One of the greatest things about travel, they say, is that it broadens the mind. Without question, you get to see different places, experience different cultures, and meet people that you could never possibly met if you had stayed at home, so if you are thinking about travelling, whether taking a gap year, signing up for a job overseas, or just because you fancy it, I would highly recommend that you do so.
If you are thinking about a trip, or in the throws of planning one, you can probably picture yourself on the beach, gazing at the beautiful sunset, or walking through the romantic streets of some medieval city with your best girl/boy on your arm. Perhaps you have images of yourself partying hard in a foreign bar somewhere with people hanging on your every word, or looking at the city skyline from the fancy office that your new employer has furnished you with.
You can probably imagine as well, just how different you are going to feel, but there is one thing that you probably haven’t taken into account…
YOU will be there to spoil it for you.
There is an old adage that says, ‘No matter where you go, there you are’. I had known of the saying since being a child. When I was small, I didn’t really think of it beyond its very obvious truth – If you go somewhere, then that’s where you’ll be. As a teenager, I thought that it was a funny and clever thing to drop into conversation with a knowing look (yes, I really was that much of a cock). It was only when I took a job overseas that I finally understood what it meant, and I was quite taken aback by it.
When we think of far off places, we typically get picture postcard images flashing through our minds. Whether they be of golden beaches, city skylines or bikini clad girls, in gathering the necessary resolve to take the plunge and set out on our travels, we have to imagine our destination in the best possible light. We know deep down, I’m sure that the golden beaches are often covered in jellyfish, that the picture of the city skyline was taken on a day when the smog was mysteriously absent (or Photoshop was typically present), and that a proportion of the bikini clad girls with be riddled with some sort of diseases that will see you down the clinic quick smart (if you can find it), but it isn’t these things that you want to focus on. You want the fantasy, and quite honestly, before you set off, in your imagination, is the very best time and place to have it. What’s more, when you get there and find out that things are not quite what you pictured, it will be YOU that is responding to it. That’s not the YOU that was in the fantasy, that’s the real you. You know, the one that can’t find his wallet, or gets frustrated with the repeated wiping of a claggy shit. That one.
So if you are a right grumpy bastard at home, you will still be one when you arrive. In fact, if you have any foibles, bad habits, frustrating character traits or insecurities at home, they will still be there, shaping your experience, when you arrive. Sadly, none of these things ever get confiscated at customs.
This isn’t a problem, of course. If we didn’t experience things as ourselves, we would never experience anything. After all, what do we have other than ourselves to experience things with? What we tend not to realise however, is how much of our experience is created inside our own heads, and how little of that aspect of our experience is under our direct control.
It’s something that almost all first time travellers and expats realise after a while. The picture that they had in their minds didn’t include themselves. They pictured an experience of new and exotic things, but they failed to picture THEMSELVES experiencing it.
My own realisation came a few months into living in the former communist block (regular readers will know that I cannot be more specific for fear of identifying myself). I had gone there to take a job, and was living in quite a comfortable situation. The first few months were exciting, challenging, interesting, and occasionally a little frightening, but once things settled down, I suddenly came to the realisation of what the old adage meant. As all the new things grew familiar and became my new normality, I realised that I hadn’t changed at all. Yes, I had a different job, and yes, I had considerably more disposable income than I had before, but I still worried about the same things, I still had the same hang ups, I was still smoking and drinking too much, and I disliked the locals in exactly the same way, and in the same proportion, to the way I disliked the people back home. I had, in short, brought ME with me to spoil the experience.
And things haven’t really changed. I have moved on since then , and am now living in one of the most exotic places on the planet. It would be safe for me to say that this place is quite heavy on trees. They are everywhere (and very nice they are too). In fact, due to the heavy jungle that surrounds me most of the time, it is very unusual to be able to see for any great distance. When you see the place on television (and I bet you have), the bulk of the camera work is either a close up of something creepy and crawly, or a shot from a helicopter/drone, and all of those shots look stunning. Where I am though, on the ground, there is something quit claustrophobic about the place, and this illustrates the point perfectly.
Flying high in the helicopter of fantasy and anticipation, most places look quite impressive. On the ground of reality though, there is only you and it is still difficult to see beyond your limitations. It isn’t a bad thing, but it can cause a bit of a jolt when you realise it.
So does travel really broaden the mind?
Most certainly it does, but it’s a process so slow and innocuous that you are unlikely to notice it. Travelling will broaden you mind, refresh your outlook, and allow you to see things more clearly, but it is something that other people are likely to see in you more than you will see it in yourself. You will evolve slowly over time, but the first indication you have of the change may well be when you return home and are reunited with all the people that you left behind. They may point out that you have changed or grown, but if you have really changed; if you have really evolved, you will look upon them as a bunch of small minded bastards, and start trying to get out of the country again as soon as you can. THAT’S the best indicator.
So if you have the opportunity, I urge you to go and see the world. It will, over time, change you for ever, and for the better. Just remember that you have your own sorry ass to drag there with you.
Minister of Stuff.