Header image courtesy of Eva Darron (via Unsplash)
As much as virtual walking tours, “flights to nowhere,” and rural tourism have experienced a surge in popularity in the past year, one thing has proved itself to be utterly irreplaceable—the butterflies blossoming in your stomach at the first sight of something exotic and beautiful. Call me sentimental, but this is exactly how I feel every time I step foot in totally new surroundings or a place that inspires me. Regardless of one’s sensibilities, there are surely some common experiences shared amongst us as global travellers. Allow me to take you on a not-so-clichéd and nostalgic journey of the things I miss most about travelling—together, let’s find some sense of resonance and escape.
I never realised how bold and active I could be until I travel. Living in a society rife with Asian norms, one way or another, we find ourselves susceptible to the societal pressure that conforms us to traditional values. Whether it’s the kind of clothes one can wear, the kind of activities one partakes in, or the kind of non-conventional future career one envisions, resisting the status quo takes a lot of effort, plus it’s difficult to shake off a sense of heightened self-consciousness, especially when expectations are high and demands are many.
However, all of these concerns evaporate the moment you land on foreign territory. As a traveller in a faraway land, who’s here to judge? You surround yourself with strangers who are more interested in jostling for a prime position to claim their baggage than scrutinising you. You breathe in and feel revitalising energy flowing through your body. You smile at the realisation that you can finally let all of your rebellious, adventurous, and bold thoughts run wild and free. Looking at all kinds of travellers around you, staring at a world of unknown outside the window, and listening to the unfamiliar voice from the train system, I sense a new me growing inside.
When we were kids, we were all once explorers, overwhelmed with curiosity in our surroundings. Our senses are the most active radar that we relied on. As we grow accustomed to our expected and monochrome surroundings, our senses are numbed, used to our everyday. To re-activate and re-kindle these senses and instincts, the most convenient way is to throw ourselves into an exotic environment. It can be as mundane as walking through an unfamiliar neighbourhood or simply letting your feet take you where they will. You may find yourself discovering a wall of colourful graffiti or a spontaneous yet harmonious scene where an elderly couple is enjoying the afternoon sun on a park bench. It might make you wonder what brought them—and you—to this place, in this very moment.
Many people find the preparation for flight and landing a matter of hassle, especially when one is meeting a tight schedule. For airport lovers like me, I can never get tired of the views (especially at night) across Tsing Ma Bridge and the thrill of locating the check-in counter for my flight. All these small and complicated tasks are warm-up exercises for me to get a taste of the excitement in exploring a new destination. Mundane rituals like baggage check and waiting at the departure terminal become rites of passage, setting us up for the start of something new.
When you find yourself in an environment where the local tongue is incomprehensible, it may seem bewildering at first. However, once you get used to the cadence of an unfamiliar language, you can also find a sense of liberation: Unrecognisable utterances form the soundtrack to your journey and you get to detach from the chatter of the city. You get to create your own meanings to your surroundings and perceive them absolutely free of intervention. Imagine you are revisiting the Marienplatz Square and sitting by the water fountain, serenely waiting for the echoes of the clock tower, while the world around you moves at its natural pace. Isn’t such an experience all the more memorable because it’s in a foreign place, unpunctured by the mundanity of everyday talk and its worries?
Travelling is more than breath-taking sceneries, delicious cuisines, and rich culture—it takes you out of your normal social circles and connects you with new people and new perspectives. Regardless of your level of extroversion, sometimes, all you need to spark a conversation is a kind hand helping you with your luggage or a friendly hello to your seat neighbour. If you are lucky, you may end up meeting people who share the same concern of locating their hotel, giving you an opportunity to tackle problems together. More unexpectedly, that camaraderie may flourish into a friendship. Bashfulness, begone; no one is here to pass judgment. Taking the first step to start a meaningful conversation may lead to unforgettable travel tales, such as gaining worldly insight from a Jewish man in Israel or learning a profound story from a retired veteran from the Vietnam War.
If you happen to have so-called “decidophobia”—the fear of making the wrong decision about everything in life, ranging from the clothes you wear to what career to choose—living out of a bag can be a way out. Packing a suitcase requires skills that come with experience. Interestingly, the more one travels, the less stuff one packs, because our previous practices have taught us to be practical. Style can be had even with basic items, as long as you’re selective. But of course, living in a minimalist way out of necessity has more to do with awakening our survival instincts and encouraging our creativity for problem-solving. What makes such minimalist training more marvellous is the lightness and flexibility you earn when you learn that less really is more.
If you have never been sick during travelling, consider yourself extremely lucky. Among all kinds of discomfort, getting an upset stomach is probably the most common and devastating. I will never forget having to go back and forth to the bathroom and different floors of a museum I have awaited to visit for a long time, and how incontrollable dizziness cost me a chance to visit a landmark palace. To make things worse, the collateral homesickness of your own bed and foods lovingly prepared by your family to nurse you back to health come to mind. More importantly, these moments remind me of the irreplaceability of family and home.
People always say that travelling is the ultimate test for relationships—and I concur. Compromises are necessary, but when it comes to challenging moments, your companions are your saviours and living witnesses. Reflect on your most memorable moments while travelling. Most likely, they are embarrassing, wild, or utterly unforgettable.
I will never forget the sensation of feeling sick to the bone and relying on my friend to hold me up as we walked along the Isar River, concerned about worrying my family back home; how crafty we had to get when we were locked outside our hotel room at midnight; or how I had to console my travel companion after having missed our flight. I am sure you all have even more wonderful stories to tell and you will have to agree that the best part is having someone to fully understand and reminisce with you as you savour such silly moments while travelling.
Travelling can be the most brutal way for one to grow. Its cruelty lies in the forcefulness that is thrust upon you to cope with unexpected incidents on the road, for instance, when you are robbed, discriminated against, or cheated. Encounters like these leave marks on you, unveiling the darker side of humanity. However, as you find your balance and resolve the problem facing you with creative solutions, you will gain new perspectives and trigger unknown potential in yourself. Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom; new experiences to help you grow as a person while travelling are overwhelmingly fun, nurturing, and humbling, exposing you to different cultures and attempts at new things like camel-riding, skiing, and sky-diving. Maybe the adrenaline of the activity is temporary, but the experience can make a significant impact on your life—and that is worth the journey alone.