Published by The Skinny
Jack Kerouac once wrote: "No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength."
It's true. Travel, in the narrowest sense of the word, as I know it, is a challenge. It's a challenge which spits you out into an alien civilisation, then tries to drown you in the perhaps murky waters of other cultures, and finally, when you resurface, gasping for breath, it gives you only foreign air to survive. Travel is the cultural equivalent of the bends; but from the departure lounge, to the check-in desk, from the goodbye drinks, to the foreign greetings, the challenge offers an incomparable lust for adventure.
One crucial element of travel is, for me, the interaction with other travellers. Two years ago, I met some American backpackers at a hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland. One day, we visited a the small town of Lauterbrunnen, in the Alps, and that day I recognised that despite being complete strangers, we all shared something in common – an invisible string which bound us together, and to every other traveller in the world.
I came to realise that those seeking to escape a community - those who travel - create a community of their own in doing so; a thread connecting people striving to do things differently, one which makes tracks over any national and cultural boundaries, and embraces the most relentless passion for discovery - not just of other places, but of other people, and even ourselves. The experience of interaction between travellers is one that changes your perception of humanity for life, where the artificial walls of nationality crumble in one benevolent, inclusive, global collective.
The community is one which embodies a few different traits and characteristics – one, the most important of which, is based on empathy; the passion and enthusiasm to explore a patchwork of different peoples, and in doing so, adding width your own global consciousness. As the American travel author Mark Twain chronicled in 'The Innocents Abroad': "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
A second characteristic draws a line between itself and the holidaying community, and despises those who spend lots of money on package holidaying, only to check into somewhere with all the comforts of their home – with the designer suitcases, the sunscreen and the ignorance to boot.
Connecting the travelling community is a camaraderie, which is riddled with cooperation and respect of all kinds; exchanging maps, recommending or condemning places, cooking together, talking over bunk beds until the sun rises… however, an interesting aspect of the interaction is the lack of permanence – the checking in and the checking out, the coming and the going – which is where it stops short of friendship. Because the inclination of the community to keep moving on and discovering, this is silently accepted. Kerouac, in the traveller's Bible 'On the Road', summed it up beautifully: "What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
But what is most important to travellers? The belief that no matter how much time spent submerged in the swamp of alien cultures, you'll always feel cleaner when you come out on the other side.