Every time I come back from a vacation, I wish I could pack my bags and leave once again. Where I would take off to would almost not matter. My whole being would simply desire a taste of another road untravelled, another city/town unexperienced.
Countless times I have told friends of the longing to just drop work and hit the road for that next bit of adventure that will add to my repository. But alas, this is not always immediately possible. Life loves to quickly sink its teeth into you like a crazy dog and not let go. Yes, life’s a bitch that way. But it loosens its grip every now and then. In the interim, there’s work to return to, obligations and responsibilities to continue fulfilling.
So often you read about people who talk about travelling for 3, 6, 12 months at a stretch. They come back with bagpacks full of dirty clothes, torn underwear, and more importantly, a treasure trove of memories and experience. They describe their time away as ‘awesome’, ‘mindblowing’, ‘life-changing’. Of course, I’m thrilled when people get to travel and sometimes I even suggest places they should go to, things they should see/visit. But I’m only human, and have to admit that these gap travellers do make me jealous sometimes. And that’s only because I wish I could do that too.
Of course you can, someone once told me. Everyone only says they want to do this and do that but choose not to. Yes, he pinned it down to ‘choice’. I agree to some extent. Some of my friends say they are envious that I’m always (in relative terms) jetsetting. And I’m usually puzzled by such comments. A number of them easily earn more than me. How is it that they cannot afford to travel then? I’ve got a car, I need to save up for my condo, etc, they tell me. So there. People have priorities. Some they don’t want to give up (like a car), others they simply cannot. And it is this latter group that I come from as well.
It’s not as if I’ve always been able to afford to travel. My mum’s not rich, and she spent most of my growing up years struggling to raise my sister and I. At the same time, I used to be in awe of my youngest aunt who would slip out the door with her sleek trolley bag for her next flight as a flight attendant. For a long time, I was happy enough receiving postcards from her jaunts.
Then until 2011, I could only dream of ever stepping foot into Europe, given the cost involved. But I managed to save up and cut back on expenses (not like I spend a lot to begin with). It also helps that the euro has weakened dramatically against the Singapore dollar. The arrival of certain airlines also meant I did not have to pay a foot and an arm for a seat on the plane.
But not everyone is able to do this. I once thought of moving to India for work. A friend there said I had lost my mind: how do you think you’re going to travel if you move here? Well, there’s always India, isn’t there? I’ve not been to every part of the country. But his point did not fall on deaf ears: there are people who struggle to make ends meet. Their main concern is putting food on the table for themselves, for their families. To hop into a plane to some faraway destination is something that’s better left to characters in a film.
For some people, getting visas is a nightmare. I had a glimpse of this problem when I tried applying for my visa to Bangladesh in late 2009. Some people wait for months for their visas to be approved, only to be rejected. A Pakistani friend of mine has not been allowed entry into Indonesia for the longest time. They’re probably worried that I’m some militant, he joked (all he wanted to do was to soak up the sun in Bali). The other problem is one of high-level politics: your country and mine are not buddies.
Travelling is no doubt an experience like no other. It teaches you so much about the world, about life, about yourself. It reminds you that no matter how much you think you know, there’s so much more that you will never fully grasp. This includes the reasons other people cannot travel.
Those who choose not to...well, that’s their loss.