“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give,
that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century,
I should simply say:
In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
– Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters & Miscellanies
Whether high up in the mountains —
— or down below on the ground —
— opportunities to roam this Earth abound.
Traveling is not simply about possessing sufficient funds to purchase a plane ticket to Gibraltar or Alma-Ata; rather, it comes from a desire to explore and be surprised by the unexpected things one encounters on the road, wherever the journey may be directed towards and whatever the destination might be. Even a trip to the grocery store can be a voyage in its own right, if one is receptive and prepared to embrace all the possibilities of destiny.
I have met people blessed with riches and great wealth, but fail to see the value of investing in intangible experiences. By contrast I have met those who own little to their name, but are rich with the kind of worldly wisdom one could only gather from having roamed the globe for a long, long time. And best of all, they seem content and soothingly secure in living this materialistically simple life in which less is more. Their main concern in life lies not in building attachments with worldly things, but in actually living in this world. They operate based on the knowledge that we’ve got only one life to live, and the time to live it is now.
One of the questions I am frequently asked by my friends who are quite unimpressed by the radically unpopular destinations in my voyages — be it Biella or the Baltic — is, “What’s there?” I always reply, “Exactly.”
“What’s there?” Indeed, that is perhaps the whole purpose of this trip — to find out what’s in store for the traveler. This is where the excitement lies — in the unknown. I know where I want to go, but I don’t know what awaits me when I get there. And the best thing about venturing into such obscure places is that without an extensive list of must-visit places in these cities, each traveler is essentially free to make the best of their time there however they wish, because there is no “script” for being a tourist here.
This is what makes traveling an essentially personal and personalized experience. My time in Jūrmala would never be comparable to that of a friend who has visited the very same places in this coastal town as I did — the things we absorb, the people, things, opportunities, and surprises that we come into contact with, and the way our mental and emotional faculties process our being in the world are all radically different.
Having undertaken several trips together, my childhood friend and I have come to cherish the time we take to write in our respective travel journals together in every city we visit. A year later here in Cambridge, we revisited these entries and were pleasantly surprised that we’d both experienced the same events — the same train ride, talked to the same locals, ate at the same restaurant — but came away with different experiences of these events.
And that is what’s beautiful about being alive on this planet — if only we could grasp the depth and complexity of our nature as transient beings on this Earth, perhaps we could understand each other better. The next time someone tells me they would be reluctant to hop on another plane to see the rest of Europe because “it starts to look the same once you’ve visited one or two countries”, I would say: “Give it a chance.” Then decide whether to remain sedentary or to pick up one’s backpack again in the future.