“Why do we travel?” my son asked me when I suggested that we travel to Europe after his board exams.
This innocent question just baffled me. I travel for variety of reasons. For work, for adventure, for exploration. For leisure, for romance, for family & friends time and so on. I asked the same question to many people and almost everyone answered the same. You may also find yourself answering the same. But after deep thinking I realized that these aren’t the real reasons why we travel. We travel for our deep-rooted desire to explore the world. Exploration is human need like food and sex. Without which, we wouldn’t have discovered continents, gems in deep oceans and planets and stars in unlimited skies. Without exploration, we wouldn’t have been able to understand complex layers of human mind.
“Exploration,” I answered.
“How do we explore?” He asked, and without waiting he asked again, “What happens when we explore?”
I think when we explore, we understand the vastness, diversity, complexity and uniqueness of this universe. And with this understanding we figure out our own relevance or irrelevance in the world.
Though, I am an avid traveler, I never journaled any of my travels. This time I am doing so for an important reason. Earlier, in pre-google age when I had to travel, I used to take tips from someone who had similar tastes and similar handicaps. That worked every time. For example, Indians have very unique toilet habits and they need water in the WC, so a friend would warn in advance that in “… so and so hotel… no jet spray…” or “don’t eat there… too much oil” or he would tell which airlines to fly or which shop to buy alcohol and at which airport. For smokers there would be tips on how to cheat the hotel’s smoke alarm system etc. When I travelled to USA for the first time in the 80s, friends told me how to make calls back home through a public booth and then call back the operator and tell her that the quality of call was very bad and all the money would get returned. I remember very well how my cousin had told me what to tell cops if caught speeding up in US. It indeed came handy when I banged my car and cops asked me to get down… “no English… new…here….” And within minutes I was driving back on freeways… un-fined. In those times one could negotiate with the hotel’s front office for hours for a big discount. Flirt with the air-hostess, joke with the immigration guy and of course, the fun of asking directions with sign language. Everyone came back with unique experiences. Not anymore.
Since the advent of Google, and travel industry becoming more homogenous and collective rather than individualistic, all our choices and experiences have also become uniform and standard. Like McDonald’s in any part of the world.You know exactly how to order, where to pick up sugar and straws. And how to behave.
Travelling, of late has become dehydrated. We all have become one big mass of window-shoppers. It’s almost impossible to find stuff which is to your specific taste. Which is why, we don’t come back with our unique experiences and novel photos. There is a big capitalistic ‘travel clock’ and everyone is moving with it… to the same palaces… same cathedrals…. Same squares…. eating the same food…. Buying same souvenirs and taking same selfie at the same spot. And mostly with the same make of iPhones or Samsungs, edited on same apps with same parameters. And, of course, same smile or the same pout.
For a long time it has been bothering me and I wanted to break out of the same ‘sameness’.
Aha…. I found the answer.
‘I travel to get out of the sameness,” I told my son.
“Why do you make everything so philosophical, daddy?”
“Because, to me travelling is like philosophy… finding answers and explanations to what I don’t know….”
“Then why go to places which everyone knows about?”
Last week we started travelling in Central Europe covering six countries and many villages, cities, experiences which one can’t Google. With an intention to explore things which are not the ‘same’. Somethings which are unique to us. Somethings which you find only when you get lost and have no mobile network and no wi-fi and no Google.
In the next few weeks, as I travel in Central Europe with my family, I will share with you my experiences, tips and the philosophy that may be useful for you only if you want to find answers to what you don’t know. The new territories.
This blog-series is about my exploration and my relevance in the context of varied geographies, societies, histories and cultures. Roads with no signs. Food with no menus. A journey with no destination. And selfies with no pouts. No editing.
“As long as your travel helps you discover places, foods, peoples, behaviors, cultures or ideas… relevant to you as an audience, you are the owner of your own discovery channel.”
– Vivek Agnihotri, travel junkie.