Now that it is convenient and relatively cheap to travel abroad, it has become a pilgrimage for many young people to travel more than ever. Young people in particular promote travel as an aspect of their lifestyle through beautifully rendered or filtered photographs on Instagram or Facebook. I am indeed overly guilty of this.
However, what is truly behind all of these seemingly effortless travel snapshots and mementos? Are they just windows in time for us to remember where we’ve been or seen, or perhaps what we’ve done?
I have “wanderlust” like many other people in the world. This desire to travel is a bug that’s difficult to get rid of no matter how many times you travel. Why is it so hard to get rid of? Why is it so difficult to be content with the lives we have in Australia? I ask myself this every time I have a desire to travel. I don’t think anyone can fully answer this, but over time I’ve picked out aspects of it. Personally I have a desire to experience perspectives, culture and lifestyles different to my own. In essence I not only want to explore the world, but myself. How can the world shape the person I am or want to be?
It’s not until we experience things outside of our comfort zone that we truly explore ourselves. This is coupled with the moments of profound joy, exhilaration and serendipity. The highest highs and lowest lows are what define our travel experience, and ultimately how we react shapes who we become.
Serendipity is something that I have only experienced on rare occasions. I travel alone for the most part, and as a solo female traveller it can be a little daunting in areas. Last weekend I travelled down to Gyeongju from Seoul and the most peculiar thing happened. I was walking around the downtown area (mind you looking like a bit of a tourist), when I noticed there were three South Korean Marines following me. I turned around and spoke to them only to find they wished to escort me around town because I was by myself. They shouted me lunch (Dakgalbi) and showed me to all the historical sites before bidding me farewell. It was bittersweet to see them go, for the duration of the day we shared laughs through broken English and it was wonderful to not be alone for a change. The kindness and generosity of strangers constantly surprises me. I am profoundly grateful to this day.
Days and weeks of experiencing memories with no one to share them with can be awfully lonely and terribly isolating. The gut wrenching despair of being left alone in situations that are frightening is something I don’t even know how to describe. Standing at the arrivals terminal at 2am in a foreign country when your hotel pick up hasn’t turned up can be terrifying. Coupled with the intense loneliness of always dining alone or walking around by yourself not knowing the language can make you detached from everyone else. You become used to your own company.
However being alone in some instances can be some of the most serene and thought provoking moments in your life, because there’s literally no-one in the world but you. I climbed the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall the other day: being Winter, there was barely a soul there at the time. The sky was bright blue and winds had blown the pollution away. As I climbed hundreds of steps surrounded by thousands of years of history, I’d never felt more content. This experience was insanely surreal. Here I was, walking along a wall I’d only ever seen on TV or in history books. It’s something I’ll never forget even though I had no one to share the moment with bar a few Instagram followers and Facebook friends.
Exploring other countries is like looking at something through an outside window. You only see certain aspects of both the people and yourself. Travelling severely tests aspects of a person, their perspective on lifestyle, wealth, tolerance and sense of respect. The way in which we react to things ultimately becomes the outcome. I’ve learnt over the past few years of travelling that you make your own life and control your experiences. You control what happens from the way you react to things. Whether they are negative or positive, strange or interesting, you make your own experiences.
Travelling alone is bittersweet, daunting, challenging and isolating, but also exhilarating, liberating and brave. You meet people, learn about cultures and make memories. Explore the world and you explore yourself. Savour the kindness and generosity of strangers but also value the challenges and depths of you have to go through.
So when you look at someone’s seemingly polished, beautifully filtered travel photograph of a moment in time, perhaps you should think about why they took it, not why you like it.