It’s a classic.
“Why do you travel?”
Sitting in the grass with a few unexpected friends, I look at the bamboo hut and the bar next to us. I listen to the waves roaring a few meters away, feeling the peaceful and stormy immensity of the ocean around us.
The question of my friend seems to be both trivial and revealing.
I try to come up with an original answer, but I end up sticking to the truth:
“Because it’s fun.”
She nods and smiles. The look on her face tells me that she was expecting something else, juicier maybe, and I understand: my answer could hardly be more boring.
Many people are interested to know what drives someone to travel for so long, much longer than “usual”. Because “usually”, our reasons for hitting the road end up fading away. We finally solve our “problems”, “find our path” or to get to “know ourselves” (Socrates, anyone?). We end up coming back home, finally ready to start our “real life”.
But I don’t really have a “social maladjustment” story or motivation to explain my choices in life – at least not the one to travel. I am not running away from anything. I’m not afraid to go back where I come from, to return to a more “classic” daily life, and I’m certainly not trying to find out who I am.
I turned to my friend and tried to provide her with a more substantial answer:
“There are people who “find themselves” while practicing their sport, there are some who live only to compose and play music while others are deeply happy trying to protect the environment.
For me, it’s traveling. It’s my passion.”
And in my mind, being happy (read “living one’s deepest passions”) is pretty much the most relevant thing someone could do with his life.
But it’s true: there are actually a lot of people traveling to find or run away from something. And it’s usually easy to spot: they left home without so much preparation, perhaps after a specific phase or a difficult period, and have a set return date. Probably far away in time, but still a set date, since this is basically a holiday (only it’s longer than usual).
The main interest is not the trip itself anymore, but a personal quest.
And that’s fine!
But I can hardly recognize myself in this kind of adventure, or even connect on a deeper level with this segment of travelers (if such a group exists) because I’m not familiar with their inner motivations. And I cannot allow myself to judge either, for the same reasons.
As far as I’m concerned, my journey is not a means, but an end.
I travel, therefore I am. At least for now.
And with the questions and comments I get, I’m clearly not the only one.
I sometimes think – and smile at the idea – that I’m living my retirement now, and that it’s financing itself. As if I had jumped over the 45 years that I should have waited to get there.
I live well, you can guess. I get sick from time to time – visiting a Chinese hospital where the doctor asks you questions using a translator on his iPhone is not so reassuring – and I have some down moments, sure. But they will be stories for my grandchildren, and I’m happy with that.
In other words, I can’t see anything to justify the mythical “impossibility” with which our idea of a traveler’s life is draped. Neither the urban legends of hordes of young vagabonds seeking for something deeper and considered somehow as misfits in our society. “Half-adults”. “Hippies”. “Future consumers and citizens”, but not just yet.
A friend recently wrote to me, asking me how do I manage to “live for so long outside the system.” It saddens me to see how we conceive this lifestyle as being so marginal, unlikely or even difficult to attain that we imagine it contradicts our usual world.
Because I am not outside the system.
I feed myself, I lodge myself and I get from one place to another. I consume, like everyone else. And sometimes, I even work!
Let’s just say that… I pick my battles carefully.
“You can fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
– Jim Carrey
While waiting to come back “in the system”, I tan in a small surf village on the west coast of the Philippines. In my tiny apartment by the beach, between the palm trees and my surfboard, life blossoms.
I will come back to Québec, maybe next week, maybe five years from now. But not today.
Not as long as my passion will keep burning in so many languages, in the smiles of all those strangers and on the trails of every mountain I encounter. This passion is my only reason, and the only one I need.
And you, what does the fire burning in your guts look like?
“Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. […] I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad.
But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here […]. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”
– The Perks of Being a Wallflower