Travel is not just a word.
Travel is a sensation. An expression. An admonition. And emotion. Travel is "can't get enough" and "it's all too much" and "where can I go next?" and "do I have to come back?".
Travel is walking on cobblestones at three in the morning and singing pirate shanties on a boat and hostel beds squeaking. Despite our attempts to outpace the urge by hopping a plane somewhere proximal for a short stint, travel is, like an empty stomach, not fooled by insubstantiality. It is not sated by the relentless chewing of gum, or a cup of black tea.
Adventuring, trying new food, sitting in that uncomfortable vulnerability where you don’t speak the language that surrounds, but even so, manage to find ways to get by. I could praise the glories of travel all day long. But I don’t. Not because there's nothing to say, and not because other people aren't interested in the subject. I do not talk about travel because I have no tolerance for so-called "aficionados" who see any mention of elsewhere as an invitation to compete as to whom does personal displacement best.
I could think of many worse things to be than a travel writer, but I suspect there's a dearth of romance in the role when, regardless of the platform, your musings incite an explosion of opinion in the comments section. Travel capability is one of the few qualities that cannot be externally classified or ranked, and so everyone who has ever slept in a tent feels qualified to judge. Some people relish contradicting the opinion of the one person as close to an expert as one gets - the guy who's paid to know this stuff. You know the kind. The ones who turn their nose up at guidebooks and package tours.
If the people who comment on travel blogs were a song line, they'd be this one from Fergalicious: “I’m so 2008, you’re so two thousand and late”. Resist the urge to follow the tangent wherein we acknowledge that this lyric became obsolete almost as quickly as Fergie’s career, and instead consider the last time you talked about a holiday with a friend or acquaintance. Did they nod as you detailed your accommodation, but with a subtle curl of the lip that implied they would never stay there? Did they ask about the sights you saw and then ask which “less touristy” experiences you indulged in? Did they eventually forego all pretence of interest to lapse into a story of their similar, though subtly-alluded-to superior, experience in that same place, somewhere like it, or doing something the polar opposite of your trip?
I'm calling it. The prevalence of one-upsmanship is the biggest blight of travel.
I’ve poked fun on this blog before at a unit I studied, during undergrad, entitled “The Idea of Travel”. But jokes aside, that class was sensational. If only because I got to do battle with pretentious pseudo-vagabonds on a weekly basis. And that's not to toot my own horn as somehow "wiser" than anybody else. Honestly, it was mostly because I’m very, very good at arguing. I took great pleasure in smacking down the elitist attitudes of a collective of white kids in their early twenties who used cultural relativism as an excuse to riff on how "Indian people really know the simplicity of not needing lots of material possessions, they find happiness within", only to show you the proof via an iPhone photoreel. I have no patience for those who consider culture to be snapping selfies in Delhi slums by day, posing with locals as if a grin can negate any form of human suffering, only to flick over to a montage of them smashing cocktails in Colonialist resort bars by night in the next moment.
On one occasion, I (and the tutor, in that sly way they do when they’re trying not to look like they have a stance) tried to convince a 25-person tutorial group that there is no damn difference between being a “tourist” and a “traveller”, aside from those who ascribe to the latter title being certifiably more obnoxious. That conversation became the go-to battle every week thereafter, amongst a myriad of other arbitrary rules of what "travelling correctly” resembled. I left the course more sure than ever that I would not play geographical monopoly, or compete over how many countries I could see in the shortest amount of time, or reel off the dialect of the locals in some tiny slice of somewhere to verify my experience as somehow more authentic than the next person's.
I loathe "travellers", and all of their faux worldliness, but damn if I don’t love travel.
So I’ve decided to do it.
As I do with most things in life, I am leaping headfirst into open water and hoping I don’t break my neck on impact. After years of devouring short tasters in South-East Asian hubs or gentrified islands across the Pacific, I am taking the plunge in earnest.
All of the trips I have ever wanted to take. Back to back, and all at once. Around the world, baby. Alone. Indefinite length. Every inhabited continent. Eating my savings. Writing from the road. Embracing the commitment-phobic, experience-hungry wild child within.
It’s an expensive way to try one's hand at personal growth, so praise the skies that I’m going with no expectation of coming back a better person.
I’ve been fantasising about an Around the World trip for quite some time, but have largely kept mum about it. People are either encouraging but skeptical, quick to warn me of the dangers of being a solo female traveller, or urge me to justify why I'm so ungrateful for all I have going here that I want to leave. It’s hard to defend something that is both extremely vague and somewhat radical. I have no itinerary, no timings but for “get to the USA sometime near midyear in order to spend the American summer hanging out with my penpal”. I am biting off an enormous chunk of ambition with any chance that I may choke, but that’s the kind of trip I want. I don't need to stay away forever, meet the love of my life in some exotic country, or be so frugal I actually come back to Australia richer. I'm rough and tumble on the road generally, but I have no aversion to being kind to myself, so as to avoid all the macho bullshit about being a world-hardened "traveller". If I'm feeling burned out, I see no issue with checking myself into a resort or two along the way, or flying an hour instead of taking an 26-hour, overnight bus ride on a seat that hasn’t been adequately bolted to the floor (and if that sounds a little too specific and bitter to be a randomly-selected metaphor, that’s because I’ve already lived that experience. Do not recommend.)
The decision comes with waves of impostor syndrome. I keep asking myself: “Am I really allowed to just go and do this? Just book a ticket, choose a date, and not have someone talk me out of it?”. Freedom to do anything you want, especially with no job, tenancy or boyfriend to curtail that, is even more weighted with responsibility by virtue of its lack of limitation. If my plan goes tits-up, or I have some urgent need to come home after only a month, or somehow find myself in danger, the consequences are my own. There is no "other" to hide behind, and whatever happens is all on me for leaving somewhere intuitive to my soul, with streets I could walk blindfolded and still have them feel safe. But I can't accept the fear of something indeterminate as enough reason to stay. If I remain in my beautiful, funky, friend-filled city much longer, I’ll find an excuse not to go. And so that, in itself, has become my reason.
I’ve quit my job. I’ve broken the news to my family. I’ve dodged commitment to both cute boys and cute rental properties. The difficulty of each and every one of those decisions could easily merit their own individual blog posts. It's an immense test to one's resolve to forego something exciting in the moment, in pursuit of something intangible that can be found in the future. But those hurdles have been cleared, allowing me to direct my gaze forward.
I’m departing in February of 2015, with nothing but a carry-on backpack and a crooked grin. I will weave my way around every inhabited continent, and stop in to see beloved friends who have been scattered to the winds on my way. I’ve even written a “to do” list to bolster my enthusiasm and inspire me to move on the days that I will inevitably feel sluggish or homesick.
My only purpose between now and when my first plane peels from the tarmac is to enjoy the company of my friends whilst I can, perform the first poem I've ever managed to memorise, and eat at all my favourite haunts before I go. After all, what's more "Melbourne" than surrounding oneself with loving companions, art & culture, and sensational food, before leaving all the above indefinitely?
Friends: Wish me luck.
World: Watch out. I'm coming for you.
The "Please Don't Die in Pursuit of Adventure" List
1. Locate the Burmese Punk Scene, and get amongst it.
2. Ride the Trans-Mongolian railway, and explore rural Mongolia on the way through by horseback.
3. Perform poetry at an open mic night in New Orleans or San Francisco.
4. Break into an abandoned Japanese theme park. After all, what’s the point of an Australian Embassy if they have no cheeky rascals to keep them on their toes?
5. Get my first (and likely, only) tattoo from my favourite tattoo artist in the world, based in Florida.
6. Determine the most ethical way in which to spend time in a Kareni refugee camp without becoming a voluntourist, and do that.
7. Live in Berlin for as long as it takes to write a novel.
8. Sleep in a gir in the Moroccan Sahara Desert.
9. Change travel plans at the last minute, and wind up in a country I haven't planned for.
10. Eat as much steak as an Argentinean dining companion in one sitting.
11. Learn the nuances of the newly-formed countries of the former Yugoslavia by visiting them all. (Added benefit: can thereafter clutch my pearls when people generalise about the region. /s. The /s is to indicate sarcasm.)
12. Become Open Water Scuba Certified. Country undetermined. Recommendations welcome.
13. Blast "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" as I meander through New England.
14. Don't get into too much trouble, but get into enough to keep things interesting.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.