One of the richest experiences which we can allow ourselves as travellers is the opportunity to simply stop and listen. To listen to the lethargic conversations of old men over plates of soggy fish and chips.To listen to a pair of buskers at the train platform, their palms heavy and light and playful and serious on the wooden crates that serve as both their seats and their instruments. To listen to your fellow travellers share their experiences navigating this vast world in all of its diversity and colour. To listen to all of it at once. Your eight week backpacking trip quickly becomes a patchwork quilt of one thousand weeks of eye-opening encounters and thrilling adventures and romantic melodrama and beer-goggled mistakes. So much of what we can learn about life comes from the simple task of listening.
Much of what you hear is insanely inspiring. In Amsterdam, I met a trio of male travellers chasing the Mongol Rally across two continents in a used RV. Another dear friend of mine shared his experience arriving in Europe only to find himself stranded on the wrong side of a country’s border. Having been refused entry to the nation where he had intended to volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation, he was left to catch a bus. Any bus. Over free wine - yes, free wine - at a hostel in Rome, an Australian teacher recounted his journey travelling up the eastern coast of Africa like an ant crawling toe to forehead. I’m sure it was even less glamorous than all that.
It was this “Cape Town to Cairo” story that got me thinking about the patchwork quilt of experiences and adventures sewing itself up for me to claim as a souvenir of this life. It was beautiful, yes. It was thrilling, yes. Yet what struck me about so many of these narratives was how dissonant they were with my own. In Paris, I boarded the metro late at night and found myself face to face with a trainful of leering men. In Greece, my friend and I were jeered at by vendors in a fish market we’d chosen in an attempt to see a bit of local culture. Throughout my travels, many female friends and myself have been offered free entry to nightclubs in exchange for wearing t-shirts with neon logos. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Much of what you hear is insanely encouraging. The Australian teacher, the Mongol Rally trio and the majority of such similar storytellers are immediately reflective upon the ease with which they may explore this world. Their privilege is apparent to them and - before we get into a heated debate about being born one way or another and having no control over it and not being sorry - let me assure you that it is not their privilege to which I want to draw your attention. It is their willingness to have a dialogue about privilege.
I’ve found myself traversing the globe in part to make a statement. Travelling asserts my right to this world - to be a bit of it, to play a part in it and to leave a mark on it. But what I’ve found my travels to be most motivated by is the desire to start a dialogue. In all of its patchwork complexity and its big ol’ quilt simplicity, travelling the world requires us to talk to one another - about all of the authenticities and injustices which we experience upon it.
Much of what you hear is insane. Keep listening.