I met Amanda while staying in Bozburun, a town on the southwest coast of Turkey. I was renting an apartment there and she was staying in the adjacent room – connected by a shared balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. I was there for six weeks writing my masters dissertation; she was there after quitting her job as the curator of a museum in New Zealand and was re-evaluating her life.
Halfway through our third cup of tea one night, Amanda sighed and said, “You’re so lucky to be able to take time out of your life to travel.”
I lowered my cup and threaded my fingers around its edge. I’d heard this type of comment before. The thing was, I wasn’t “out of” my life in any way.
It’s almost always a privilege to travel – when it is by choice and not initiated by something like political turmoil. For those of us who can financially afford to, or have found career-related ways to travel, we are truly fortunate. But taking time “out of” life? – I disagree.
I realize that as a travel writer, experiencing different parts of the world is my work and my office is not in one fixed place. It can be at a café in Paris, a beach in Thailand, a tent somewhere in Canada – anywhere, really. But I still regard my trips before I became a travel writer as “part of” my life and not as a break from it.
For me, travel is not an escape, but a chance to answer questions about myself that I might not have asked, or thought to ask, from home.
I grew up just outside of Vancouver, in a country that I feel comfortable and relatively safe in. But this luxury of comfort generally doesn’t challenge me, or push me to deeper levels of inner growth. When I went to school for a time in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country), I learned firsthand about street life, poverty and drug addiction. But I still wasn’t affected by it as much as experiencing a similar environment somewhere else. The despair was also mitigated by the fact that, in my mind, there was affluence just around the corner. That the Downtown Eastside was just a pocket of an otherwise wealthy city.
There’s something about being outside of your comfort zone that causes you to be more impacted by things. You’re more awake in a foreign environment. You look at things more closely. You feel more vulnerable. Things make a deeper impression because you’re not on autopilot. This alertness comes from a sense of discomfort in not being able to speak the local language, not knowing the cultural norms very well or being lost most of the time.
I am propelled to greater curiosity in foreign settings. My mind is kept racing with questions. I look deeper into and challenge my own beliefs, assumptions and worldviews when I’m not caught in the trance and reflexive behavioural patterns that comfort engenders.
So, I don’t consider travel as an escape but as a potentially deeper way of experiencing life.
Of course, there are other kinds of trips, namely the vacation. This is when someone’s intent is to take a break from something, whether that is a job, a routine, a spouse, a family, or a situation. This is when people allow themselves to let loose and feel like another version of who they normally are.
I guess that’s why I’ve never been able to hold down a steady job or stay in a situation that becomes monotonous: I don’t want to have a need to escape my life; I don’t want to go on a trip so that I can allow myself to be wild. I want to be living everyday like that, even if that means not having the security of a salary and not knowing when the next gig will come.
There is definitely room for all kinds of travel. But if I can find the money or get the right assignment for a trip, I won’t go there to be someone else. I’ll go there so I can be taken out of my comfort zone and learn more deeply about who I am and how I can better relate to people who are different than me. I want that to be my life, not a break from it.
As Amanda and I sipped tea from our cups, we sat there silently, two women living our lives in Turkey.