Why

For a few months now, I’ve been telling people I’m going travelling in New Zealand. No-one has asked why. Not a single person. And obviously I’ve talked to a lot of people: I don’t mean to brag but I have almost over two friends.

Questions people ask when I tell them I’m going to New Zealand Questions people don’t ask when I tell them I’m going to New Zealand
When are you going?
How long are you going for?
What are you going to do while you’re there?
Who are you flying with?
Really? Are you aware of Malaysian Airlines’ safety record this year?
Can I have your stuff?
Is there a reason you’re writing down everything I’m saying?
Why?

People also like to tell me their feelings about my New Zealand trip, because I have the sort of face that encourages people to tell me their feelings. I made a table for this as well.

What people tell me they feel about my travelling What people don’t tell me they feel about my travelling
That they’re jealous
That it’s an amazing thing to do
That they wish they could do it (which they probably could)
That I’m insane

I find this particularly strange because to me it clearly is insanity. To be explicit, I’ve quit full-time employment and bought a one-way plane ticket to a country on the other side of the world to which I’ve never been before. I’m leaving behind everyone I know to go to an island where I don’t really know any people and also where there aren’t really any people. I have no planned accommodation beyond the first week and no offers of paid employment.

So why don’t people think it’s insane? Why don’t people ask why? I have two possible answers and I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle:

  1. People do think it’s insane and don’t want to tell me in case I cry in front of them.
  2. Everyone just gets it.

I do think people just get it.

Partly because in London it happens all the time. Cosmopolitan city life enforces change at a staggering rate. People come and people go, from your job and your house and your life, and you learn to wear even your deepest connections lightly, or risk being constantly pulled apart.

And partly because the idea isn’t insane. People get the idea. The insanity is in the decision. Almost everyone harbours a desire to do something big. Building a comfortable, stable life involves doing a lot of seemingly small things a lot of the time, and that distorts big things into adjectives like ‘exciting’ and ‘brave’ and ‘ambitious’. If you’re well-adjusted, you can overcome this misconception with the realisation that happiness isn’t external, and you can’t chase it, and any life worth living is full of seemingly small things that add up quite wonderfully.

In Defence of Not Travelling

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
Saint Augustine

This is nonsense. There, I said it. Saint Augustine is a privileged snob.

Travelling really can turn people into sanctimonious windbags. Apparently it’s not enough to want to travel, the rest of the world must be convinced that it’s the only way; that we’re all strait-jacketed by our socially-conditioned lives, and travel is the only escape.

The world is very wide, it’s true, but the world is also very deep, and the further you spread yourself, the less deep you ever dig. To travel is to spread yourself very far indeed, and in doing so, you gain wonderful experiences, and people, and ideas. But you also lose things.

The more you travel, the more you lose. You lose friends in the rush to make more, and you lose community in the rush to explore. You lose the ability to commit to individuals, or to a place, or to a home. None of this makes travelling bad, but let’s at least recognise that it’s sacrifice.

Contrary to what Saint Augustine thinks, there are many ways to explore the world. Certainly you can explore its geography, both physical and cultural, but if people who do not travel read only a page, then people who spend their lives travelling still probably only make it through one chapter. There is simply too much world to suppose you could ever make it through the entire book.

Here’s an alternative. You could build a life in one place, and explore every nuance of your family and the community you find around you. You could devote yourself to just one person or just one cause or just one idea, and never leave your home and still be adventuring till the end of your days. Your world may not be very wide, but it would be all the deeper for it.

You could of course try to do all these things, but balance is a tricky thing, and the more you lean to one, the more you compromise on another. Moreover, the choice alone is an extraordinary privilege. There are plenty of people for whom travel is impossible, because of money, or because of health, or because of commitment.

We must recognise that travel is a luxury afforded to a minority. To idealise – even idolise – travel as the key to a more meaningful, more soulful life, is arrogant and tiresome. It is patronising to those who choose to stay still, and offensive to those who have no choice.

None of this makes travelling bad, but it does make Saint Augustine a privileged snob.

Travel is not necessary to life.

So having said all that, I’m going travelling.

Because

I’m going to New Zealand for a year.

Partly I’m going because it’s really easy to get a Working Holiday visa for New Zealand.

Partly I’m going because I can’t convince myself not to. I even made the table below, and it didn’t deter me. 

Scary thing What’s the worst that can happen?
Finding a place to live Death, from homelessness.
Having enough money Death, from homelessness.
Travelling by myself Death, from falling into a ravine.
Meeting new people Death, from meeting an axe murderer.
Flying on Malaysian Airlines All the in-flight entertainment channels could be showing Night at the Museum on loop.

Mostly I’m going because I’m restless:

Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.
Judith Thurman

I am lucky to be able to travel and it makes sense to do it now. I’m still young enough to apply for the sort of visa I need to travel and work. I have no commitments: no family to look after, no partner, no mortgage. I’m content to move on from my job, and I have enough savings to act as a safety net.

So I’m going because I can, and because I want to.

Recently I came out of a six year relationship, and emerged blinking into a world that had been brought into existence more by inaction than action.

So this is a definite action, which will result in a definite thing. It is not a shrug of the shoulders. It is not a continuation. It is not a stall.

Maybe travel is a solution to my restlessness, and maybe it isn’t.

Maybe I’ll “find myself” and maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll travel forever, and maybe I’ll never travel again.

Or to put it another way: I have no idea what I’m doing, but never mind.

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5 thoughts on “Why

  1. Pingback: Why 2 | Fof's Off

  2. Pingback: 100* | Fof's Off

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