Travelling the world, why bother? Everyone has either done it, is doing it or wants to do it at some point. Why? Bored with our jobs, our relationships (or lack of), the weather, or our friends? And so uprooting ourselves to a land far, far away - a land and a people that don’t know us and our insecurities - seems like the right solution. A new place brings hope and possibility; we can right all the wrongs of our former selves and so with the prospect of self-reformation we are launched into an unattainable dream of promised perfection and waiting for us when we wake up; an inevitable discontent. Whether that’s discontentment with ourselves and the inner journey or just the dismal reality of a place once thought to be untouched, mystic and ethereal. The blogs, the magazines, the GoPro videos only capture the aspirational potential of the island, beach or city that they’re advertising. They’re like tinder profiles: if they’re fit, you imagine how nicely and creatively they’ve decorated their flat, what interesting hobbies they have, and how many languages they speak. We wishfully fill in the blanks from a starting point we know very little about. Inherent in this process is the feeling of disappointment.
A phenomenon that I have recently become familiar with is a part of travel that few speak of and that’s the fact that sometimes it’s fucking boring. The rose tinted glasses only last so long and the surreal quickly becomes reality; you wake up at the same time, make the same bed, have the same breakfast, walk to the same shop and see the same commuters and slowly but surely the ennui will creep in and feelings like ‘Why am I bored?’, ‘I must be so ungrateful?’, ‘What’s wrong with me?’, ‘I bet if so and so had the chance to come here they wouldn’t be bored’ will accompany your experience. The thing is you had such high expectations for not only the place but for yourself, that no feelings other than dissatisfaction and dissolution will accompany such a journey. If you are away for long enough, routine will be a part of it. Routine is a part of life for everyone to some extent whether you live in Croydon, Cambodia or Cape Town. If you experience boredom here, you will likely experience boredom there and that’s okay. So in anticipation of our journey, instead of completely losing our sense of reality we must be aware that the ordinary and the average are waiting, we then don’t have to waste our time with self-deprecation and egotistical questioning but instead accept that banality is a part of life that can, with the right frame of mind, be constructive and beautiful.
And so, just like a phoenix rises from the ashes, something great and all the more meaningful can come from this ego of ours, from our monotonous feelings of indifference and dullness. Here’s the story; I spent some time in Colombia last year. I don’t quite know how I ended up there, a turn of events I guess, and I found myself working in a family run hostel in Armenia, the coffee region of Colombia. Never have I been filled with so much apathy towards a place. It’s an averagely grey city, with some averagely nice, averagely ugly buildings, with average weather, and for an hour every day I would sit in an average cafe, drink an average coffee (Colombia exports all the best stuff) and watch average people carry out their average lives. Now, here by average I mean ordinary. I have no feelings of wonder or spectacle, feelings that usually accompany my sun cream, walking boots and mosquito net. I am just here, with them, living.
‘Wonder’ can be defined as “being filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at)”. The brackets here are very important; to wonder at something, to marvel at something, the little ‘at’ instantly creates an imbalance of subject/object, who is doing what and to whom? And therefore this notion of wonderment and awe falls far from what we all ultimately seek - equality. I am amazed by you because you are different, I fear you because you are different and often, when spending time in ‘less developed (a quarrelsome phrase at best) countries - I feel sorry for you because you are different. Most of my feelings towards others when travelling can usually characterised like this. Yet there in my average Colombian city I saw homeless people sleeping outside, I saw favelas and street vendors selling cigarettes and lottery tickets out of old buggies (note; substitute word ‘favela’ for ‘council estate’ … it makes this concept easier). I saw young couples drinking wine together, three generations of women squabbling over what Christmas biscuits to buy in the supermarket, forty-somethings reversing into their driveways after a day at the office, sweet kids in yellow dresses holding hands walking home from school and teenagers in hoodies sitting on park benches. Then there was me, just another average head walking down the street.
My point is that maybe more travel needs to be like this, kind of just mundane and average. Maybe then we can all begin to value the people of the world, not for their white sands and azul seas or great mountains and quaint architecture but for what they really are, average citizens of the world with hopes and fears just like us. And it´s only then, when we approach each other with equality can we begin to breakdown this inherent and ugly notion of ´othering´, a notion used by the news and by politicians to instill an irrational fear of others. The more of ourselves we can recognise in others, the more we can treat them as equals. So let´s rebel! Say no to the five star reviews on trip advisor, don´t be sucked in by the glossy pictures in Lonely Planet and eloquent accounts of explorer adventures in National Geographic. Stand up and instead say ‘yes!’ to the normal, to the mediocre, dime-a-dozen, humdrum cities and towns of the world, and amidst your grey boredom, you might just be one step closer to constructing a consciousness of equality.