Everything a thousand days of traveling has taught me

A thousand days abroad. A thousand days of wandering, learning, love, visiting, sports, studying, friendships, working and adventure.

A thousand days of travelling. Here is what I learnt from it.

People are good.

This is something I didn’t believe in at all before leaving. Two and a half years ago, I would have been a Hobbes supporter, who reused and popularized the famous idea that “Man is a wolf to man”.

Today, far from my philosophy books but overwhelmed by the humanity around me, I think otherwise. My two feet deep in an eclectic range of daily realities, I’m forced to realize that it’s by staying far from humanity that one can be mistaken about its nature.

Especially when our suspicion is already deep rooted, and judging through the lenses of a deforming screen.

Because when we make the effort to meet him, to walk with him, to talk to him (if only in gestures), the human being is good. People are curious, interested and open, asking only for a chance to prove what they are truly made of. Asking only for a reason to put in action this magnificent goodness hiding underneath a lifelong conditioning and daily obligations.

I clumsily tried to put into words this unappreciated quality that people have – their humanity – in vain. Only experiencing it firsthand will fascinate profoundly enough – stirring reflexes and convictions alike – to dislodge an “ordinary” perception of what it means to be human. A perception too often limited to mistrust and squinted eyes, based on all these televised and sensationalist stories.

People are what we allow them to be, nothing more.

So ask for everything.

With a smile.

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Nepal

A thousand days later, I love people, and I believe in them.

« It’s gonna be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end. »

Traveling, roaming, discovering, it’s all about trading security for freedom. It’s about making a leap of faith and having a blind trust in fate, in the weather’s and our body’s humor, in some imperfect gear, in people’s goodness, in life itself.

Thereby, our enormous list of preoccupations gains a third dimension. Gradually, some of our needs’ futility pushes them away. Slowly, our powerlessness in front of some issues erases them. Without solving everything that’s troubling us, we purify the list of what truly matters. We accept and let go what is not of our business.

The lesson relieves the shoulders and mind alike, while stretching the smile. Because we care so much, all the time, and about anything.

But there is too much Beauty to be so serious.

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China

A thousand days later, I trust life.

Ideologies are not sacred.

It might seem obvious, but everyone has some conviction(s) that he/she would defend at all costs. Some principles we fundamentally believe to be useful and relevant. Noble. Right.

I do, as much as anybody else.

But to get out of these neighborhoods you’ve always known means learning that even Truth might not be absolute. That the extremes always end up failing reality’s test. That even what’s good has seven billion definitions, each as valid as the others.

And it’s a deplorable waste to be trapped in a one way vision without realizing how much the world changes and transforms with time and space.

Far from me the idea to play down all the causes that carry this world forward: I believe in many efforts and I am of those who aspire to work for a better world. Whether for gender equality, ocean protection or universal access to education, I am more than convinced and I try to do my part.

But I couldn’t find better words that Georges Brassens (which I will try to translate):

 Novices victims are facing the question
“To die for an idea, alright, but which one?”
And since all of them are somehow similar
When he sees them coming, with their big flag
The wise one, hesitating, beats around the grave
Let’s die for an idea, alright, but a slow death

Georges Brassens (Mourrir pour des idées)

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Vatican

A thousand days later, I take life with humour.

« With who » is often more important than « where ».

We always start planning travelling by choosing the destination. We try to learn about the culture, we select places to visit and activities that we would like to do. There are temples to see, unavoidable museums, some traditions on display here and there, singular landscapes, etc. Dozens of reasons to attract us toward a country/city more than another.

But slowly, with all the encounters one makes on the road, we realize that our most precious moments are not always – sometimes rarely – attributable to a specific place. Our most intense memories are often those about human experiences.

I will remember the old architect that fed me and hosted me when I needed it the most much longer than his city, Lyon. I will never forget the 24 hours I spent with an unexpected group of local friends in Moscow, but I might forget about the Red Square. And Georgia… Despite its astonishing sceneries, I would never dare to describe this country without starting by the huge heart of its people.

You can’t plan any of this, unfortunately.

But it’s something we can facilitate. Cultivate. Provoke, in some ways.

It’s probably nothing more than being open to it, to the Other, being flexible in front of how things happen. A capacity to appreciate the common and all the simplicities that eventually transform into a genuine complicity.

To be ready for unpredictable encounters, and to give them all the place they deserve.

Because around the Annapurna, in the Mongolian plains, around the castles of Tuscany and deep in the Alps, the wealth of the human relations coming to life is in its very own category.

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France

A thousand days later, I provoke and cherish these unique encounters.

Solitude feels good.

Despite all that, despite the goodness transcending the people we meet on the way, solitude is obviously an important part of solo traveling. And that’s for the best.

I personally never had travelled alone and I was as excited as I was terrified at the idea of jumping in such an adventure, alone, without knowing when nor where it would end. But I never would have thought I would enjoy so much those alone moments, raw and untouched, as if the whole world and I were becoming only one…

It’s not always easy to be alone, to constantly be self-sufficient in every way (especially emotionally and mentally), but each moment of solitude has something noble about it. Something beautiful crystallizing to the rhythm of all the autonomy and the carpe diem one must deploy.

To shake up tomorrow by taking a colossal decision, to present yourself alone on top of infinitely majestic summits, to allow unexpected, deep and ephemeral encounters: each instant of pure solitude acquires a unique power with the certitude that it is impossible to share it.

Solitude gives a deeper aspect to traveling, because it forces you to consume the moment and to enjoy it here and now.

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Turkey

A thousand days later, solitude is one of my most beautiful mirrors.

But even when traveling alone, you are never really alone…

I’m definitely not the most extraverted person, or even the most sociable. I rarely go towards people and I don’t find it particularly easy to introduce myself. One could then imagine that it is a recurring and considerable challenge for me to meet new people while being alone on the road.

But the reality is quite different: I generally have to take more efforts to get a little bit of this peaceful aloneness than to escape it!

You read that right: even for someone like me, someone one could sometimes qualify of being a little independent and shy, solo traveling means a much bigger share of encounters than solitude.

People are not scared of the solo backpacker. Be it either by sympathizing, admiring or simply by being curious about what stories he might have to tell, people go toward him and accept him naturally.

And I’m not even mentioning the other vagabonds… Those ones know far too well how the conventional ice walls placed between strangers are absurd and maladjusted to travel.

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Russia

A thousand days later, encounters are my daily bread, more than ever.

Travel slow (and learn to let go).

It’s frustrating to get to a country, to visit it for a few weeks and to leave without having seen everything. I know because it happened to me quite a few times, especially at the beginning of my journey.

I visited Paris, but I didn’t see Notre-Dame. I’ve been in Russia, but I didn’t admire Saint-Petersburg. I traveled in Mongolia, but I didn’t hike in the Gobi desert.

It’s definitely not as frustrating today, but I had to learn that it is simply impossible to see everything, and that the quality of the experience always outmatches the quantity of checks on my bucket list.

I still notice it from time to time, mostly when I spend a few days with friends who are just beginning their adventure: they want to see everything, visit everything. It’s most understandable. But it leaves very little place to roaming in the backstreets, to unexpected friendships and to shady restaurants.

And if it makes sense for a few weeks, after a thousand days it’s exhausting!

Because you can try to gather some memorable moments anywhere and anytime, but to give yourself the patience – and the time – to let them mature is an invaluable gift.

I made some extraordinary friends in France. I visited Moscow in a totally unexpected way when a group of Russian and Armenians decided to make me one of their own and treat me as if. We got attacked by a wild stallion in Mongolia’s mountains and I experienced a silent meditation retreat in its steps.

There are so many places I haven’t seen and things I haven’t done. But even if I travelled my whole life, it would still be the case, so I submerge myself in what I’m able to do and I’m grateful for it.

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Malaysia

A thousand days later, I take my time, and I enjoy it.

Get out of your comfort zone!

This is an expression I’ve embraced as much as I could during these 33 months. Because to get out of your comfort zone is learning about this unknown “zone”, about the world, about an outside dimension that we usually only see on TV. Well, that we don’t see.

It’s by learning meditation, surf and Thai massage that I realized how much respect I have for those who practice them and that I discovered entire new ways of being happy. It’s by being with Russians, Chinese and Turks in their own countries, in their daily lives and their ceremonies that I have been able to correct all the reducing stereotypes these people are subject to.

To provoke novelty and dive head first in your own limits is about allowing yourself to learn and grow.

Bob Marley said: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”

That day when I (truly) thought I’d die trying to cross a pass in the Himalayas, I learnt a whole bunch about what’s I’m made of, both in my heart and in my head. By taking the unexpected and uncomfortable choice to stay and teach English in China for one year, I made what I still consider as the best decision of my life.

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Georgia

A thousand days later, I push myself to become bigger than myself.

.

Alexandre

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