July 5, 2013

This is Why We Travel. ~ Katie Stephens

Traveling is not always rainbows and butterflies; it can be full of challenges, trying moments and exhausting situations.

At times, we find ourselves stuck on crowded, filthy, noisy river boats for days on end with no escape.

We spend whole days on buses, 24+ hours on winding back roads and over plunging cliffs, just to reach that one beautiful place we read about.

Some of those buses are “nice” (freezing cold with dubbed mobster movies blaring above us), while others are tiny chicken buses crammed with people and various cargo.

Other times, we end up standing on crowded city buses with heavy packs on, feeling as if we’re going to start spewing from both ends (was it the water at the hostel or that questionable cheese I ate?).

Sometimes we eat only watermelon for days on end because it’s cheap and cold and our stomachs have been in knots. Some of us (actually, a lot of us) get robbed, not only of possessions but of peace of mind.

We get sick, sun burnt, exhausted, dehydrated and bitten by every possible creature.

Some days, all we want is to sleep in our own beds, in our own rooms, rather than in a dorm full of other snoring, sweaty travelers. Most days, we miss our families, our friends, our lovers, our dogs. After days of eating the same “plate of the day,” we’d trade anything to have our one favorite meal from home (super veggie burrito and a Fat Tire Amber, please).

But then, after a 72 hour boat trip from hell or a 24 hour bus ride that gave us a cold from the AC, we arrive in a gorgeous place with smiling people welcoming us. We discover our hostel is set in a garden, full of trees, with a real kitchen (it has a fridge!) just steps from a white sand beach on an emerald lake, surrounded by jungle. We surprise ourselves by remembering how to say a few new words in the language that we have been struggling to speak (even the pronunciation was close!).

It’s then we remember: this is why we travel.

To eat that one weird delicious dish that was born in this region; to groove to samba bands, singing about monkeys and nature and slave rebellion in a language we don’t understand (this is where multilingual friends come in handy!). To meet people from all over the world and learn about their ways, who are beautiful in their differences and yet sometimes surprisingly similar. To lay on beautiful secluded beaches and watch clouds blow by; to gaze up at a night sky full of new Southern Hemisphere stars. To hike through jungles and hear birds singing all around us.

Even to travel via the Amazon River, which is an unforgettable experience even if it’s incredibly uncomfortable. (The sunsets alone are worth it.)

There are a lot of us in the world that are down for the adventure, regardless of the work it takes, maybe even because of the work it takes.

We put in long hours for months or years  just to buy a plane ticket to somewhere (anywhere) and spend all the money we’ve saved on street food and garden hostels.

Then, we do it all over again.

We are always planning our next journey. We tote cameras and bug bites and dirty backpacks and tattered Lonely Planets in various languages. We sleep in airports and bus stations and in the houses of “strangers”. Dates are just letters and numbers; we ignore clocks and follow the sun instead, until we have another bus or boat or plane to catch. We are humbled by attempting new languages and we learn to improvise when language alone is inadequate. We sit together, eating picnic dinners on docked river boats, exchanging tips and sharing stories of the places we’ve seen.

The luckier ones fall in love along the way and change return tickets to one country for another, inspiring the rest of us to follow love. Some of us have huge aspirations, like breaking world records by only trekking and canoeing through Brazil.

Others of us have been traveling for 14 months and have no end in sight. Some of us have only a few weeks, but we make the most of each day.

We travel because we can’t imagine life without it. Because we’re always curious: always wanting to see more, learn more, feel more, discover more about the world and where we fit in it. As someone unknown said, “We travel not to escape life, but so life doesn’t escape us.”

Or, as Jack Kerouac said, “Navigating the road isn’t always easy, but the struggles make us stronger, the beauty we experience is always worth it, and, after all, ‘the road is life.'”

Katie Stephens is grounded wanderer, a lover of nature and all things wild, a peace maker, a poet and a Social Worker by trade. She writes to express herself in hopes of inspiring others. You can follow her intermittent travel blog.



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Assistant Ed: Kate Spano/Ed: Bryonie Wise


{Photo: via Pinterest}


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