Was the question my kayaking partner asked me while rowing somewhere near Cat Ba island, in Northern Vietnam. I stayed quiet and he asked again “Rita, why do you travel? What’s your reason for it?”
I was in the back seat and he couldn’t see my face – my eyes going from side to side, trying to look inside my brain in search for something to say. From me he only got a long silence before “That’s a good question! I don’t really know…”
I was honest. I never really thought about the reason behind it. Traveling for me has always been something natural. I blame it on my Spanish-gypsy blood. For my family the idea of a perfect vacation involves driving as many kilometers as possible in whatever number of days you have off – 3 days, 3 months, 3 years.
As we continued rowing I asked myself “To visit different places and cultures? To see different landscapes? To try different food? Have new experiences? Meet new people?” “I don’t know”, I said again. And I really didn’t.
For many weeks, the question was stuck in my mind. I started asking people around me, they had different reasons, and I still couldn’t find mine. Until one day, I was driving amongst limestone walls and appreciating the changing colors of a pre-sunset sky, and voilà: I travel because it makes me experience today. Because traveling keeps me in the present.
Traveling allows me to live, experience, and focus on the present as I’ve never done before.
How much time I have spent thinking about the past! Things I’ve done or said, things I haven’t, things I should or could have done differently.
How much time I have spent thinking about the future! What am I going to do? Where am I going to be? Past relationships based on “let me see how you’re going to be next so I can decide if you’re good for me or not” made me waste so much present time, always waiting for something better, for a future that never came.
We tend to spend so much time thinking about the past and the future, that we live the present as a transition point, not as the present. We don’t really pay attention to what we are doing now because we are not embracing now.
Traveling I found a way of living the present, one day at a time.
People ask me what my days are like. I wake up, have a shower, decide what I’m having for breakfast and how I want to spend my day. Sightseeing, working, writing, just walking around or laying in a hammock. I make a decision and enjoy it. If I decide to do some work I know I’m choosing to spend a couple of hours in front of the computer instead of seeing waterfalls or caves, or moving to another place. I make the decision and embrace it. I don’t judge myself for doing “nothing” in a city with so many things to do and see. Sometimes all I need is “nothing”, sometimes I feel like taking a local bus and spending hours on bumpy winding roads just to get somewhere new, where I can wake up and decide how I want to spend my day, all over again.
Off course I think about the future. Where am I going from here? What am I going to do with all the new things I’m learning from this incredible journey. But I do not focus only on the future. Traveling forces me to make present decisions.
One might think “Oh, it’s easy for you, you’re living the life, meeting new people, seeing new places. You’re not stuck in an office five days a week.” Yes, I’m not, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a routine and daily rituals. Doesn’t mean I don’t question my decisions or have doubts about them. But the way my decision making process works is based on the present.
When I meet new people I let myself appreciate and enjoy the short or long conversations I have with them, people I’ll probably never see again. I allow myself to be present, to appreciate the moment.
Same applies to watching the changes in landscape. No pictures can capture the beauty of noticing the changes of scenery from one place to another, from mountains to valleys, from rivers to the sea, from cold breeze to a steam hot air. If I don’t allow myself to feel it, how will I ever be able to talk about it?
Why do I travel? To live the present so in the future I can tell stories about my past.
Why do you travel?
“There are only two days in the year when nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”