The emotions invoked by travel are much like those invoked by love: they can be too overwhelming to articulate. Most travellers are acquainted with the sensation of clambering up a vertical landscape, cresting a ragged summit, only to be slapped stupid by the majestic vista. Any attempts at expressing astonishment and reverence dissolve into anticlimactic monosyllables: Damn. Whoa. Chyuhh.
Even professional writers struggle for the right words. After a week of agonizing inclines and rattling descents through the mist-enshrouded foothills of the Himalayas, I finally staggered into Annapurna Base Camp where I was barrelled over by the most tremendous mountainscape I’d ever encountered. Trying to verbalize my sudden experience of perspective and humility, I blurted, “It looks like the Coors Lite beer can!”
Here are three individuals who summarized their feelings about travel better than I did:
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius
Though I’ll wager Confucius wasn’t implying Facebook when he said it, this quote is particularly applicable to millennials on the road. My first backpacking trip was to Australia and New Zealand in 2005, when smartphones were years away and only businessmen travelled with laptops. To communicate with friends and family, I sought Internet cafés and endured excruciating connections—meaning in hostels and restaurants I was wholly immersed in my surroundings. If that sounds quaintly rustic, consider my friend’s father who spent two years in the 1970s backpacking from England to Australia and sent a whopping total of five postcards home.
Nowadays, it’s harder for backpackers to make friends, as everyone is engrossed in their devices. Whereas one solo traveller won’t hesitate to approach another while eating lunch, it seems rude to interrupt someone typing on their phone. Furthermore, backpackers—like everybody else—now have a habit of recording moments via social media as they occur, disengaging them from the present. After all, it’s challenging to lose yourself when Instagram is watching your every move.
So really, Confucius may as well have said, “Leave your phone in your backpack and go live your life.”
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” – Paulo Coehlo
This is a favourite backpacker quip, often expressed with a mischievous grin and a lifted glass, as fellow travellers nod knowingly and non-wanderlusts scoff unconvinced. For hardcore meanderers, backpacking is less of a passion than a compulsion, and being grounded results in not only itchy feet but also sweaty palms, shallow breathing and other symptoms of anxiety.
But for us, travelling invokes a rush of blood to the soul, awakening emotional centres that often collect dust in adult years. For writers, photographers, dancers and artists, it sparks imagination and expression through fresh stimuli of the senses. For philosophers, it encourages examination of previously accepted notions by offering unique perspectives. For academics, it triggers a fury of what/where/how/why research and delivers old stories through new voices. In short, travel enhances the human experience in an all-encompassing manner incomparable to anything else; a lack thereof, for many at least, causes spiritual atrophy that can manifest as anything from disenchantment to depression.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Yes, this quote is enormously cliché—but it’s ubiquitous for a reason. Travelling is scary, especially for those who have never taken a major trip before, but even for people who have journeyed extensively. I’m always a wreck on the Big Day—snapping at loved ones, unpacking and repacking while jumping at small noises, ignoring paranoia that masquerades as intuition “telling” me I’ll be sent back to Mother in a cardboard box.
Nobody feels prepared when they leave, and even if they do there’s that moment just after departure where they wonder, “What the hell am I doing?” No matter how much you research and prepare, you’ll inevitably make a mistake that’ll embarrass and panic you—but then you’ll figure it out and move on. Any clandestine wisdom that separates experts from greenhorns has been acquired the hard way; all that separates travellers from non-travellers is the courage to take that single step.
If travel quotes prompt for you a closed laptop, faraway gaze and tiny smile revealing an unfolding daydream, then perhaps it’s time to escape routine and take that first step. Just ensure that wherever you go, you go with all your heart.
Sue is an indie traveller who has trekked, motorcycled, wandered, bussed, hitchhiked, boated, tuk-tuk’ed and stumbled through more than 50 countries in the last decade. Her travelogue/memoir, “It’s Only the Himalayas and Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker,” is available from Brindle & Glass through Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and Barnes & Noble.