Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New sights, same eyes. Same sights, new eyes.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a status update on Facebook that caught my attention immediately. It was a friend who asked: "Why do you travel?" A very simple and straightforward question at first thought, one must agree, but I could not stop lingering on it much, much longer -- long after my news feed got bombarded with new pictures, YouTube videos, jokes, daily inspirational quotes and usual caboodle. 

The reason why I remained stuck on that forthright question is because I am aware that the answers are ubiquitous. All of them which I would undoubtedly also give myself. For starters, I suppose the main reason why we travel is because we are creatures doted with insane curiosity. There is something out there, beyond the borders of home, beyond our notorious little bubble; and it is with exhilaration that we (wish to) wander off and discover. And with cheaper and better traveling facilities nowadays, many of us are likely to grab that opportunity more often -- even more abruptly than we used to. We seek to get familiar with other nations and people - we hunger after their customs, arts and culinary specialities, we have a thirst for their wondrous sights and we look forward to retrace the footsteps of their history. We rise early and go to bed late, spending the day feeding our spirit with the most possible. And for those of us who despise the typical tourist attractions, we do our very best to do as the locals do. Getting cultured is at our fingertips: we want to come back home happy, but also with the thought that we have learned something different and new. Places and people leave unique prints and memories. Moreover, getting to know the 'other' also enables us to know ourselves better. 
Of course many of us also travel with the sole purpose of taking a break from the stressful routine and putting our everyday responsibilities on hold - and evidently, it is generally a place that guarantees sunshine and relaxation: the beach is always the perfect destination to ensure those requirements. Another reason why we travel is plainly to get away, not necessarily from our job or hassles, but because we just yearn to experience something else -- and get-away weekends have been invented to fight that urge. The mere fact of meeting different people, having coffee at another place and walking foreign streets become somewhat essential to our sanity. An obvious motive for traveling as well is because we do so with a specific mission: for work, personal interests or pleasures, visiting relatives and friends, our homecoming, etc. Finally, it is indisputable that traveling has the ultimate ability to uplift the soul and broaden the mind. By traveling, we grasp just how big the world is -- how much it has to offer, how much it can influence us. Being reminded that there is something bigger than our town, bigger than our life, bigger than ourselves will always manage to give us  new perspectives. Like Jeff Goins claims, "traveling will change you like little else can" (http://convergemagazine.com/featured/travel-young/). Without any doubt, one single voyage can encompass all these justifications.

For all that, we recognize that those different levels of traveling -- no matter the budget, the destination or the length of the trip --  have one striking thing in common: something different. The curiosity for it, the search for it, the longing for it and finally seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing and touching it. Naturally also loving it. Because in all sincerity, it is no news that the routine can patently get to us and affect our happiness -- or unhappiness for that matter. And venturing to someplace different, even just for a little while, is frankly a rapid antidote. The majority of us may get back home a little sad -- but still with a smile that cannot be wiped off easily. Like putting gas in the engine, traveling recharges us and we go back to our 'same' pattern rejuvenated. 

This observation suddenly made me realize why this status update kept me bemused long after I read it. Because deep down, I am persuaded that the ruling reason why we travel is because of just that: we constantly look for, crave for and finally have to sense something different. We thrive on change and taking a trip somewhere is one of the easiest ways to attain it. It proves that there is movement, more specifically, it confirms that there is growth or development. When we travel, we are promptly fascinated by our new surroundings. Charmed or intrigued by the unfamiliar tastes, sounds and sights; we perceive things from a different angle -- not only because we get to visit other landmarks, but it is as if we are also given another set of eyes.
Respectively, when we are at home, it is clearly more dubious that we regard our town as compellingly as we would whilst away. It does not matter where one lives - whether it is a city as momentous as London or Tokyo, a paradisal place such as the Maldives or Bali or our quiet province of Cavite or Wallis. Perhaps because we know it like the back of our hand? Because we have seen it all already? Because it, ultimately, simply belongs to our 'ordinary'?

Right there and then, I identified the exact reason why we should travel -- the reason why I travel. In particular, I know exactly what I have acquired from traveling. I have noticed how eager we are when it comes to exploring other places -- making such an effort to open our eyes, stomachs as well as hearts: visiting museums and the theatre, enjoying the culture, meeting people and so on and so forth. In comparison, once we are at home, we kind of just sit back and tell ourselves that these things are not really for us, because we are the 'locals'. In this regard, I ask myself whether the people from Paris still get their breath taken away by the view of the Eiffel Tower, like travelers would be. I wonder if the inhabitants of New Orleans get enchanted by all that jazz up to this time, like visiting music lovers would be. I muse on whether the locals in Tioman get the goosebumps when they jump into their waterfalls, as tourists would usually get them. The thing is, if the answer is 'no', 'not that often' or 'we hardly ever notice anymore' -- then that is definitely a critical point. Once again, it does not matter where we come from because every place, every home -- anywhere on the face of the Earth -- has 'something' to offer. But, true to form, when we get to spot it every single day, regardless of how alluring it is, we are no longer captivated since it does not offer anything different. Furthermore, how can we feel rejuvenated if we deal with the same on a day-to-day basis?  Yes, that is the critical moment when our hometown -- and everyday life -- slowly begins to bore, ache or scare us.

But this is where I would like to disagree -- because there is a  cure against the pseudo-mundane, and it is at our fingertips, it does not automatically imply having the money, time or flair to go someplace else. Reality is, we do become such ideal tourists when we go traveling; and it is unfortunate how many of us are less willing, less enthusiastic to do the same with what is in front of us at home. Traveling to foreign lands does teach one how to appreciate tastes, sounds and sights more, mainly because they are so 'exciting and new'; but more importantly, the beauty of traveling lies in what one brings home as well.  In my case, I am sure that traveling has pushed me to see my home, my city, my life, my ordinary with the eyes of a traveler at all times. Continually exploring. Honestly, how many of us take the time to be tourists in our own town -- even just for a few moments? In our free time? In the routine? I still get excited by something marvelous I have noticed a million times before. I usually watch the sunset from the same site every evening but still, I have the impression to watch it anew. I attempt to be up-to-date with what my city has to offer -- because it is not only for its visitors but for its inhabitants as well. I love celebrating traditions as if it were the first time. And I adore roaming around town like I have never been touched by it before: still observant, still intrigued... still fascinated. I know, in my heart of hearts, that every single day writes a different story, even when we do the exact same thing. The secret is to see it. 

In the end, we travel because there is nothing more precious than obtaining the eyes of a traveler; the curious, gregarious, interested, appreciative eyes of a traveler. Then, what we secure outside, we have to apply on the inside, at home: life is a voyage in itself and fundamentally, we travel each and every day. In fact, I believe that the ordinary is the most extraordinary journey of all. Like the French author Marcel Proust gave grounds for: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”