FnEZ traveler Derek Lantz embarked on an epic 20-day trip through the Philippines in March taking him from the sun-soaked, white sand beaches of Palawan to dance-filled nights in the Rasta bars of Boracay and meandering walks through the charming port city of Cebu. Along the way he realized exactly how much travel has altered his perspective, and here he shares the thoughts that brought him to his on-the-road realizations.
What’s the point of travel? Why fly halfway around the world and wander around with iodine-stained cuts that never quite heal and a pack that refuses to sit right? Why spend so much time wandering through other cultures? I think the answer is found in three different thoughts I came across while travelling. One from a Free & Easy group member, one from a local I met while on my FnEZ trip, and one that I discovered all by myself.
“This is just… just stupid!”
If anyone has a way with words, it’s Ayron Hall. Late one night on Alternative Island (in the Philippines) three of us sat ankle deep in the ocean on plastic beach chairs watching a beautiful, private lightshow of phytoplankton. We were sitting in complete quiet. Alternative’s cicadas had (finally) quieted down and the waves were the only noise to be heard. Conversation was at a lull. Into this sublime, reflective, gentle moment, Ayron exclaimed incredulously, “This is just… just stupid!”
He was referring to the beauty of the moment. The simple but powerful way that Nature can creep up and overwhelm you. The perfection of letting yourself get lost until you stop existing and you truly see your surroundings in all their glory. Travel opens you up to these moments. It presents them readily. Travel puts the self behind the surroundings in small, fleeting moments and, as Ayron put it, it’s just stupid that some random person gets the chance to experience that beauty. Sure, Nature can be a bit of a pain when there’s sand literally everywhere and bug bites leave you itching for days. But that all fades in the face of the raw glory hidden in the here and now of nature. Travel unlocks that.
“Try to control your breathing. It gets pretty exciting down there.”
The WW2 Japanese wrecks of Coron: dishevelled, rusty, tight, and cramped; now habitat to countless fish and coral desperate to take back the bay. Diving the Akitusushima and Taiei Maru wrecks was a highlight not just of my tour, but of my life. These were things that I had read about before before coming to Southeast Asia, boats I had watched get sunk in TV shows. They were legends sulking at the bottom of the ocean like some leviathan, forever beyond reach. And yet I’ve now seen the bottom of the ocean. I’ve been inside those wrecks. I’ve squirmed around the tight corners of Akitsushima’s engine bay and watched my friends grab the bars of Taeie Maru’s prison cells.
But it doesn’t have to be scuba. It could be ziplining over karst peaks for the first time. It could be the first time behind the handlebars of a 125cc scooter on a rocky El Nido road or jumping off the 15m high board at Ariel’s Point. It could even be as simple as trying pork sisig’s delicious crunch for the first time. The point is, travel drops experience at your feet and asks, “will you?”
Our dive master in Coron was well aware of the thrill of the new. He gently reminded me (air hog as I am underwater) to try and stay calm in the wrecks—to be present and to concentrate, since running out of air 25 metres under the surface of the ocean is not ideal. When travelling there are so many firsts, so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so many new things, that it becomes necessary to journal emotions as well as activities just to capture how blown away you were at the time. Travel lets you really look at your surroundings and makes you want to squeeze everything they have to offer out. It doesn’t stop with travelling though. When you get home you look at your job, your city, your friends, and you bring that desire for fulfillment with you. Travelling makes you want to become more interesting simply because life’s more fun that way.
“It’s easy to see how that island way out there could be the island of the gods, lit up only at sunset, where the sun goes to sleep every night. It looks so mythical just now.”
The difference between a tourist and a backpacker – and notion fiercely defended by backpackers everywhere – is supposed to be one of mindset. A tourist comes in, stimulates the economy a bit, and has a week or two to get the highlights in. This is not bad. This is a valid way to see the world. But it took me nearly a month of travelling before I started to look at the cultures around me and appreciate that the mindset of the people whose country I was visiting was very different from mine. It was another good 2 weeks of travelling before I started to want to explore those differences. Perhaps one of the most valuable things travel gives to us, and the best way in which we can learn to give back, is that we discover and get invested in the people we are meeting. The locals whose cuisine we are eating and language we are butchering with honest sincerity and the way of life we are glimpsing. There are different mythologies to be learned, different stories to be told, different perspectives to be gleaned.
Travel humanizes the world. It peoples the dots on the map with names and faces, opinons and thoughts, and memories. By travelling around these different countries we begin to understand how different we are in history, and how similar we are in humanity. It’s a small man that belives his lifestyle is the only correct one. There are no rules, only ways. Walking through different cultures brings compassion for other cultures previously only known by name. It brings a brotherly love for fellow humans. It expands our mentality to include the lovely people we meet.
“We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it.”
So why travel? Because It makes you more, while reminding you that you’re less than you thought. It gives you so much and makes you want to give back as well. Bug bites and sand and cuts can’t compare to that. You learn to live with small annoyances when you’re facing down the biggest truths we are able to grasp.
So what does travel mean to you? How has it changed your perspective? Let us know in the comments below. Haven’t been able to scratch the travel bug bite yet? Then book the trip of a lifetime now! What are you waiting for? www.freeandeasytraveler.com