The bracing water hits my face, flowing over my body as I dive out of the sun, and into the cool water. I exhale and let myself drift slowly downwards, to sit crossed legged on the bottom of the pool. I remain motionless, listening to the faint underwater hum of the filtering system, and watch the bubbles float slowly upwards, through dancing underwater sunbeams, to break gently in an array of reflected light at the surface.
It’s 2pm. Tuesday.
This time one month ago I’d be trapped mid-way through a three hour client meeting, negotiating unavoidable delays to a project already many months late. It’s the same conversation I’ve had every week, one to keep me in the office until gone eight thirty…again.
Shaking my head in remembrance of an old life, currently so distant, I let another bubble escape my lips and watch it float upwards towards freedom. As I look around my underwater paradise, and watch the light dancing off the pool walls, I feel just like the bubble. It breaks the surface, now forever free of the old confides that once trapped it.
I smile to myself. Yes, this is definitely different.
I’ve been living in different cities and countries around the world for over a half a decade now. From the crowded shoulder to shoulder bustling of the streets of Shanghai, China to the beautiful expanse of isolated beaches of Cebu in the Philippines. I’ve experienced life at 500 feet in five star hotels in the USA, to the sharing of a minuscule meal alongside orphans in the dirty and blackened slums of Chennai, India.
During my travels I learnt a few things about what it means to leave behind your home country and stride out into the wide open world, jacket gripped tightly around you; nervousness in your heart.
I write from an apartment in Stuttgart, Germany, a country only a few hundred miles from my own, the closest I have lived to home soil during my travels, and yet at the same time so very far away. I love it, still. Half a decade on.
It changes you, travelling. Changes the way you approach life, people and the art of abundant living. It changes how your brain is wired, and adjusts the lens through which you view the world, and the people in it. You are forced to question yourself, your beliefs and carve out a place for your soul.
In some extreme cases it can change the very fabric of what makes you, you. But this is rare. More normally, in my own travels and those I have observed in others, is that it opens up your world.
After you have free dived with a pod of whale sharks, fifteen meters long, or got lost in the legendary Tata tea fields of rolling green, it is hard to ever see the world the same way again.
You are permanently changed, right down to very strands of your DNA.
When you have held the hand of an orphaned child, as dirty as the surrounding street, but smiling stronger than the richest millionaire, you are forced to rethink everything you thought you knew about life, about success and about what it means to be truly alive and living. Sometimes you wish you could go back to being naive. Sometimes. But the wish soon dissipates as quickly as it formed.
Traveling doesn’t just give you experiences, it gives you life. Life you can’t find in the cubicles of investment banks the world over, no matter how successful you become. Trust me, I know. Travel gives you a sense of yourself and a sense of this incredible planet on which we live, a planet so rich with life and energy. You soon realise one can only merely glimpse it’s enormity.
There’s nothing wrong with the riches the modern world offers, from Mercedes to Macbook’s and Armani to Apps. But after a few months on the road you always wonder why they were such a big deal in the first place. I love my designer clothes, my Apple products and access to organic food from around the world...but do I love them as much as an authentic local recipe cooked on the beaches of Moal Boal over a beach fire after three hours of spear fishing, the smell of life and cooking food in the air, the deep aching in the muscles that comes after a good workout and the look in the eye of your companions that says yes, this might just be as close as we can get to truly feeling alive.
It’s not all clean sailing though...
I’ve almost lost a boat off the coast of the Island of Kos, been attacked by rabid dogs in India, been targeted by a shark in Mexico, narrowly avoided jail in Bangkok and was knocked out by a sucker punch in Cebu. I have the stories to tell and the scars to prove it. Do I regret it? Not for a moment.
Life away from home is scary, exhilarating, exciting, dangerous in places, unforgiving, eye opening, degrading, spectacular and like nothing you could ever imagine. No one persons story is ever the same, because no one persons journey is every the same.
Thats the beauty of travel. A cubicle might be the same as the one next to you and the one after that. Spreadsheets vary little and everyone has the same good and bad boss. But travel is truly unique. No elephant ride through the jungle will every be quite the same. No speaking engagement in a country not your own will every be quite so nerve racking. No food from foreign lands will ever taste quite as good as when you sampled them in that land, sitting on the very soil where the ingredients were grown.
If there is one thing everyone should do if they ever have the chance, it is to travel.
To get out of the very small sphere we are all born into and go discover the world around you. Pictures in the National Geographic can only give you so much. An underwater cavern photo, no matter how well lit, is no match to strapping on a tank and delving into the depths yourself. As you fly through the tunnels in the sediment free clear water, the magazine picture becomes like being told to imagine a colour that doesn’t exist. However good your imagination, it will never get close to the real thing.
Life is short. That we know. But it also has all the hours we need, if we know what we want.
There are many things a person can do in life, and not all of them are right for everyone. Travel, however, may just be the one that bucks the trend; the universal experience that unites people and opens up their world. If you have travelled, you know what I say is true. If you have not yet set out on your own adventure, hat on head and boots tied. Perhaps now is the time. There will never be a better one.
Write your own story.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON MAPTIA.