‘The Greatest Adventure of Your Life’

While studying at DIS I am taking a course called ‘Travel Writing’. As per the title, we read a lot about travel! Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Janet Malcolm writes about her trip to Russia, in the course of which she lost her luggage. The effort to be reunited with her belongings propelled her out of her tourist shell, required her to deal with the locals, introduced a small drama into her journey. She came to the conclusion that “travel itself is a low-key emotional experience, a pallid affair in comparison to ordinary life.” Most tourists, she noted, are not doing anything adventurous or exciting or romantic; they are passive observers, visiting landmarks, looking at paintings, and are less engaged in life than they are on a typical Monday at home. It is only when something happens on our journeys—which is, frequently, something going wrong—that we are able to break through the surface of a place.

Often, though, travel is sad because what we see doesn’t include us. Much of a travel writer’s life, I once wrote, is spent watching other people have fun. Everyone who travels has the same experience; we’re all outsiders, excluded from the action. Being left out is never pleasant, but in travel it’s even more frustrating because a few days ago you were not just part of a group, of friends or family, you were the envied and celebrated member, the one heading off, as the travel brochures put it, for exciting adventures in exotic lands.

When you’re by yourself, you’re more attuned to your surroundings. Less discussed, but just as important, is the fact that, alone, you’re also more sensitive. You not only notice your surroundings more clearly, you respond to them more deeply. Smiles and small kindnesses mean more to the unattached traveler than they do to a happy couple

If a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism), a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism).

Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.

We travel, then, in search of both self and anonymity — and, of course, in finding the one we apprehend the other. Abroad, we are wonderfully free of caste and job and standing; we are, as Hazlitt puts it, just the “gentlemen in the parlour,” and people cannot put a name or tag to us. And precisely because we are clarified in this way, and freed of inessential labels, we have the opportunity to come into contact with more essential parts of ourselves (which may begin to explain why we may feel most alive when far from home).

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation. We even may become mysterious — to others, at first, and sometimes to ourselves — and, as no less a dignitary than Oliver Cromwell once noted, “A man never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going.”

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