Wednesday, February 8, 2012

TRAVEL : Ineffable Beauty and Strangeness

Katie Helete

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” – Pico Iyer, in his 2000 essay, Why We Travel (par. 1).

I admit it – I am a travel addict. No matter how busy my schedule or the nature of my mood, I spend at least a little time every day reflecting on where I’ve been and where I want to go. Just imagine the tales of far away places and cultures! When I meet someone for the first time, stories of their personal travels spark interest with me, no longer resorting to small talk. And, without a doubt, the most profound experiences of my life came during a trip I took to Bolivia and Peru the spring before I came to the University of California at Berkeley. Yet as I write this, I am sitting in a café not far from the Berkeley campus, as many of my closest friends spend the spring semesters of their junior years of college gallivanting through Europe.

If I had attempted to predict where I would be at this moment a year ago, it would not have been in the Bay Area. Just a few months ago I was in the process of preparing a trip to Spain. Barcelona was perpetually on the tip of my tongue. Dreams of the people, the architecture, the nightlife and the paella swirled around me like a thick fog. The trip was my incentive to get schoolwork done, my ray of hope when the stress of my job and internship seemed unbearable.When I needed to conveniently rationalize a superfluous clothing purchase, I would simply turn to my shopping companion and say, “Won’t this look great in Spain?” As you might have guessed, my plans did not unfold in the way I had intended. Life happened, and for reasons that could fill several articles outside of this one, studying abroad faded from my future.

Knowing I had the potential to travel, and experience all this otherworldliness made me wonder: why do we travel at all?  What is it about visiting an unfamiliar city or state or a far-away part of the world that many find so enticing?  Harvard philosopher George Santayana suggests that we “need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste the hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what” (qtd. in Iyer par. 2). We travel to step outside of ourselves – our routines and the smallness of our lives – and connect with the world on a completely different level. Traveling allows us to appreciate the ineffable beauty and strangeness of our world, the things that we seem to forget in our daily thought processes. This perspective created through travel is not just reserved for interpreting the world around us; it also helps us to see deeper within ourselves. It allows us to discover how we manage situations not necessarily presented to us at home – the sting of newness and fleeting moments of fear, joy and exhilaration. Put more concisely, traveling allows us to feel alive.

So, if we accept the power of travel to make us to feel this way, does that mean that we cannot have these kinds of life enriching experiences at home? While traveling is a unique way of creating such moments, wouldn't you say it is possible to adopt a traveler’s perspective in our everyday lives. 

First, notice the small things. Awareness, whether of the ins and outs of a foreign place or of the way the city streets look on your morning walk to work, leads to appreciation for the intricacies of the world around us. 

Second, try new activities. Create a bucket list of the things you wish to accomplish before you graduate college or move to a new place. Instead of going to your favorite restaurant where the wait staff knows your usual order before you walk in the door, get a group of friends together to try a new cuisine. Instead of spending two hours on the internet, go for a hike and explore the natural gifts your city has to offer. Take pictures. Talk to the person sitting next to you on the bus or in class. Become a tourist in your own home.

While it may take a more resolute effort, for those of us who for one reason or another are unable to travel, all hope is certainly not lost. And while I may still get that burning urge to book a ticket to Spain .... I remind myself: I control my own happiness. Spending time with the people I love and exploring the environments around me are gifts that will always be available to me, no matter where I am.
And you know what? Remembering this, makes shutting my computer and living my life just that much easier. 

Iyer, Pico. “Why We Travel.” Salon., 18 Mar. 2000. 29 Jan. 2012. 

The Woman Behind the Travel Section:

Katie Helete is a cultured old soul with a kind of energy that would entice you to travel with her anywhere. Attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, she is majoring in Political Economy. Explore the world, bucket list by bucket list with the brilliant and bold Katie.


Amy Leach said...

Katie-- I so enjoyed reading your brilliant compelling writing. I will share this Molly. You are such an inspiration. Thank you for transporting out of my stressful ordinary work day.
Amy Leach

khelete said...

Wow - thank you so much Amy! I'm extremely flattered and so glad you enjoyed it. Hope that all is well with you and your family, and say "hi" to Molly for me too!