(Original Article Published 4/4/2016)
“To travel is to live”
– Hans Christian Anderson
I have always felt a pull at my heart to travel the world and experience far-flung places. In fact, I’d go as far as to say part of me lives to travel and always has done so.
As I write this (in Zimbabwe), we have just visited Victoria Falls, spectacularly huge (the largest falls in the world), incredibly loud, but best of all, poncho or not, that will leave you soaked within moments of being exposed to its dense, monsoon-like, water mists. Wonderful. And right there is the joyous nature at the heart of travel, that often throws up life-affirming moments like this.
Our latest journey abroad has been particularly rich in wildlife. We took a safari over the border into the Choebe National Park in Botswana. We saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, and so much more, roaming free and living their lives relatively free of human restrictions, and flourishing. Sometimes you can find yourself profoundly moved by these encounters with nature. Once in Sri Lanka, I had a moment where a female elephant looked deeply into my eyes, and I returned her gaze. And within the amber pools of her eyes, I saw clear intelligence and empathy…and it took my breath away. I’m certain as I can be that it wasn’t just me projecting my human values onto her, either. We think of ourselves as the most intelligent species on the planet, and maybe we are, but encounters like this help to remind us that we are surrounded by other sentient beings. It is certainly a moment that as long as I live, I will carry in a special corner of my heart.
A frequent encounter on the travelling road, is with the fellow traveller, someone whose life marches to a similar beat as your own. You recognise these kindred spirits by the look in their eyes, the way they talk, hold themselves…you see a reflection of yourself in them, and them in you. And with these instant friendships, that will often last, especially in the era of social media, you can compare travelling notes on future destinations and share your love of journeying around the world.
But maybe the most profound thing about travel is the way that it changes you. It’s hard not to journey and not have one’s perspective widened. This is particularly true when meeting local people who sometimes have life experiences radically different to our own. I have been frequently humbled by those who have far less than we do in the west, especially in terms of healthcare. Death, because of a lack of treatment, is sometimes a very real threat, but despite the considerable challenges that these people face, their good humour, and their zest for life, is truly inspiring to witness and is certainly something that we can all learn from. We may have materially so much more in the west, but in a very real human sense, we lead far more impoverished lives.
These are just some of my personal examples of the enriching nature of travel. It can frequently takes you out of your comfort zone, challenge your assumptions, and sometimes change who you are. And that’s why, as long as there’s breath in my body, I will always spend my life travelling, because life is simply too short not to.
Images copyright: Nick Cook