I am about to embark on an adventure. In a few short days, I am boarding a plane to Mumbai with no return ticket and only a vague sketch of an itinerary. I have no idea when or where this adventure will end, although before my Australian working holiday visa goes live in November I hope to include much of India, Nepal, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in my experiences.
I’ve traveled before. This won’t be my first time putting on a backpack, taking myself away from the familiar and living as simply as possible in order to experience a different world. In Morocco I was taken in by an Artful Dodger-esque clan of faux guides who showed me their Valley of the Roses in exchange for touting their services to other travelers arriving in town. In Cuba, I was seduced (and maybe deluded) by a young man who introduced me into both his family and the Cuban life Castro doesn’t want tourists to see. I can’t anticipate what experiences this new adventure will present. I don’t need to. I’m looking forward to the alienation, the unknown. I am looking forward to getting on a path without knowing where it will end.
Clearly this is not the way everyone travels. For most, the idea of travel is vacation. A comfortable bed. A nice meal. A cocktail, customer service and a nice view as a bonus. Rest and relaxation. It is not stripping down to the barest essentials and carrying the weight on your back. It is not braving the public transport system of a “developing nation”. It is not doing without hot or sometimes even running water or cultivating a reduced and often questionable level of personal hygiene. It is not arriving in a foreign land without a reservation, a plan or a return ticket. It is not constant uncertainty. But for me the addictive thing, maybe even the defining thing, about travel is the aspect of deprivation. To travel the way I do, to embrace the unknown, is to deprive yourself of the comfort, familiarity, predictability and safety (or at least the illusion of safety) of the usual. It is a constant assault on the senses, the body and mind as you try to assimilate with the alien. Culture shock is actually the shock of recognition. When you begin to understand that this thing before you which bares no resemblance to something you understand is actually something which, conceptually, you know well. A house. A city. A toilet. A pop song. A greeting. And with each recognition I feel my ideas expand to incorporate a wider perspective. My view of the things I know evolve. My personal map of the world is redrawn. Every where I go becomes home and home becomes part of the adventure.
Having been lucky enough to grow up comfortably in a developed nation, I don’t have a tremendous amount of discipline. I’m not good at willfully depriving myself of anything. Travel allows me to learn through deprivation. Necessity is redefined, both by my own reduced standards and by comparison with the world I find myself in. I am reminded how lucky I am. How much I have that has no weight; love, family, friendship, memories, security. And all those other things, those things I do without, being deprived of them for so long, you learn what things, what people you truly miss.