A lot of people travel to explore the world.
They travel to eat strange foods in crowded, sweaty streets, to the sound of shrill voices calling out in unknown languages and a thousand different smells mingled together. They travel for that moment when the plane touches down in a previously unknown location, the feel of the familiar sun in an alien land and the excitement of an unseen road stretching out ahead of them.
I love all of these things too.
I have walked with tigers in Thailand and dodged around spit puddles in China. I have ambled calmly through a crush of honking bikes and cars in Vietnam and soaked up the ease and comfort and lights of Tokyo. In Bali I lived in the jungle, where monkeys swung off my roof and the trees were sometimes so dense that they encased me in a warm, wet womb and in Singapore I marvelled at the order and wonder of an almost perfectly designed human habitat.
I love to travel.
But I don’t travel to see these things. I don’t travel to taste or hear or see new parts of the world, although I do enjoy that side of it.
I travel to explore myself.
In Vietnam I found courage and adaptability. I found that I could be calm no matter what happened all around me and that I could be gracious no matter what trouble came up. I also found that I needed at least a small amount of order to feel comfortable and that it didn’t exist in that small and packed country.
In Bali I learned to trust. I learned to trust in myself and in the people I have chosen to let into my life, to trust them to be able to deal with the unexpected and even to enjoy it. I learned to extend that trust by the smallest part in the friendly, exuberant embrace of a man who had driven me crazy throughout my stay with his constant requests that I buy something and yet who clearly mourned that I was leaving and hugged me tightly as proof.
In Singapore I learned to lead. I learned that I was capable of organising something major and that I enjoyed that freedom and control. I learned to trust myself, to understand what I could do and that I had the ability to learn and fill in the gaps.
In China I learned to be confident. Not just to fake confidence but to be confident. I learned to walk into any situation, unable to speak the language but knowing I would get something close to what I needed. I learned to be confident in my work and also to accept my mistakes and work towards fixing them. I learned that even though I wasn’t on the right path, I was much closer to it than I had been years before, at home and miserable.
In Thailand I learned tolerance. I learned to accept ways I couldn’t understand and would never cultivate. I learned to forgive people who were behaving in ways I couldn’t support. I learned what I will and will not tolerate in the people I love and just how loving I really am when it comes to those I choose to make my own.
Japan taught me to rest. It taught me what it was like to travel to fill my soul. When I came there I was tired and expected a huge and busy place and it was that, but it was more as well. Japan was nourishment I hadn’t realised I needed, spiced just right for my needs. It held amazing beauty at a time when I was starved for it and kindness when I had almost forgotten how that could make you feel and a cosy ease that was like a warm blanket on a rainy summer night.
And Hong Kong. Hong Kong taught me what it was like to eat and to really enjoy doing it.
For me, this is what travelling is for. It is exploring the world as a way of exploring what is inside. It is seeing parts of yourself writ large in the world, brought out by the world, cultivated by the experiences and sights and sounds. I travel to learn and play and explore and to me it is not only the best way to come to better understand yourself, it is the only way.