The generation of 20-somethings has found the life of travel. With this discovery one could say they have formed a travel generation. This has been achieved, as the world has become increasingly smaller and abundantly more accessible with today’s wide and comprehensive systems of communication and transportation. Travel is an incredible experience. It affords the opportunity to compare the rules and lifestyle of your own culture versus new ones. It's an intense test of one’s strengths, weaknesses and resourcefulness. It is also a teaching segment that can open your eyes to a world changed forever through those eyes.
The travel I'm referring to is not the two-week vacation, staying in a five-star hotel and relaxing poolside attended to by helpers (but please don’t get me wrong, this type of travel is fantastic!). It is not an extended golf trip to Cabo San Lucas, or a trip to Tahiti to lounge in the sun. It is the one where you find the traveler eating a bowl of noodles and sipping a long neck beer in a stall on the side of the street. Central markets are visited in the mornings, plazas might be frequented during the day, and perhaps the local dive bar at night. It's travel that consists of getting lost on public transportation, meeting amiable locals who help you find your way. It's travel that deals with people of other cultures and exposure to these differences. Backpackers often find themselves in cheaper parts of town, close to the action in the daily lives and flair of a location.
The backpacker learns that life can be rich even on a budget. Elegant meals or hotel rooms with private bathrooms, cable television and HOT water do not highlight travel memories. Rather, reflections are based on a meaningful conversation with a local on a crowded seven-hour bus ride. Or, on a walk down the streets of a village where the people have virtually nothing but their fullness of life, showing their brilliant smiles all day. Even passing time in a culture where people greet you, wish you well and say some nicety can provide remembrances for a lifetime. A drive in and old station wagon with five strangers (who later become friends), camping out along the road or vacant beach when the sun sets because that is the only light source available are visions that can stay with you always. There are more, of course, but you get the idea.
Travel is a teacher, revealing numerous lessons in life. These are some of the lessons I've found along the way.
- Knowing when and who to trust by being a finer tuned judge of character.
- Relaxing when the immediate environment tells you to do the contrary (i.e. realizing your backpack has just been stolen and you have close to nothing on your person).
- Accepting different time orientations as you wait 20 minutes before the waiter even approaches your table.
- Stretching, shortening, contorting personal comfort zones, when, for example, upon ending a conversation with a person of the same sex, a kiss is landed on your cheek as the custom denotes.
Experiences such as these ultimately result in questioning your sense of what is correct and known by everyone, testing your personal beliefs and values, and realizing that one way is not necessarily better than another – just different.
The world is getting smaller, sometimes second by second. The need for international contact and cooperation is increasing. Leaders of all countries need to fully understand and interact with one another. Maybe if there had been more backpackers in the past, the world would be different. Something to think about, eh?