We all know that travel is about finding yourself. It is a profound journey of spiritual and personal growth that leads to a deeper understanding of global cultures. That is the backpackers’ party line anyway.
I am no different. If you let me, I’ll cheerfully reel off a dozen stories about the time I climbed a glacier in New Zealand, visited minority villagers in rural Vietnam, or sat with Buddhist monks in Angkor Wat. I’ll tell you how free and happy it all makes me feel – which is true. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been on this trip. What I won’t tell you (but I suppose I’m telling you now) is that somewhere along the way I became a little disillusioned.
You see, I left home with my bursting backpack fully believing in the party line. I’m an idealist, a dreamer, a hippie, whatever you want to call me. But I’m here looking for meaning. In many ways I have found it, but what I have also found are the exact same things I flew thousands of miles away to avoid – drugs, drunks and zombie music.
Please don’t mistake me. I enjoy a good night out as much as the next person. It’s just that I really want to believe that it isn’t all there is. I’m deeply dissatisfied with the idea that the height of human experience is being drunk or high and listening to house music. There has to be more to life – otherwise what are we here for?
Being a bit of a dreamer, I believed that while travelling I would be guided towards a succession of wise yogis or soul-searchers – preferably spouting cryptic proverbial sayings that I would one day pass onto my grandchildren. The reality is that the hostels of Oceania and South East Asia are teeming with stoned 20-somethings who, for the most part, would rather be high than enlightened. I suppose it makes me feel isolated because I know that is never going to be enough for me.
Then again, I’m not really being fair to my fellow travellers. In every country I have met interesting, kind, and happy people – including amongst the regular drug-takers. I’ve learned lessons from new friends a decade younger than me, and discussed everything from environmental issues to literature, and blues to neurology. They might not be sages in mountain-top pagodas, but they are real people with real wisdom.
Perhaps, if I’m honest, I was just hoping to escape from the endless cycle of work, sleep, drink repeat. I deeply wanted to discover an alternative way of living, but the problem is, whatever you run from has a way of following you until you face up to it. I know now that judgement or resistance always attracts whatever it is you are seeking to avoid.
There was a quote carved onto the wall of one of the guest houses on Don Det Island that has stuck with me:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Maybe we don’t travel to find something better or even to find ourselves. Perhaps we travel to learn tolerance for the way things are.