Why do you travel? It's a question that's asked time and time again by the nine-to-five folks back at home that can't really get their head around why we put ourselves through all the stress, the planning, the financial strain, all just to hop around the globe year after year, often to places we've never even been before!
It's a fair question. It's also a question that demands and answer far simpler than it's possible to give. I mean, do we travel for new experiences? Do we travel for food? Do we travel to break the boundaries down? Do we travel to look outside of our comfort zone? Do we travel to look within? Do we travel to encounter strange things? Do we travel to party? Do we travel to meet new people? Do we travel to see unusual sights and hear unusual sounds and smell unusual smells?
To any veteran globetrotter with more travel patches on the backpack than you can shake a Peruvian Quechua hat at, all those solutions will probably seem just a little simple. It will probably seem as if they are trying to capitulate something ethereal and fleeting in just one short selection of words, as if they are glazing over the real meaning of travel and why it's been claiming our time and draining our bank accounts for so many years.
For someone like that, the solutions above don't hit the nail on the head. They are general, broad and unspecific. They could never touch the moments that are the driving force behind our globetrotting.
What moments, you ask? You'll know if you've felt them rings the answer. We're talking moments like the one when the hair on the back of your neck pricks upwards as the echoing chants of Buddhist monks rebound through the karst hills of Krabi. We're talking moments like the deep breath of a new yoga pose on a deserted beach on the Andaman. We're talking moments where you come face-to-face with an endangered sloth in the misty jungles of Central America, when you conquer that first roller on the Pacific Ocean, or taste your first gado gado in the misty hills of Bali.
They are the real reasons we travel: A series of uplifting moments…
An Invitation To A Wedding In India
I'm sweaty and caked in mud, still shivering from a chance encounter with a cobra in the highlands of the Western Ghats. I'm glad there's no one around to see how dirty and drenched I am. I'm glad there's no official engagement I need to make today, clad in dirty boots and hiking gear.
Then comes a smiling local, adorned in multi-colored garlands of hibiscus, trotting, happy, hopping towards us in that very contented, very Indian way. "Please join my wedding, sir…please".
There's no way of declining. There's no way of wriggling out of it by casting horrified looks at ourselves. The groom's having none of it. He wants no clean-cut clothes and bow ties. He wants our company. Plain and simple.
Thousands of photos with the bride, her family, the wedding guests, more taka dal and tasty paneer curry than I can handle, and one of the most heart-warming welcomes I've ever felt – made only more heart-warming thanks to my hiking gear and sweat-stained clothes – ensues.
I'm filled with a love for India, for Indian people, for humanity as a whole. It's one of the moments. It's one of the reasons we travel.
That Sunset Across The Andaman Sea
The soft slosh of the green-blue sea is lapping against the rocks of Koh Jum. The beach, as always, is totally deserted. A regimented row of palm trees sways back and forth, back and forth. Some paint-peeling longboats bob on the light swell, Thai flags flapping across their bows.
It's evening. It's still. It's serene. Evenings on this deserted Andaman island always are. There's just you, the lapping waves, the sheen of the purple-brown sky, and the soft, soft sand. I'm down on the beach to bid farewell to another day of swimming and snorkelling and eat steaming noodles. On Koh Jum you bid farewell by bowing, metaphorically, to the sunset.
It begins. The great glowing orb of white-yellow light that's cooked the beaches and scorched my skin for the whole day starts to droop low. The huge outlines of the two Phi Phi islands – I can only imagine the wild fire dances and hedonistic parties that are beginning to erupt over there – rise like sea monsters from the blue. They are walls of crag and cliff, ready to accept the descending sun.
As it lowers, the palette of tones in the world changes like a kaleidoscope. There's the iridescence of metallic indigos on the water to start. Then there's pigments of alien green and grey as the sun passes through a belt of perfectly-crafted clouds. Then it fits neatly into the gap between the Phi Phi islands, suddenly blasting an intensity of cardinal red out across the Andaman.
My arms tingle, my eyes are filled with light. It's one of the moments. It's one of the reasons we travel.
Lost In Laotian Jungles
There's a creep and a rustle. There's a shifting of the long-dead leaves. There's the sway of the palm leaves overhead. There's the call of a bird. I don't know what bird. Just some sort of bird. It echoes around the woods and shakes the vines. It rings out as it vibrates the humid air around my sweating ears. A doppler effect of exoticism.
I'm standing, nigh on lost, in the middle of the Laotian jungles. I came here to seek out waterfalls. I can even hear them. I can hear them rolling and roaring over the black-stone cliffs in the distance. It means we're not far. Or maybe we're miles away. I don't know – I'm lost. Sort of.
I take a second to glance upwards and watch the motes of forest fungus drifting in the sunbeams. I feel like Tarzan, lonely in the woods. I feel like Robinson Crusoe, secluded in the tropics. I can almost sense the organic world growing all around me. Pulsing with life and energy, it's a cacophony of chlorophyll and humidity.
Bugs watch me. Strange human. God-knows-what snakes and crawlies glower down from on high. The canopy is a lost land I can't fathom. I stare but I can't penetrate it.
I think of the city and the streets I come from. I think of all those concrete lanes and parking lots and regimented urban blocks. I'm a long way from home. I realize I'm the stranger in these parts. I'm the one out of place. It's odd. It's humbling. It's one of the moments; another reason we travel.
The Sun-Up At Parties You Might Not Remember
What's the time? I've given up asking. It was hours ago that the Thai sun dipped and left this side of planet Earth. I was still swimming in the turquoise-blue waters of Phangan's southern shores then, watching the yellow light fade over the gulf. I've not even moved that far from where I bid farewell to daytime. I'm just down the beach, only this time the sun's peeking over the jungles to my back. It's morning.
It all started with the first bucket and the eruption of the fire shows. A whirlwind of neon and blazing conflagrations was too enticing to miss. I dived head first into the revelry. A thing they call the Full Moon.
I made my tribal marks and danced and drunk and chatted and swayed with the rhythm of the night. I pulsed with the energy of countless people. 40,000 souls moving, up and down, side to side, as one. I chin wagged about travel and times on other islands, about scooter drives and sailing trips. New friends were forged in the dancing hotpot of the twilight. New friends I can't quite remember.
I did all that and I'm still standing. Out the other side. The fresh morning comes. It says "hello". It says "congratulations". A you-made-it smile from the sun filters through the coconut trees and the clink of coffee cups in the island's shoreline cafes is enough to keep me anchored.
Otherwise I might just be lost. I might just be lost in the fleeting moment of euphoria. The last chapter of an all-nighter on the sands, under the stars. A quick smile. A glance at the sea and that's enough. It's a moment I'll remember. Another reason we travel.
The Freedom Of Sailing On The Adriatic
The sun's just poking above the horizon. All I can see is water. Water and the occasional outline of a limestone island marking the background, spear-like pine trees jutting from its cliffs, hidden coves resting beneath. We bounce over the waves. It's the rhythm of the Adriatic, soft and slow.
Then the yacht kicks into life. The sail billows, catching the salty breeze. We lurch forward and glide through the swells. The deck dances as the rays of the Croatian sun hit it and then fall away again. The creak of the mast is audible. The smash of the salty whitecaps breaking on the ship's bow raises the goose bumps all up my arms.
To the back of me is the rugged rises of the Makarska Riviera. I know somewhere in the distance is the hulking peak of Biokovo, standing tall above its blinding-white pebble beaches with its scrub top and sun-baked slopes. I can just about make out the shore and the ant-like sunbathers dotting the rocks there. Some will retire soon for a coffee or a cocktail in the local seaside cafes. I won't. I've the sea to explore. The freedom of the Adriatic.
The feeling makes me shiver with delight. It's another moment, another reason we travel.
You might have noticed this is just P1 of uplifting travel moments. That's because there are bound to be oodles, oodles more to think of. If any of yours come to mind, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Don't worry how weird or wonderful it may sound, just type away…
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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