I had an existential moment as I stood for 3 hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for only 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing area. The 3 hours passed a lot faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta and his wife. I self-consciously ate two slices of pizza while eight pairs of eyes stared at me. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about. I stared out the window and watched the changing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men. It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe. At the next station they were escorted off the train. What awaited them?, I wondered. A detention camp, no doubt, and probable deportation. I felt sorry for them.
And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity and destiny and danger of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.
Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine (I hate routine). It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up. Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.
To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still, to feel inspired. To connect with humanity. To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.
I like what Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote –
We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.