Saturday, October 20, 2007

TRAVEL | Checklist Travel Guides

World Hum contributing editor Frank Bures recently wrote an essay against Checklist Travel Guides like Make the Most of Your Time on Earth and Journeys of a Lifetime. (There's a lot more of these sort of titles - he's just not listing them. And they do sell.)

My recent thoughts are occupied by the preparation for my Hanoi trip - but also the idea of travel and what it means to me on a philosophical level. When I first announced my Hanoi trip, I was asked by my colleagues and friends why would I want to visit Hanoi again?

I can see their point: the world is so wide, and we have seen only a fraction of a corner of this immense planet. Isn't the point of travel to cast your eyes on something you have never seen before?

I do want to see more of the world - but Hanoi for me, still holds a special place. I think I have not yet walked her streets enough, have not begun to know this city at all. I always over prepare with the research before any travel - but Hanoi a spur-of-the-moment destination. We were supposed to go to Sri Lanka, but we changed our plans at the last minute to Hanoi. I knew little about the place, with zero expectations; I was thus ready to allow the experience of Hanoi to move me.

I was reading Frank Bures's essay, and I totally agreed with him when he wrote this:

The problem is this: Travel is not a passive experience. Travel is not something we get done to us, like a haircut or a massage. Travel is not something out there that we find on the road.

The trip of a lifetime comes as much from inside as it does from outside. What makes a trip life changing is partly the place, but equally what we bring to to that place: passion, curiosity, knowledge, openness. It is the people we meet and how our experience seeps into our bones. Good travel is life-changing travel. But good travel is a creative act, a fusion of the traveler and the world.

So instead of trying to rack up trips, of trying to get as close to 1,000 as you can, instead of trying to see every place on earth before you die, I say go for for quality instead of quantity. Pick one place you think you’d love and go there completely. Read its novels and newspapers and history. Stay long enough to get under its skin, and let it get under yours. Go there and really try be there.

What Frank Bures wrote about travel, is true for life and people. How well do we really know our friends? To stay long enough to get under that person's skin and let them get under ours?

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