Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why travel?

I've been doing a lot of introspection lately - in part, for academic purposes as part of one of my classes. Although I initially resented the work of having to look deeper at myself and examine my motivations along with my skills and goals, the assignment really provided me with useful insight that I may not have otherwise gained.

For example, I know that the need to travel is an innate part of me. I like to think it's embedded in my DNA on a primitive level, that it's been hard-wired into my being since the beginning. How else to explain the fact that life seems unworth living if the opportunity to go places, meet people, see things and embark on adventures were taken away? Losing my passport seems worse than the prospect of losing a limb even when there is plenty of travel to be had on a national level. Travel is a non-negotiable part of my life equation. It all boils down to 3 simple words: Go. See. Do.

But why do I love to travel so much? Genetic explanation aside, I see my reasons as being multi-factoral. My family, for example, is one of those reasons. My dad's side has always lived pretty close by, but my mum's side lives across the country as well as on the other side of the world. When one goes back another generation, or further into the cousins section, both sides of my family are scattered around the world. I was a toddler the first time I travelled overseas to the U.K., and still a baby when I first travelled to the U.S. I was in elementary school the first time I flew alone "out West" to visit my grandparents, and in my 20s, I returned to England (by myself) to visit family and friends of the family for 3 weeks. It took me nearly a decade of saving and sporadic planning, but a couple of years ago, I took myself down to NZ to visit my uncle and his wife for nearly a month - people I was related to but barely knew. Heck, I've even dropped in on other people's family for a visit - my friend's cousin's fiancee's brother and their parents put me up for the night in the south of Switzerland when I was a random stranger passing through in 2005. Now that I live multiple provinces away from my nuclear family but closer to my mum's relatives, I've been working on getting to know some of them better with random, sporadic visits when time allows.

Friends, too, are one of my reasons to see the world. When I was hiking in NZ, I met a great group of people from all different parts of the world - The Netherlands, Scotland, Australia, England, NZ... I'd like to visit each of them where they live to see their countries through their eyes. That's one of the great things about travel: when you meet people who live in the places you are visiting, they enrich your experience by sharing a part of their everyday lives with you. Whether it's something as simple as running errands with them and seeing the types of shops that they frequent, eating at their favourite restaurant that may or may not be known to tourists, or a trip through the countryside to one of their favourite gelato places, these are my ways of working to understand the location as a local person does - especially if my visit is a short one. Tourist attractions are great - don't get me wrong - but I enjoy visiting the preschool that my newly-met little cousins attend, the beach that my other cousins like to walk on to find treasures, the pizza place that my friends love eating at, the church that a family friend rings the bells at every Sunday, or the local hiking trail that my friend just discovered and can't wait to share with me. I don't always want to see places as a "tourist"; I want to see how the locals live, too.

Stories inspire me to travel. In 2005, I jetted off to Zurich, Switzerland to see the Bahnhoffstrasse, the waterfront, and the infamous Swiss banking institutions (the subtle ones for people with serious money were harder to find), all because I had read about them in the Jason Bourne series of books by Robert Ludlum and wanted to see if they looked the same in real life as I had pictured them while reading. The next time I return to Italy, I will be looking for the places written about in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown as well as shamelessly eating my way around the country as inspired (in part) by Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love. Bruce Kirkby's book, The Dolphin's Tooth (highly recommended adventure reading) has a number of places in it that I have added to my travel list. I'm inspired not just by the written word, but by word of mouth, too. Oh, you just came back from vacation? Let's talk about it! I'd love to hear where you went, what you did, how you found it, etc. Maybe that will be the key place that I did not know I wanted to see until I talked to you, or maybe you just added more excitement to a place I already want to see because you gave me more ideas for when I get there. Oh, you've lived somewhere else before I met you here? Great! What's your "back home" like? Tell me more about where you lived, what you liked to do there, what you'd recommend I try when I get there? Movies are another form of storytelling that inspire me to travel. As corny as some may think it sounds, I've always been interested in  South Africa after seeing my favourite movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, set there many years ago. I'm inspired to visit Southeast Asia now after part of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was set there, and the annual film/slide show event put on by my peers in the Ecotourism & Outdoor Leadership program always shows me new places to see and adventures to be had there (The Love of Travel by Mike Wenzlawe and 2012 ETOL Churchill Rive Expedition by Craig Oldfield, part of this year's entries).

I can't live without travel, and no one can live forever without food, so why not use food as a reason to travel? A few years ago, the other half and I starting doing trips that were based around trying food in its origins. For example, we went to Philadelphia, PA for philly cheesesteaks after researching to find who had originally started it. A trip to Atlantic City not only for the boardwalk experience, but for some salt water taffy, too. Twice we've been to Chicago, IL for deep-dish pizza, and what would a holiday in Switzerland be without trying Swiss chocolate (or 20 lbs of it, in some cases other than mine...)? Oh, you have a cool donut shop called Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, OR? Ok, I've never been to Portland before so let's go! Purdy's Chocolates originated in Vancouver? I can get them across the country, but I prefer to try them while I'm there. Oh, your ice wine is made in Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON? I'm on my way down there to try it. Poutine has its origins in Quebec? What better reason to visit La Belle Province? When we get ourselves over to The Netherlands to visit the other half's cousin, I plan to indulge in all of the Dutch foods I can get my hands on (except seafood/fish/marine life - I'm phobic). We've even planned a side trip to Belgium to compare Belgian chocolate to Dutch chocolate to Swiss chocolate. One of us is a chocolaholic and it isn't me... On a cycling trip through the Okanagan in BC this summer, my school friends and I were sitting next the orchard from which the apples for the cider we'd just bought came. One of my favourite parts while visiting NZ recently was discovering that Kiwis often enjoy a hamburger with a fried egg on it - delicious! Our pending trip to San Fran has already had a number of specific foods incorporated into the itinerary such as a trip to indulge in Ghirardelli chocolates and lunch at a restaurant in Napa owned by the author of a cookbook enjoyed at our house. Personally, I think no visit to Napa would be complete without a trip to ABC: Alexis Baking Company. I could be bias, but I doubt it.

What inspires you to travel?

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