In a modern world full of cheap flights and flexible jobs, it seems almost everyone goes travelling at some point these days. But Why? What possesses people to uproot themselves from the familiarity and comfort of home, and take off on adventures afar? I find myself asking this question because for the past six years it is what I have done, again and again, travelling across Europe, North America and Asia in a steady cycle of work then travel. A wheel that shows no sign of slowing as I plan to leave once more for Asia in only three weeks. But does this desire to leave stem from a desperation or desire to break the repetition and monotony of home, to assert one’s independence? Or are some of us born like this, destined to be nomads? And what is it that draws people away, what aspects provide the lure of fulfilment: excitement, solitude, spirituality, people?
Every journey starts somewhere, and that somewhere is normally home: the place of repetition, familiarity, and comfort. However, to some the concept of home means nothing, those who are truly nomadic. Take D.H. Lawrence, the English novelist of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ fame, for example. From 1919 Lawrence spent the majority of his life travelling, and each journey that he undertook, each new destination, whether it be Ceylon or Australia, began from an adopted home. This is not the case for most people though, whose reference or counterpoint to travelling is usually a settled place, most likely where they grew up. It is the opposite side of the coin to travelling, a place where strong attractions and bonds are in existence, ones that are rejected by travelling. A home. Fittingly, D.H. Lawrence, upon his exile from England, found only one place that he could consider to spend the remainder of his life, a new home, and it is coincidently the place I write from now: Sicily. An island with a rich historical and cultural heritage, Sicily is an ideal example of the pull and draw of home. With an identity forged from strong family ties, traditions and dialect, there is a strong sense of us and them in Sicily. But identity goes deeper. Under the endless blue Mediterranean sky, the land itself is baked, baked by a sun that seems to soak into everything, including the people, wrapping its warmth as an embrace around all. Sicily is more than a place, it is a home. Yet even here, people leave and people travel. And even if most of us are not born nomads like Lawrence, the pull of home — even when as strong as that of Sicily — cannot prevent the desire to break familiarity. To embrace solitude and forge independence.
My first taste of independence came in 2010. Armed with a rucksack and not much else, fresh out of university, I left in the depths of winter for Scandinavia. On a cold January night in Helsinki’s snow banked main railway station my journey continued as I eventually wound my way across Russia and Mongolia before dropping into China. All in all — and after a rather laborious return the same way by rail via the Baltic states — I was away for six months. It was a trip that finally satisfied the staring at maps as a child, the longing to see the dotted border lines in reality. Yet with hindsight, it did not feel like travelling, it was more about movement for the most part. More solitude than independence perhaps. Of course, there were people and wonderful experiences along the way, but for me travelling only began as I got to Estonia sometime in the early summer of that year. Strolling the cobbled streets of Tallinn I finally began to notice what was around me, I felt the draw of travelling for the first time, the fulfilment one can feel from observing people and place.
The U.S.A, the nation of wonderful landscapes. Whether it is the dazzling lights of the city or the picture postcard vistas of national parks, people flood the land of the free to indulge in the imagery of popular culture. But the true beauty of the State’s lies in its people, a beautiful kaleidoscope of humans who, although often inward-looking, are spread across the nation in a mix of cultures, traditions and ethnicities. The link in this diversity? Human kindness. Although I still remember the first time I ever saw Manhattan from the bus — a lumbering black beast in the distance, spiked with the pinnacles of skyscrapers on its upper reaches — it is the people I met across three months in America that form the tapestry of my memories and thoughts. Dilapidated Greyhound buses across North Carolina and Texas with young mothers and army veterans, to the steady throb of dancing human forms along the rain-soaked avenues of New Orleans. Amongst this mix of the great and good and sinister, lies the essence of travelling: the experience of others. But people are shaped by their environments, and travelling, therefore, comes to embrace the myriad traditions and structures that it confronts. From the piercing blow of the matador in Las Ventas, Madrid, to the burning ghats of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India, travelling exposes you to the complexity and depth that the world offers. Such depth presents a wealth of knowledge and understanding if you are willing to seize it as first-hand experience tends to make an indelible mark. Great passions and interests can spring from chance encounters and unexpected visits — from a love of English cathedral architecture to an understanding of Indian religion and philosophy. But if travelling is the opposite side of the coin to home, its lure is not limited to what is confronted alone, it also includes the changes within.
It is evening, the golden sun of a long summer evening is setting softly over the mountains of West Cork, Ireland. From a small rock outcrop, just beyond the rusty goat sheds whose occupants I have just herded in for the evening, I sit above a thick clump of trees on the valley floor, the branches of which ring with piercing birdsong. With beer in hand the day is ending as the previous thirty have; a long repetition of milking goats, shifting shit and carrying hay. This was my experience of WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Ireland. It was one interspersed on either side with long distance hikes and other stays on farms — albeit for shorter periods of time. In many ways it was travelling in solitude, an unavoidable feeling sometimes, especially as constant movement often requires a large degree of patience. For travelling is, after all, a series of long pauses — on buses and trains, in empty train stations and airports — punctuated liberally by moments of great joy and fulfilment. And yet it is still addictive, the beautiful solitude of patience and reflection. So people return to it time and time again.
Patience and reflection are not lost on anyone who has endeavoured to travel to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, where such attributes engender a very real sense of spirituality. It is the slowest way move across the country, seven hundred kilometres (if setting set off from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to walk the entirety of the Camino Frances) on foot across the mountains, industrial parks and ubiquitous dusty meseta tracks of Spain. But in trudging along the hot Spanish highway it is difficult not to feel the benefits of time spent alone, although always within earshot of like-minded people with whom a shared bond of adventure, hardship and spirituality exists. A pilgrimage is not required to feel the reflective benefits of travelling however, it exists in any trip: whether it is backpacking around Southeast Asia or hitchhiking around Eastern Europe.
Maybe there are many like D.H. Lawrence out there, those who were seemingly born to travel. But I doubt it. Every time I leave there is something I miss of home, my counterbalance and reference point for new experiences. I travel because from that first trip to depths of Asia something grew, a spirit of adventure and independence that became an addiction to the fulfilment that comes from new experiences, people, and knowledge. Although the above is true for me — a slow journey where the pieces of the puzzle fell into place steadily — it is not necessarily the case for others. But that is the beauty of travelling, its endless variety.
In 2014 I was lucky enough to spend three months in India and in doing so I felt like I reached an ideal balance in travelling. After years of reading about Indian history, philosophy and religion I was able to transform words into reality as I zig-zagged across the North of the country. From the sand blown towns of the Thar desert to the packed cities of Uttar Pradesh, I loved it all. The dusty trains full of families on move for Diwali, Islamic shrines shrouded in an eternal sense of brotherhood, and the great swirling rivers of sewage and life; it was an embrace of people and place, a journey of patience, but also joyous human contact. Put simply, it is why I travel.