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The meaning of travel

A life without travelling is a life not lived

Travelling is something strange. Some people like it, some people love it, some people are afraid of it and some people want to do it but just don't know where to start. The kind of travelling I'm talking about here is not the transport kind of travelling, in which you sit on your ass in a car, train or airplane in order to get from one destination to another. Real travelling is going into the unknown. Going to places you've never seen before, places further away than your own backyard. Places you knew nothing about, places of which you didn't even know they existed. By foot, by bike, by boat, however you like to move around. Going from place to place, from the city where your airplane, train or bus arrives to unknown destinations, only being guided by one guide book, the people that you meet and tell you the way and your own gut feeling. 
Now of course this is not something everyone just does, this is quite an extreme form of travelling. There is no definition of what travelling is, just that travelling is about discovering or getting to know new places, with the genuine interest of going to experience the place in what it is, its atmosphere, its ambiance, its smell if you will. This is different from tourism. In general, your everyday tourist does in fact go to a foreign place, but books a five-star hotel there, eats his own food in expensive restaurants, goes fully dressed up to a shopping centre in order to buy more expensive stuff. Tourists do go to places, but they have little interest in the local culture, the way of life, the cuisine and so forth. A traveler knows there is more to life and more in the world than just his own city and his own people and habits, and wants to get to know this by experiencing it for himself. This doesn’t necessarily have to be on the other side of the world. If I go from Holland, The country where I grew up, to any Mediterranean country or to central Europe, I will already find cultures that are different from mine. Many things may seem the same, such as the public transport, working places, houses, but there is always a core in it all that makes it different from what I know. It is the people. The people, their habits and way of living, their world-view, their food, their way of treating others and many other things.
Now this is what makes travelling “travelling”, this is what makes it interesting and exciting. An important part of the experience is meeting new people, so many that your head starts spinning. You never knew that it was possible to meet so many people in one day or one week, and that they would all be kind to you and caring about you, although they don't even know who you are. That they will not only be happy to tell you the way, but tell you there is no way that you’re going to look for a hostel at this hour (it's only five in the afternoon and still light), no, you're going with them. And before you know you're at a table full of known and unknown dishes and a family that is happy to have to you over for dinner. And you don't even speak their language. How it happened, you have no idea, and when you're back on the road your friend is still in shock. And then you realize that whatever television may tell you, people are surprisingly kind and willing to help when you are just walking around and discovering the place. It changes the way you see the world, the way you think about people and cultures, whether it's your own or another, it changes how you treat people; it changes you. No matter how strongly it effects you, you have seen that things can be different from your own country or the place where you live. You will always become friendlier and more open-minded. This is not just nice for others, but also for you: when people feel you are open to them, they will treat you the same way. You may start meeting different types of people at home, you might get closer to friends you already have, just because you've opened your mind and you are unconsciously more engaging towards others and except people more for who they are. And it's nice to be less worried about the unknown.
Apart from how amazing it is to experience different cultures and people, the growth of your character and person that comes with travelling is not just a benefit for personal relationships, but also for the more official side of life. Companies, politics, non-profit organizations; the people who make decisions are just people like you and me. Important decisions need to be made by someone who can stand on his own feet and knows what he is doing. If you never leave your country or sort things out for yourself you will never become a responsible person who is able to make important decisions that may involve thousands of lives. Furthermore they need to be people that not only understand what is going in the world when they are dealing with specific questions; they need to be able to consider every aspect of the case they are dealing with and the consequences it may have. Someone who has travelled and has had to stand on his own feet, look around, find the way and sort how and where to go, find a place to sleep, will be more able to do this. If you look at international relations, you see that business and economy throughout the world is highly interlinked; the economy of China is dependent on that of the US and the other way around, for example. And every country has its own culture and therefore its own way of doing business. It is important to understand this and to know the culture or part of the world you're dealing with when doing business. The best way of doing business is of course when both parties are respectful and friendly towards each other. A good deal will be established easier with a smile and a firm handshake than after an irritating way of being treated. If you and I are trying to make a deal and I know nothing about your culture, your habits, your signs of respect and the tone of the language I use, I can easily insult you, without me knowing I did. When I insult you, you won't be so happy anymore to come and make a deal with me. For example, it is quite common in Holland to lean back in a chair and put one foot on your knee. In India it is a sign of disrespect or even an insult when you show somebody the soles of your shoes in this way. I might not know it and heavily insult my Indian business partner. And the fact that he knows that I didn't know this sign of disrespect doesn't matter to a lot of people.
Going to an unknown place without taking your own house with you is scary. Even if you are travelling with a friend, you don't have your family and other friends around, you don't have a clean bathroom to take a (private) shower every day and you don't always have a supermarket around the corner (if it even exists in the place where you go). You are going to a place where nobody knows you, except for that friend that you are visiting perhaps, and you don't have Wi-Fi everywhere. It's just you with your backpack and the world. Still it is something everyone should do. It might seem scary, but once you're out there for a few days you start to feel the flow and you feel your blood rushing through your veins, excited to be out there, and all the things you found scary in the beginning, are now completely the opposite: it is so great to have full responsibility of what you're going do, where you're going to eat and what will be your next destination. It doesn't even have to be far away, it can be in a neighboring country. It's about the feeling of being independent, having to arrange your own things, finding your own way. And most of the time you will have a hostel, a cheap restaurant or a doctor nearby, so you don't even have to worry about that. Travelling is safer than most people think: the stuff that happens on television basically just happens on television. And no, it couldn't happen to you, because how many frightening cases are there every year? One, two? Millions of people are travelling as you are reading this, and they are all safe and well. Travelling will make your life so much better in every possible way that you won't even remember why you were so afraid of it. And still, after many big trips, you might still have a funny feeling in your stomach when you're going somewhere. That's called excitement, and it is one of the best things you will ever feel.

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