I was awoken this morning, in the early hours, by the furious sound of the guy in the bunk bed across from me masterbating! It was not a pleasant sound, more like the sound of someone grating a carrot! It sounded as though he was using cardboard in his practise, and I’m sure if I was game enough to look across, I would have seen small wisps of smoke arising from his bed!
The reason I tell you this story is not to shock you, but more to imprint on you the reality that travel is not all fun and games. Travel can be challenging and I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. The old saying, ‘Use it or lose it’ is as relevant with travel as with any other endeavour in life. Since setting off on my year long sojourn I have lost weight, gained muscle and surely increased my ability to read maps, decipher language and read people’s motives.
Sketch by 85 year old beginner
I was lucky to meet a mate’s 85 year old father in the Philippines. A.J. had moved to the Philippines after his wife had died. He wanted to be close to his expat son and on his Australian pension, could afford to hire a carer. A.J. was a fascinating study in ‘use it or lose it’. This sprightly old man showed no signs of memory lose and could converse intelligently on any number of topics. He lived in the provinces and had to climb steep goat tracks to reach his house. He kept his mind active with crosswords and, his new hobby, sketching. He knocked out one of me, the visiting traveler. OK, it is not something you would hang in a art gallery, but so what! At 85, at least A.J. is willing to learn something new!
When one travels, we have access to one of the modern world’s most valuable commodities, TIME! And yet how we use this precious commodity is entirely up to us.
I have been staying in a hostel of late, something I don’t always do. If I can, I like staying with couchsurfers as I feel locals or even expats can give me a better understanding of a place. I’ve also had a terrible barking cough and runny nose, so I haven’t been interacting with others. This has given me the wonderful opportunity to just observe other travelers. In the common room I listened to numerous conversations and, as one would expect, most of them revolved around travel. At one stage I, and everyone else in the small room of six tables, had to endure a loud mouth American bragging about how he had just done the North West of Sichuan, hitchhiking the whole way, going places only the locals venture. Now this loud mouth could well have been Australia, Canadian or European, his nationality did not matter. What I think irked me the most was his concept of travel, that it is like some competitive game of one-upmanship.
Which leads me to the old chestnut of the traveler/tourist divide. The idea that you are nothing more than a mere tourist if you are not off the beaten path living on yak butter or bushmeat.
Well let me tell you I’ve ridden both sides of the tourist/traveler divide.
I’ve seen the international backpacker hotspots, where if romance is your motivation, you are offered a veritable hotbed of exotic flavours to savour.
I’ve also visited remote indigenous communities in the heart of the Borneo Jungle, miles from road or car.
And my belief is, if things go wrong in these remote locations, without having a knowledge of the local language, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble! Not everyone desires or seeks such adventure, and rightly so. Travel should not be judged on such merits.
Time is the most valuable asset you have when you travel. Don’t feel you have to use it to tick of lists or visit must see sights. Use it as you wish but most importantly, use it in a way that helps you grow. To be free from the nine to five grind is a great ‘rich man’s’ gift. There is no right or wrong way to travel, there is only your way.
It has taken me a year on the road, and maybe even my first sickness, to realise this important lesson, in life, and in travel. If you are a man rich in time, you are a man rich indeed!