This was supposed to be a post about Jordan and the people and places I met and saw while being there. Unfortunately I had a good glass of wine and ended up writing the below instead. However, if you ever wish to go to Jordan and need any travel advices – don’t hesitate to ask me (and do not got to Amman…set your course straight to Petra (minimum 1 full day though I would recommend more) and Wadi Rum)).
While traveling in Jordan I (un)fortunately had an opportunity to share a part of the journey to Wadi Rum with a Belgian couple. The man was, as he referred to himself, “a business man”, and could not keep quiet about all the many great “businesses” he had, the great attributes of Belgium (no doubt Belgium is a great place), and how Jordan was a horrible mess compared to Belgium. He even managed to ask what kind of beer they drank in Jordan, and, without hearing the reply, recommended them to drink Belgian beer. In fact he was so occupied telling about the wonders of Belgium that he actually never managed to ask about Jordan and the people living there. This made me question whether there is a difference between a “traveler” and a “tourist”?
I believe there is.
A “traveler”, for me, is one who leaves his assumptions at home, while a “tourist” – doesn’t. Hence, a tourist is just someone who complains, as my dear Belgian friend – “Nothing here is the way it is at home,” while a traveler is one who realises that “everything here is the same as it is in Copenhagen – or Hangzhou, Rome or Cairo”. It is all very much the same. In fact, the more I travel the more I realize how universally similar we all are.
But then the question is – why do we travel? Those of us that do leave our assumptions at home? What makes some of us subject ourselves to early mornings, energy-draining flights and unsettlingly new diets (oh, India you are still on my mind!)?
Because we have to.
It’s in our blood, an itchy restless desire to shake up our sense of security by seeing all the moral and political urgencies, the life-and-death dilemmas, that we seldom have to face in our ideal and safe homes. When you drive through the slums of Manila – or New Delhi – or you live with the Bedouins – you are exposed to a reality that you might ordinarily ignore or forget about, and your understanding of how the world actually works becomes..well amended. You also question your own perceptions and the correctness of them.
When abroad, nobody can put a label on you and you can decide who you wish to be. Abroad we can think once, forget boundaries and rules, stay up late, follow impulses, and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. In that moment we live without a past or a future. I remember the feeling I had when Sandy hit NYC – I felt as if there was no tomorrow. I was scared but at the same time I was alerted and thrilled. I wanted to grasp and enjoy and explore every little second I had left of that day: I was high on life. Perhaps this is what Camus meant when he said “what gives value to travel is fear” — it is the interruption in our daily life that suddenly reveals and exposes the true nature of us and what we hide deep inside. Therefore, when we travel, we do not travel in search of answers, but of better questions.
After my trip to Asia (which unfortunately ended in a rather tragic and nasty car accident), and actually after most of my trips, I would often go through all the photographs and play back the memories that I had gathered from that time – the smell of the rain in Vietnam, the green and never-ending hills of Hangzhou and the breakfast we had every morning – consisting of warm rice-milk and a red-bean bun..the little flat that I shared with 28 other young people and the hard wooden bed that I slept on…the cold beer after a long hike in the Dolomites with lips all bloody and cracking up and the numbness I felt in my feet…anyone who would see me when going trough these memories would have drawn the right conclusion: I was in love.
Pico Iyer once wrote that if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you don’t really speak the language, don’t know whether you should bother yourself learning it, and you don’t really understand where you are going and whether it is the right direction, leaving you with a feeling of frustration, excitement, fear and doubt – then every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you’re left puzzling over who you are and whom you’ve fallen in love with.
So travel, essentially, is a way of keeping our minds alive. As Santayana wrote, “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humour.”. And finally, as Pico Iyer concludes, if travel is like love, it is mostly so because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are ready to be transformed and let ourselves go.
“That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end” – Pico Iyer.