator than travel.