Thursday, April 30, 2015

Top 12 Reasons Why You Should Never Travel

You shouldn't travel. 

Really, you should not.

It’s dangerous and it’s much safer to just stay at home. It makes a lot more sense to follow the typical life pattern knitted to us by our past generations: go to school (and get into debt – which everyone will tell you is “good” debt), get a good money-making degree (it’s okay if you hate your job, right?), find an excellent partner, marry them, have/adopt the average 3.13 kids, work until retirement, and then - and only then - should you attempt to travel.

I’m serious. That is the smartest path. The safest path. The tried-and-true path. 

And here’s the top reasons why you should never backpack around the world.

1. The world will seem infinitely smaller and you will feel that much smaller, too.

When you first get off the airplane (which, by the way, has pretty amazing food, especially SriLankan Airlines), the world will be laid out in front of you and, believe me, it will be terrifyingly large. Not, say, a 5000-piece-puzzle large, but rather stare-out-into-the-cosmos large. You’ll realize that there is a whole world outside your home country, and it is a world that it is living and breathing and loving and suffering in every different and alike way you could imagine. At first, it will be too much and you’ll search out Starbucks everywhere you go because at least that will you give you some semblance of balance and familiarity (and also a delicious Iced Caramel Macchiato to boot!). The world is gigantic and you’ll tackle a different language with each country, or sometimes up to 300 different dialects in a single one! You’ll take trains and boats and planes that take days to get to your destination because, yeah, the world is that large! You'll be introduced to dozens and hundreds of customs you were never aware of and they will start becoming second nature to you (my absolute favorite? Indian head bobble).

But then, as you grow, the world will start to shrink. The subway that made absolutely no sense and went to destinations that seemed light-years away even though they were in the same city, will slowly seem doable. Manageable even. You’ll start running into friends you met months back in countries oceans away as you walk the streets of Cape Town and proceed to have drinks at bars that remember your face and name and signature cocktail. You’ll start to take a stab at the languages and realize what sounded like gibberish at first is forming logical understandable patterns in your head. You’ll laugh when you see little kids with SpongeBob Squarepants backpacks darting through traffic on their way to school through tiny Moroccan alleys. You’ll start to realize that as diverse as the world is, it really isn't as big as the first epic step off the train, plane, or automobile.

You’ll realize that the world outside your door is manageable if you let it be.

2. You will realize how short life is and how fragile it all can be.

If you do travel (don’t), people will tell you things like:

“Wow, I wish I could do that.”

You’ll want to smile and tell them that they can. They completely and totally can.

“Anyone can,” you’ll want to say.

“When I retire,” they’ll respond.

You’ll shake your head because you’ll have visited small villages in South Africa where the graveyards were larger than the villages and marriages came early because death came just as quick and punishing. You will wonder why we’re taught in "first-world" cultures that the proper thing for you to do - the normal and logical thing - is to follow the norm (which is strange, coming from individualistic cultures in which every movie and teacher and mentor tell you to work outside the box, but then when you do, you’re considered insane and impractical) and travel when you retire.

They are right, you gotta do your time. And you shouldn't waste it traveling.

You will die (I've covered this before here). Maybe during your sleep, peacefully, or maybe from a long bout of cancer, horribly. Whatever the cause may be, it will happen, and it will catch you (and everyone else) off guard no matter how much you’re prepared for it. So you should save. That’s what we’re taught. Save so that when you’re old you can travel the world.

I mean, you could die tomorrow. You could have a heart attack at the end of this sentence. But it’s good you have those savings. You never know, right?

3. The world will no longer be black and white.

You’ll learn that the media is almost all lies (save for, perhaps, The Daily Show [for the most part]) and that FOX News is even worse than you thought. You’ll travel to countries like Cambodia and learn about genocides that ravaged their country and you’ll think, “What monsters!” Then you’ll learn that the superpowers of the world were completely complacent and maybe even had a hand in its creation. 

You’ll find that a common theme in many places – good people, bad governments. You’ll go to countries like Thailand, currently without a government, and hear from all sides of the political spectrum until your head spins. You’ll travel to countries like Morocco and meet people from those religions portrayed on the news as dangerous and hateful, yet you’ll experience unbelievable love and beauty. You’ll realize that politics and religions and life itself are so much deeper than the right or left or the right or wrong or this religion is better than that religion. You’ll start falling into the gray and it’s scary because you may never get out.

4. You will no longer have a home.

You’ll realize that “home” is just a word that the dictionary got wrong. 


1. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
"I was nineteen when I left home and went to college"
synonyms: residence, place of residence, house, apartment, flat, bungalow,cottage

1. of or relating to the place where one lives.
"I don't have your home address"

1. to or at the place where one lives.
"what time did he get home last night?"

"Home" is not that. "Home" no longer means permanent. When you travel, you will fall in love with places that aren't only exotic and gorgeous, but full of citizens and fellow travelers that become your home because they're there. "Home" becomes people. You’ll fall in love with India not because it feels peaceful, but because the people and culture and the chaos start to become a part of your new home. As does the next place and the next place and on and on and so forth. By the time you get “home”, you will have a dozen different homes and you’ll miss each one for different reasons (you’ll not have a “favorite place” because all of them will become special for different reasons). It’s sort of like going to the world’s finest buffet and every delicious food will be there. For your entire life though, you had just one entree (and man, was it good!). Suddenly, you're allowed to have all the other entrees and you realize they tasted just as gorgeous. Home then becomes very relative and fluid.

And when you have multiple homes, your heart becomes naturally larger. You will hurt more when your homes are in danger, by natural forces such as earthquakes, or by other tragedies and upheavals. Quite simply, your heart will hurt more because you will have more to love.

5. You will feel alienated.

You will return and have no idea how to relay all the things that you saw and did. I mean, how do you describe to someone what it feels like to be on the edge of a river in Bangkok, on a riverboat, with the sun setting and cascading off pagodas in the distance, while holding flowers for a friend’s bar that you bought in one of the world’s largest flower markets? How do explain what it's like to fall asleep on a train while cockroaches scuttle around your head because you lost a round of Shithead and got the bottom (worst) bunk?

You will want to continue traveling yet the world will be waiting for you to get back to the usual. And you'll go back and get goosebumps on your soul every time you read Thoreau.

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

You will never be happy again unless you’re traveling.

You’ll go “home” (and believe me, you’ll be happy for many things your original home has that the others don’t) and go back to work. Back to the 9-5. And while you may love your job and family and friends and the location, there will always be a part of you that is yearning, always, to continue seeking the unknown. Some days it will stay dormant and calm and play real nice, and other days it will crawl out of you in the least likely moments, clawing and spilling from what feels like your very soul itself. It will dominate your thoughts and your ideas and your actions.

But why? you'll think to yourself.

Because, no matter if you stuff it deep inside of you, through work and normalcy and balance, it will always be there.

What is it?
  • the knowledge, that for a fact, traveling the world is always possible and it’s only impossible if you want and think it will be. Impossible, like the word home, is limited only to the definition you decide to give it.
6. You’ll learn that everything is so very temporary.

You will meet people from all walks of life, from worm farm salesman to directors to CEOs to nomads to sorcerers (yes, you read that correctly) and you will travel with them. You will eat and sleep and ride shitty trains and wild tuk-tuks to unknown destinations with them (most likely stopping at a silk shop on the way). You will become close to them and then you will eventually have to say goodbye. Every. Single. Time. Maybe you’ll see them again, and maybe you won’t. It will be sad. You will cry. You might even fall in love, a few times, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways, but even that has its leash imposed by the nature of a traveler (this Huffington Post article nails this).

You will realize that everything is temporary. And everything has it's glowing moment of pure beauty.

You will see sunsets stretching over the Himalayas while sipping the best coffee you've ever had. You will be Indiana Jones and explore ancient temples in long lost jungles. You will sleep on the floor of boats for two days playing Uno as the common ground language. You will laugh and cry and see beautiful and tragic things.

And then it will end. The moment will be over and you will never have that chance again, to be swimming in Goa and watching the bioluminescence sparkle as you swim, enhanced with the darkness of a surreal night caused by a blackout along the coast. Sure, you could go back and recapture the moment. But who you were at that moment, in that place, with those friends, can only happen once, just once.

You will learn, memorize, love, and hate the Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

You will learn to live in the moment because you have to. There’s no other choice. It is sad and beautiful all at once.

7. You will learn to live with less.

You will realize that all that stuff waiting in unmarked boxes for you at your original home is just stuff. A whole life of possessions that may or may not have ended up possessing you. Then, you start traveling and lived with a single huge backpack. Did you need the tablet and 100s of pairs of clothes and the video games (well, you may need the video games) and DVDs? No, not really. It’s just stuff, and my dad loves to quote Luther on this one: “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.”

(Side note: you’ll become more of a universalist and know that the above quote can be used for whatever God you put your faith in).

We pile our lives with shit and when you realize you don’t need any of it, the stuff loses its power. Capitalism loses it’s power. Friends and families and warm beds and clean clothes and good, hot meals will be become your gold, your diamonds, your most prized and precious possessions.

8. You will return a different person. You will not be you.

All the travel movies will be wrong. You’ll hate Eat, Pray, Love even more than you already do. There won’t be a magical moment where you’re suddenly a changed person and riding off into the sunset (unless, like her, you got a $300,000 USD book advance and could live in slap-everyone-in-the-face-luxury in poor countries [and then you’ll try to stop hating on that book as much as you do because you feel bad that you trash it so much]). Rather, there’ll be small little changes along the way, sometimes completely unnoticeable at the time, and by the end, you simply won’t be you. It’ll be impossible to describe to anyone else. You’ll laugh the same and cry the same and love the same, but then again, you won’t. It'll be an internal change, forever unexplainable and forever yours.

You will have a good friend tell you that they’re happy that you’re traveling and experiencing life-changing things, but will also will tell you that they know you’re experiencing inner conflicts most people never encounter in their life (or don’t want to). So, you'll will be all existential and ask yourself important questions such as:

  • Am I happy?
  • What makes me happy?

And finally, the question that will start haunting along the edges of your life:
If I know what makes me happy, truly scream-to-the-heavens happy, why am I not doing that?

And you will start to chase that answer, whatever that may be, because you'll have learned that although anything worth doing is terrifying, complacency is a million times worse. Complacency is comfortable though, so yeah, don't backpack!

9. You will see the best and worst of humanity.

Yes, you will have fun. Loads of it. You’ll get drunk on beautiful beaches and river raft through Thai jungles and eat dinner with taxi drivers in Zimbabwe and play cards until the break of day and then visit secret fish street markets in hidden pockets of large cities.

But you will see poverty. You will see the things that a middle class life and above shields you from. You will not be able to change the channel.

You will be forced to interact with the world. And it will be messy and dirty.

You will feel pain and sadness and happiness when you give oranges to young children in a village in the middle of nowhere and see a smile wider than you ever knew was possible. You’ll be invited for dinner, given haircuts, and gifts simply because there are citizens of the world out there that are happy just to be acknowledged. You will meet people who are content not with bigger vehicles and bigger TVs and bigger 401ks, but content knowing that people care enough to visit and break bread with them.

But then you will meet people who have nothing, will have nothing, and will die nothing. A blip on the radar of life. Because of corrupt governments, wars, intolerance, fear, or whatever the case may be. It will be cruel to see. And you will see it - the underbelly of life. You can’t close your eyes when traveling and, my God, there are times you'll want to.

You will be forced out of your box and you will live there. You will return a more knowledgeable person who sees the world in an array of different colors. You will have a lifetime full of stories and friends scattered in the winds of the worlds. That said, you will also return confused. You will be more lost than ever before. You’ll become a walking contradiction of yourself. In short, you will return a mess because you will have lived a tragic and beautiful and authentic life.

You will, and this is the scariest thing of all,

be able to say that you lived with eyes open. As the title of this blog suggests: a life that is unfiltered.

You'll keep reading Walden.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Too much introspection though. Easier to stay home.

10. Nothing will have happened. You won't be changed and you'll just come back home broke.

I could be completely wrong. You could return and be exactly the same person and realize that Voltaire was right, and staying home really is the best way to cultivate your garden. Each person is different and there is no true way to live. So why waste all that money that you were diligently saving? Again, traveling could be potentially too dangerous for all the above reasons and...

11. You might end up changing the world. Even if it's only one person at a time.

Because you will (and that's way too scary).

12. The world might change you in wonderful and horrible and unforeseen ways.

And it will (and that's even more scary!).

Or maybe not. 

I guess the only way to know is to try...

But if you do, I'm sorry in advance. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

You will never, ever, ever be the same.

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