Monday, February 08, 2010

The Art of Travel

How to go on a journey, instead of just being a tourist - by Nick van der Leek

The best laid plans...

Okay I admit it, my plans for Australia, an island continent I've always dreamed of visiting, were ambitious. Very small margin for error. The plan, in broad strokes, was to circumnavigate Australia's coastline, starting in Perth, taking in the coastal belt south of Perth, then Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast as far as Cairns, Darwin, Broome and then the remainder of the west coast of Western Australia [including Ningaloo] before returning back to Perth. Here's the rub - all this in 5 weeks. Lonely Planet recommends around 6 months.

I started off well. But then, in Melbourne, the third car hire place turned out to be an unlucky number three. The manager at Thriftys said she wasn't going to recognise my driver's license. This in itself was dramatic, but no catastrophic. It meant the Great Ocean Road [the epic 12 Apostles] was under threat. Worse, it meant the 70.3 triathlon in Geelong would have to be visited by train. I'd have to lug backpacks and bicycle around without the use of the car.

Then things worsened. After being turned down at Thriftys I caught 2 consecutive taxi's in Melbourne and during this process managed to lose both my credit card and driver's license.

Now those 5 weeks of chockablock travel were under threat because all the little bits in-between that were supposed to be non-negotiable were now being squashed together or removed entirely. Removing the car hire option means a lot less flexibility.
Which brings me to the following question - how do you experience travel as a journey, rather than as mere camera toting tourism.

The answer is to have a general framework for what you want to do. Take a few tips from lonely planet. Crystallise a country or destination into a handful of memorable experiences. But allow for spontaneity and flexibility in execution. Tourism is ticking off places on a map just so that you can say you've been there. The journey involves a richer experience, actually being there. And to be somewhere you need to slow down, smell the flowers, close your eyes, listen to the sounds around you. Sometimes a quickfire trip can give you a sense of a place, but often you can't get a real sense.

When shit happens, you have the perfect opportunity to absorb. Rather than resenting your circumstances, enjoy them. Embrace the space you're in and the time. Reach out to those around you. And allow the world to mould your experience. Often it is when we don't have our way, that nature intrudes - and in the best possible way. Give it a chance, let go, and let your cup fill with that singular substance that is the lifeblood of a traveller - meaning and context to go with the pictures.

1 comment:

David Glashan said...

When you look back on the trip is of often when you know if you have had a good time or not. By what you write, I think you will say that you had a good time. As someone who has travelled a lot in 2009, I can say that my travels have been evolving since I stopped.

nuff said.