Almost a year ago, just days after I had embarked on this crazy walkabout, a friend of mine sent me one of the more thoughtful emails I'd received in a very long time. And, as it would happen, one that would continue to bounce around in my head for months to come. In lieu of trying to poorly paraphrase, here is the text:
As you travel I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes "Sometimes it is better to have traveled than to have arrived" or a derivation of it which reads "The journey is more important than the destination".
Makes me consider if the authors metaphorically sought and didn't find or whether they so enjoyed the travel that the destination didn't matter. Perhaps a combination of both? Maybe they found a destination but courageously sought new adventures?
I often wonder what happens if someone finds the "destination" and deems it more worthy than the continuing the journey.
In any case, my friend, enjoy your journey...
I thought about this throughout the year - and specifically in the places most would consider to be "destinations" along the way - Machu Picchu, Antarctica, The Pyramids, the Great Wall...
The more I traveled, the more I pondered. The more I pondered, the more I came to the same conclusion. There are Tourists and there are Travelers. G. K. Chesterton makes the point rather lucidly:
The traveler sees what he sees.
The tourist sees what he has come to see.
A tourist is interested in having proof they were there. They want to know they made the journey and took the photos. They also want others to know as well. They are the flocks of Japanese tourists with huge cameras they don't know how to operate. They are the nuclear families headed to Disneyland. They are the passengers on luxury tour buses and the money-belt wearing crowds following the red flag. The actual act of travel is itself an inconvenience. It's hauling over-packed luggage and nervously waiting around in airports. It's a something to endure before mercifully finding the hotel and enjoying a cultural but still recognizable meal.
There's nothing wrong with being a Tourist. I've been one, am one and will again be one. I've been one on this trip. When I'm 65, I'm certain I'll be one of the flocks of grey hairs patiently waiting on the bus to whisk me away to dinner so I can take my pills. I'll want the comfort of a real hotel where I don't have to share a room with anyone other than my wife. I'll enjoy having someone tell me exactly where to go, and tell me when it's time to head back to the bus.
For a traveler, the destination is simply an excuse to go. It's a chance to pack a bag and head out. It is a point of reference for themselves and others. Something to tell friends and family so they can find it on a map. The act of getting to the destination is the real joy. The traveler loves finding the "other" way to get to point B. Not because it's cheaper or faster or safer, but for the exact opposite reasons. The "other" way is probably not the most direct route, and is likely full of people and scenery you would never be exposed to otherwise. The travelers eventually make their way to where they're supposed to go and find the paths no one is on for views no one else gets. They enjoy being in airports for the excitement that surrounds everyone walking the halls with a carry-on bag. They enjoy being around others who are going somewhere - anywhere... and dream about going there too.
I started the trip as a tourist. How can you not? I wanted the National Geographic photos. I wanted to check things off my list. However, the more ground I covered, and the farther from home I moved, the more I felt those feelings recede and be replaced by a true wanderlust. A desire not necessarily to see "something," but to just see. To experience. To explore and discover. I loved seeing the Aya Sofia in Istanbul. The first thing I remember about Turkey is sharing beers and a water pipe with people from four different countries in a third floor bar while listening to Arabic rap music. I was in awe of Uluru in Australia. A dusty, hole-in-the-wall gas station 300 kilometers from nowhere in the middle of the Outback with pens full of kangaroos and emus was just as interesting.
There's no right or wrong. No better or worse. It's the point of view you decide to take, and the experience you want to take home. Tourist or Traveler, the point is to go. To check out of life for a bit and see the world. To roll along roads you've never been down before. To stand in front of that "destination" you've been dreaming about for so very long. To touch it and say "I made it. I'm here." And for the rest of your life remember the way you felt at that moment. It's possible. You just have to go.