Travel is an act that all humans throughout history have participated in be it for survival, glory, conquest or knowledge. We have wandered into the unknown constantly in search of something more. The advent of modern travel has become far removed from what our ancestors had previously practised over the past millennia. Technological advancements have taken more people across the globe than ever before. The unknown became known and its vastness became trivial. We are no longer among the great explorers, rather retracing the steps of the explored.
It was these great explorers whose discoveries and experiences have attributed to the benefit of society as a whole. From advancements in medicines and technology to the introduction of new age philosophical thought, learning from our fellow man has altered the way we perceive the world. We are now living in the ‘Age of (the) Discovered’, but with the world now at our fingertips, do we continue to travel to inform our consciousness? Or has the modern traveller regressed towards a culture of self-absorption?
Today the concept of developing a worldly perspective has long gone astray from the minds of contemporary travellers. Travel has become a ‘dumbed down’, basic game of show and tell, obsessed with ‘ticking the boxes’ and offering temporary respite to the office cubicle dweller.
Considered a ‘travel bible’ in its day, the 1975 edition of the “BIT Overland to India and Australia” was pieced together by my father, Geoff Crowther. His travels throughout Asia caused him to drop out from his biochemistry Ph.D., trading academia for wanderlust, hashish and mushrooms. Apart from his well-documented hippie lifestyle, his travels and perspective spurred him towards an acclaimed career as a travel writer for Lonely Planet.
This unorthodox education that informed the following statement: “A year spent in Asia is worth 10 years of formal education in the West.”
Crowther went on to explain the impact of travel on one's perspective and worldview. “Try to understand what makes people you visit tick and you’ll acquire a facility for looking at what you came for more objectively,” he said. Seeing the world through the eyes of others not only adds to our knowledge but also informs our intuitions and sense of reason. “You regain a sense of excitement and adventure, which at times can be very intense and turn into an amazing spiritual recharge,” said Crowther.
The polarisation between past and present has become vividly apparent. Crowther travelled because it exposed him to new ideas and alternative ways of perceiving things. “ [We] discover how easy it is to lose consciousness over so many areas of life living in the concrete jungles of the West,” he wrote. According to Crowther, travel was the catalyst that brought back and inspired this awareness, which harmonised our physical, mental and spiritual needs.
Travel was Crowther’s reason, his calling and what he considered to be the pinnacle of education to better the world both at home and abroad. However this is viewed, we cannot discount what the words imply – that he and many others in that period travelled for the ultimate in perspectives. An all-encompassing worldview that continues to resonate throughout the many facets of life’s journey.
Former editor at Lonely Planet, Chris Taylor said that the mundane nature of metropolitan life had inspired him to embark on a voyage of self-discovery. “There was life in the streets and I felt like the West had become a place in which people simply commuted between their workplaces and their domiciles,” said Taylor. He says that the key difference in modern travel habits is that “there are far more of us doing it”. “The kind of people who go to, say, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia today, would never have set off with a backpack and travellers cheques like when I first went travelling,” said Taylor. The trend for short stays and respite for modern travellers remains true in most international cases. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, just under 6 million Australians travelled aboard in 2010 with the median duration of only 14 days. The Office for National Statistics in the UK revealed similar trends with average nights abroad only 10.5 nights.
In this sense, many travellers are involved in a culture of individualism, staying within their comfort zones without seeking what is beyond their noses or tourist guides. However, there remains a small but resilient community of travellers that still crave the perspective of that which only the world can offer. “The defining difference for me is not the sense of having a mission or a purpose but an openness to the idea that the journey could be endless,” said Taylor.
In modern society, we all dream of getting away from it all – the stress, the commitments and the schedules. However, travel has changed into an industry that acts only as a temporary break from the lives that we are sick of. The act of flying 1000 miles only to sit in a Western hotel room, sipping a British gin and tonic will probably help you to catch up on much-needed sleep, but isn’t likely to change your life by any means. The travellers of old were driven by a constant search for something more. A physical and mental shift – the perspective and the idea that travel is part of a constant learning journey.
Travel has the undeniable potential to impact the world in a marvellous way. Whether its lessons form the basis of personal development or spark a total ideological shift, the benefits of holistic travel can only serve to better society as a whole. Although modern society has commercialised traveller’s perspectives, the notion of learning from the world still exists, for those who want it.