We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn essay on travel about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I want to feel, and others’, which I need to see. Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle. If a Mongolian restaurant seems exotic to us in Evanston, Ill. But for the rest of us, the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head. And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal. We travel, then, in part just to shake up our complacencies by seeing all the moral and political urgencies, the life-and-death dilemmas, that we seldom have to face at home. And in the process, we also get saved from abstraction ourselves, and come to see how much we can bring to the places we visit, and how much we can become a kind of carrier pigeon — an anti-Federal Express, if you like — in transporting back and forth what every culture needs.
But more significantly, we carry values and beliefs and news to the places we go, and in many parts of the world, we become walking video screens and living newspapers, the only channels that can take people out of the censored limits of their homelands. Proust line about how the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes. Yet one of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you encounter. Thus even as holidays help you appreciate your own home more — not least by seeing it through a distant admirer’s eyes — they help you bring newly appreciative — distant — eyes to the places you visit. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.
On the most basic level, when I’m in Thailand, though a teetotaler who usually goes to bed at 9 p. Tibet, though not a real Buddhist, I spend days on end in temples, listening to the chants of sutras. I go to Iceland to visit the lunar spaces within me, and, in the uncanny quietude and emptiness of that vast and treeless world, to tap parts of myself generally obscured by chatter and routine. We travel, then, in search of both self and anonymity — and, of course, in finding the one we apprehend the other. Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love.
We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation. A man never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going. There are, of course, great dangers to this, as to every kind of freedom, but the great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self. Traveling is a way to reverse time, to a small extent, and make a day last a year — or at least 45 hours — and traveling is an easy way of surrounding ourselves, as in childhood, with what we cannot understand. I, at least, travel in search of an innocent eye that can return me to a more innocent self.