What is Travel? Some thoughts …

“One more step and I’ll be the furthest away from home I’ve ever been.”

That line, or something close to it at any rate, is uttered by Sam Gamgee to Frodo during the earliest stages of the journey that ended at Mount Doom, and has always struck a chord with me. Frodo, already worried about the ring and mind firmly on the journey ahead, pretty much dismisses Sam’s proclamation as irrelevant and I do understand why. After all, it’s the first of many steps that will fit the same description until they reach their destination and it makes no difference to whether they continue or not. However I, like Sam, see a significance to the words which make plain that the next step Sam takes is moving him over a boundary that he can never uncross. It may be an internally generated boundary, relevant only to him and invisible to the outside world, but it is there and he is choosing to cross it. And that means something. That matters.

Why? Because, by taking that step and acknowledging that he’s doing it, he’s opening himself up to new experiences, new sights, new understanding. It really isn’t about where his body physically is at all, but the explicit acknowledgment that the mind within that body is aware of the newness and is receptive to all it may bring.  

To me, that’s the essence of travelling; mindfully going somewhere you’ve never been before, crossing borders and boundaries with intent, purposefully seeking out the new.

I have been lucky enough to travel to quite a few places in my thirty odd years on this earth, including Russia, America and quite a significant chunk of Western Europe. Each trip was one of discovery (even if the trip was short and the discovery limited to if you sit for half an hour on a French beach at the height of summer without a hat on you will get sunstroke) and I don’t think I will ever tire of standing on a street in a different country, looking at the surrounding buildings and wondering how many people have done this before me, what they thought of landmark x or statue y, whether someone historically important has stood in this very spot and pondered things. I’m off to Venice in a few weeks and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is wandering the food markets early in the morning, hearing other people’s day to day lives happening around me, seeing their normal whilst I find it exhilarating and extraordinary.

But to me travelling isn’t only something you do physically. You can travel across the globe and experience other cultures without leaving your house thanks to the simple expedient of picking up a book or switching on a documentary. Of course it won’t be the same as going to wherever-it-is yourself but you are still learning, experiencing, discovering, all the same.  A journey of the mind can be equally as satisfying as a actual journey; different but no less wonderful for it.  
This form of travel has taken me to every continent in the world, some of them at many points in history. I have walked alongside explorers through the rainforests of the Amazon and the jungles of Africa, I have seen the pyramids and the pharaoh’s tombs through the eyes of archaeologists, hunted with wolves, to name but a fraction of what I think of as my mental journeys, thanks to the people (many of whom I have never met and probably never will) who have shared their experiences with me via a variety of mediums and I am eternally grateful to them all.

I shall continue to travel, both physically and mentally, for as long as I am able to. I shall also continue to share my journeys through my preferred mediums (blog posts and photos on twitter) in the hope that I can pay the joy forward a little, and offer others a way to start journeys of their own.

These musings were brought to you via a combination of wanting to belatedly acknowledge the Tolkien Society reading day, which happened on Wednesday 25th March, and the prompting of fellow Sherlockian Kristina who, along with the other Nerdventurists, are undertaking a 10,000 mile car journey (otherwise known at the Mongol Rally) to raise money for Cool Earth and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. As part of this mad fundraising effort, they’ve been offered a custom “word shirt” by Litographs (who is one of their sponsors) which will consist of a t-shirt with many, many (5k-10k) words on it. And so they’ve appealed for relevant words to put on it, under the broad headings of “What Is Travel?” in the hopes that friends, family and supporters will provide their thoughts, which they can wear on their journey. If you’d like to add your thoughts, the link is here.   

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