I think about why I travel all the time. I am so obsessed with the psychology of travel that I asked professional travel writers, photographers and journalists. I then wrote about using travel as a way to combat depression and the downs of life, and the idea of running as a virtue. When you choose one thing over another, especially something that has a huge impact on your life it is only natural to question, did I make the right decision?
After all, your life, my life, would be very different if we had never caught the travel bug. I can't help but question if this wondering, this attempt to reconcile the decisions of my past with my present matters at all. When these thoughts start to creep to the front of my mind, I know it is time to start traveling again.
Being Lost as a way of Understanding
Travel shows you how people live, when you expect something bright, shiny and new, you find an old woman doing laundry, or a man sitting on a park bench feeding the pigeons. Each time you encounter normalcy, you realize how unique you are, how foreign you are even in the most remarkable of places.
After all, your life is a culmination of all the places you have been and all the things you have experienced. Most people never leave their country of birth. But you, you are something special.
The foreignness of what you no longer are, or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.Italo Calvino
While others are in society, you are on the fringe of it all, doing the things others don't have the guts to do. Your courage alone makes you foreign even in your home country. Once you leave home you will never be the same again. The best part, who you are cannot be understood until you go to a new place. Only by seeing the void, the wall between you and others can you understand just how different you are. This uniqueness is a gift, a blessing.
Plus, society is a constantly shifting center. Those on the fringe sometimes gain enough traction to break in to the mainstream, and in doing so they lose their uniqueness and become the center. This is true of hipsters, tight jeans, and yoga.
Activities, people and things that were once on the edge of society, practiced or held in the minority are now mainstream and lose their uniqueness as they gain in popularity. But, travel will never succumb to this cycle. By moving mainstream it remains unique, as the experience is so personal, so individual, so you.
What Could Have Been and What Can Be
Long ago you chose one path, and not another. One door closed when you walked through another. Each decision you made defined your life. Certain doors were shut, and new ones opened. You could have been a doctor, but you didn't want to spend that much time in school. You could have that promotion by destroying your coworker, but you would rather be honest. You could have worked on a career, but you traveled.
When you walk the streets of Venice you see the man on the corner playing a musical instrument, an instrument you gave up instead of devoted yourself to. That could have been your life. At the coffee shop a woman serves you an espresso, an espresso you could have made if you wanted to. Leaving, you buy a hat from a vendor on the street, an article of clothing you could have made if you had followed the dream of being a designer. Any of these lives could have been yours if you chose them.
Travel shows you the possibilities of those other paths, how your life could have been if lived differently. In seeing the present lives of others you see the possible future paths too, what you could still be. Each city contains your past and potential. Do you envy that architectural building, could you still become an architect? Are you a foodie and envy that Italian chef and his delicious meal; why not go to culinary school?
The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.Italo Calvino
There are paths still open to you if you desire to take them. But, those doors too will close one by one. And an unchosen future might as well be a "could have been" from your past. It will be someday.
Who you are now makes it impossible to live a normal life. You won't have a white picket fence and an SUV. You turned down that path long ago. But, seeing the spectrum of life, the highs, lows, in-between and where you fall on that measurement is cathartic.
Travel is a constantly moving slide show of life's possibilities. You could be this, but not that. Or that, but not this. You learn from the choices you didn't make and find happiness in the path you did choose. This is the addiction of travel, the imagination of travel and the unique ability to see simultaneously possibilities, pasts, and who you are today.
Everyone else must look in a mirror and dwell on the possibilities. What makes travel so addicting, the psychological fix, is the knowledge.You see the realities, how the musician turned out, the jester and the king. While the possibilities gnaw on others, you know that no path is easier than any other. You see where each life could have taken you. While others have regrets, you have answers. These answers can be surmised in one sentence: there are many ways to live, but only one right way for me to live.