I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing-only area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I ate a slice of pizza (self-consciously) while eight pairs of eyes watched on, hungrily. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing 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, maybe, and 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, danger and destiny of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.
Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine and put ourselves in new and different situations. 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 converse with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste delicious foods that we normally 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 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.
To discover new things while at the same time discovering ourselves.
Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –
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.