On Travel

“All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.”  -- Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project

A while ago I read an essay by one of my favorite pseudo mainstream neuroscience researchers, Jonah Lehrer called “Why We Travel.” It put into a neurological perspective something I have felt for a long time. I have always had a particular penchant for travelling. As soon as I got my license as a 16 year old, I was always suggesting and trying to set up road trips. I spent a great deal of time in college travelling around the country with my a cappella group. Although travelling clearly has a very basic level of enjoyment attached to it, I have always felt like there’s something more that makes it so attractive.

Lehrer, in “Why We Travel,” makes a convincing argument that travel is a natural human desire. He says that we travel because we need to, because it fulfills a natural desire in our minds. His closing line is powerful, for me – “When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”

The first time I travelled under my own auspices was when I came back from India after attending a cousin’s wedding in the winter of 2004. I spent a 5 hour layover in Paris Charles De Gaulle (one of the worst airports in the world, by the way), and started to appreciate time spent people-watching, strolling around, thinking and feeling unnoticed. One of my favorite parts about spending time in airports is the thought that no one is interested in who I am, what I’m doing or where I’m going. Although I’m not one to shy away from the responsibility that is associated with being a member of a community (communities like my home, school, friends, etc.) it is nice to take a break from it and enjoy a certain level of anonymity.

I have already spent more than 12 hours in transit since I left home this morning, and I still haven’t left the country. I’m sure many people would find this a cumbersome and frustrating experience but I revel in it. I always look forward to travelling, especially by myself, so much so that I dress up for it, ha. I enjoy grabbing a few books, having my laptop and phone with  me, walking around terminals, planning how I’m going to maneuver the security line (especially the moment where it goes from dormant-standing-in-line to a mad dash where you feel like you’re doing everything wrong under the watchful eye of big-TSA-brother).

As the quote above captures very well and as Lehrer explains, I think travelling/migration/emigration all capture a certain level of humanity (heck, its even part of the UN Agreements on Human Rights). Nothing is as humbling and grounding as the understanding that you are one small part of a larger reality.