Monday, 27 February 2006

I've been to Georgia and California

Lately I've had a lot of travelling in my mind. First there's Jo's ongoing effort to book us flights later this year; then there's my blog in which I'm supposedly moaning about the hardship of booking travel while adding a comment that no one is interested in travelling here, which seems to have only hit home with the one person that actually came to visit us twice; and then there's the Bill Bryson book I'm currently reading.
They all got me to think on the difference travelling makes. I've often announced my opinion on travel out loud (well, I do tend to be rather vocal with my opinions), saying that you never really come back home after a good trip (and I don't mean drugs).
When it comes to travel, I think people are divided into three groups. Those that simply don't travel, those that travel but never really leave home, and those that travel and really try to open themselves while doing so. There are no clear boundaries between these categories; people that travel just to get a bit on sunshine during winter, for example, or people that go to a mountain resort to do some skiing, do not count as travellers to me. Yes, they may have a hell of a time and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not travelling.
When you really travel, you take something out of the places that you travel to with you, and as a result you are never the same person again. To give you an example, I am quite sure that the Arab - Israeli conflict would be solved if the leaders of both sides go and have a good time together in Amsterdam, doing whatever it is that people do in Amsterdam. After a week or so they're of mixing in to the local atmosphere they're bound to realize what's important in life and what's not worth dying or killing for. Another example that's hot in the news would be taking the English population for a trip to the continent to sort out their food.
The trouble is, most of the people I know - and I'm assuming they're good representatives of earth's entire population - are not really travellers. They have their own concepts and the things they are used to and the things they think they like and the things they think are good for them, and nothing would make them think otherwise. Whereas with me, on the other hand, if you put me in a resort and tell me to have fun for a week I'd start climbing walls of boredom on the second day (which happened to me the only time I went to a vacation in a resort). And frankly, I am yet to see a resort that is as comfortable as home: there's nothing better than my own bed, my own stereo... Why should I pay more to get less elsewhere? No, with me you need to let me walk a lot, let me drive a lot, let me take plenty of photos. In short, let me explore.
I'm not saying that I'm any better than those un-traveler people, I'm just saying that I think they are missing out on one of life's greater adventures and they are not even aware of it, mainly because they haven't learnt how to raise their head a bit and look around. And then there's the fact that many are just incapable of travelling for truly objective reasons, such as the need to care for someone of the cost of it. That said, I noticed a long time ago that there is some sort of an immidiate connection, a click, between well travelled people, even if they haven't been to the same place - they have been exposed to alternatives.
I'm not saying for even a second that I am the perfect traveller or even a mildly good one. I have a lot to aspire to.
First, as far as history is concerned, my first and only genuine travel during my first 25 years on this planet has been at the age of 12 (sixth grade). My father was working in New York for a year, and he took me there with him for a month. I cannot think of any other specific event in my life that had such a detrimental influence on me as far as dreams and aspirations go. I was so amazed with how great a city could be and how easily things are available there. I was so much in awe at how things could be different to Tel Aviv.
I was stuck in Israel for the next 15 years, mainly to due to financial aspect. I simply could not afford travelling. Actually, that is not so true: It's a matter of priorities. The money I saved from my army career was not spent on the standard issue post army round the world trip most ex-army Israelis have, nor was it spent following my father's advice to save it or to pay for my university fees (he paid most of them, and once again I have to say I'm lucky to have the parents that I have). No, the money was spent on my stereo...
Travel, it seemed to me, was a very luxurious waste of money affair. You wouldn't quote me saying that the McDonald in Israel is just the same as the McDonald in London the way a colleague from Boston who never visited New York used to say about those two cities, but I definitely viewed travel as just another form of entertainment. An expensive one.
Luckily, Yuval made me work for El-Al, the Israeli airline, and there I got free flights. Still, it took me almost a year there before I first used these free flights. Again, it was the financial issues that stopped me (flights are one thing, but you need to eat and sleep), but there was also the quite dominant fear and shame of travelling on my own.
Eventually things started rolling when I was sent from work in... New York. By the time I was back in Israel I couldn't get enough.
Three months later I was off, on my own, for the very first solo expedition: a week (plus a bit) in London. I came back eager for more, but the most notable thing from that trip was my need to feel that I have done something during my travels other than visit the places that the guidebooks say I need to go to and check the check-marks next to them.
The answer came in the shape of a Canon SLR camera that I bought in a trip to New York designed around the purchase of this ultra capable camera from one of New York's famous cheap photography shops. By then I have also started developing my expertise and my taste around travel guidebooks; I also started reading travel literature in general, which was quite an exception as at the time I didn't really read much.
The ball that started rolling before has become an avalanche, and in the year and a half I had left at the airline I would fly on a monthly basis, mainly for long weekends in Europe. I still wouldn't rent cars or go out of city limits; I was too much of a chicken.
That fear had to wait until the end of 2000, when I felt like I needed more out of my travelling. I started reading and researching the islands of the Pacific, but eventually settled for the comfort and relative ease of visiting my brother in Australia for a month. I came, I had myself a very long solo drive, and although I came back to Israel for a year and a half I never really came back. Then, immidiately after that, I was sent to France from work but landed in Swiss Geneva, and I just had to rent a car. And oh, how I enjoyed driving in French! A wi wi with a capital WI!
So as you can see, I'm not the perfect traveller myself. I have a limited travelling record, and almost all the countries I've been to are very well developed western democracies. There's a very good reason for that, but it does mean I haven't exposed myself to half of the things that are out there. I am sure, for example, that I have lots and lots of things that I could experience in India, for example; but it's the spoiled side of me that wants to be safe, well fed, and well asleep that keeps me away from such places.
But still, the contribution of walking the road less travelled (as in experiencing things in a different way than what I am normally used to), even if it is a comfortable downhill slide and even if it's just a short walk, is immense. I truly feel as if I am a better person after a good bit of travelling; not much else can rival that.


ek said...

I must be the most untravelled person around! I can't wait to travel... Once my finances are sufficient I'll definitely be off (hopefully in the near future!).

It was also very interesting hearing about your own travel record.

Moshe Reuveni said...

If you follow my definition of the word "travel", I would say that uprooting yourself 4000km to the east definitely qualifies.
It's the same continent and the same country, but it's a major change.
I'm pretty sure that once you leave Australia for a bit, you'll be hooked.

ek said...

Yes, I never thought about it that way! But moving to Melbourne was one of the best things I have done in my life. No regrets.

Next stop, overseas!