Today I'm bringing you a translated article from the Czech travellers' portal Hedvábná Stezska, which is Czech for “Silk Road”. The article is by David Kučera, a well-known Czech traveller and travel writer. It was him who inspired my thirst for exotic adventures when I was still too young to get out on the road by myself. Through his writing, I started to discover what's going on on this Planet and how people live.
Revisiting David's website after many years, I was intrigued to find that the latest article he had written was titled: “Why I don't travel any more”. I'm sharing my translation of it with you because I think many of us, expats, might find some revelations in it. It’s looooooong, so I’ve added some photos from my past travels to break it up.
(It was an interesting linguistic experiment to do this translation – suddenly you find yourself writing somebody else's words, using vocabulary and phrases that you would never otherwise use. I should do this more often to enrich my own range of expression.)
Why I don't travel anymore, by David Kučera
Often we ponder over the reasons why we travel, what it gives us and what it takes from us, why exploring the world has become our biggest passion. But so far we haven’t asked why some of us are quitting travelling …
“Silk Road” asked me for an article on the topic “why I don’t travel any more”. Before setting out to pen it down, I reminded myself what I wrote a few years ago in my traveller’s profile. Among other things “… I would like to stop travelling …”, because “… I will be more complete when I stop feeling the need for exotic things, which really just fill my voids and that only for a few moments.” Well, has the time come yet?
The gradual evolution from a desire to explore the world to exploring yourself – for many years, that is how I saw my motivation for travelling. To be on the road meant a sense of freedom; to always go forward, visit exciting places, taste exotic delicacies, to uncover the mysteries of foreign customs. Travelling expanded my horizons in the sense of uncovering the human tendency towards one-sided comprehension of things, it offered me the opportunity to confront different points of view and realize the relativity of each one of them.
In comparison, the reality at home seemed a lot more sobering – the everyday routine, dissatisfaction with the role of a cog in a wheel, unsolved problems which seemed to magically disappear while I travelled, then reappeared when I returned home. So travelling became a drug, which was hard to resist and easy to succumb to.
On the road, I feel exceptionally satisfied, so why couldn’t I experience the same feelings at home? Is it even possible for me to combine the euphoria I get from travelling with everyday life? – I once asked myself.
The search for these answers brought me to a chain of other, nearly existential, questions. At the end of it, I concluded that behind all those various reasons for travelling, there is one common thread – escape: escape from the dysfunctional family I came from, from the daily grind, from the never-ending confrontation with ignorance, from my powerlessness over the breakdown of society, from frustration that reality isn’t what I’d like it to be; an escape from reality. Behind the pretext of exploration, I was hiding the need to use new adventures as a way of silencing the annoyances of life – a constant stream of intense sensory experiences guaranteed that I would always “have something to remember, or at least something to look forward to” and that there would be almost no time to concern myself with unpleasant or painful matters.
Overwhelm and Forget
From this point of view, everything unexpectedly started to make sense. Freedom? - yes, when I can choose, then I'd prefer to freely think about pleasant things, and freely forget the unpleasant ones. Always forward? - yes, to not look backwards and to not return to the past, because then I might see what mistakes I have made. Exciting places? - yes, the more, the better, just to make sure the excitement does not end and that I don't have to spend time occupying my mind with thoughts about myself. Exotic delicacies? - yes, with good food it's always easy to forget about things. Foreign customs? - yes, the more knowledge I accumulate, the more I will feel that I am worth something.
To overwhelm ourselves so much that there is no time to think about difficulties and pains, that is, after all, the way that our civilization has been functioning in the past couple of decades, so I didn't find it strange in any way. Until the time when my accumulated and unsolved problems and pains started to catch up with me, when I started doing things that were hurting the people around me and that I later regretted, at times when I was dissatisfied without any tangible reason. My favourite sentence “I work eleven months so that I can live for a month”, referring to a month's holiday spent on the road, showed that I didn't believe I could live life to the full. The decision to make a change forced me to reconsider my priorities in life.
All this happened about four years ago, approximately at the time when I wrote the profile I mentioned at the beginning. Nevertheless … to begin living the change was more difficult than just realizing its necessity.
The first year, I again escaped onto the road, although I was able to observe my feelings with the knowledge that I am escaping. The year after that, our son was born, and we almost immediately took him with us to Asia for work. After a few months, as soon as everything new and exotic became routine, my shadows reappeared. I couldn't even hide from them out there. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to stay at home and work on yourself, than to waste time in a pleasant, but, nevertheless, an illusion, on an adventurous, but, nevertheless, an escape? – I again asked.
The journey of self-discovery that I have been on since, is fascinating and painful at the same time – my mind fights the changes in all sorts of ways, but from a certain point on, the return to old habits is not possible. That is why, today, during every significant activity, I ask myself: Why are you doing this? Is it pushing you somewhere or is it purposeless? From time to time I still feel the insincerity of my answer, but after realizing that humans simply think what they want to think, and not what the reality is, I take this as a fact that I just need to live with.
It is exactly this twisted perception of reality that is the basis of the “clever” concept of escape. My negative feelings resulting from everyday routine, from the role of cog in a wheel, from frustration that the situation is not developing how I would want; these feelings don't have anything to do with reality, but they come from something that I call “third” reaction.
I have observed three basic reactions to reality: either I accept reality, or I try to change it, or I will forever occupy my mind with it without accepting it or changing it. From my personal experience, the first two reactions appear to be constructive, the third is unhelpful. When I look at my life, which is full of “third” reactions, it becomes easy to discover where the big part of my feeling of dissatisfaction comes from. It stems from issues that remain “hanging” with me as a result of the “third” reaction – and in time they build up – instead of passing through me and clearing up space.
Why I don't travel
Travelling is slowly stopping to be an escape and it is becoming one of the many ways to embrace reality. Even today I consider it to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration; but it is questionable whether I need this type of inspiration right now, when I feel more drawn towards other ways of putting together my picture of the world.
Beside my inner state, the external conditions have also changed. Children came, and although it is possible to travel with them in just about any way, we observed during our stay in Asia – and later here in Europe as well – that our small children prefer staying longer in fewer places, rather than moving frequently and spending every night in a different place. Likewise, for us, it became more important to create an inspiring home for our children, so this is where an appropriate part of our energy goes now. And last, but not least, we are finding out that, as parents, we always have more to learn – about ourselves, about our attitude towards others and life itself – so we are actively working on this area as well.
Travelling still remains, and will remain, a part of my life – if it will make sense in the context of the current stage of my life. Right now it would be, for example, going to work abroad, in the future travelling with my children – to guide them through the diversity of the world, if they are inclined in this way. But … tomorrow it could all be different.
I wish you that you get at least as much out of travelling as I got; mostly I wish you that you recognize the role that travel plays in your life better than I managed.
David Kučera is a traveller and an author of many articles about the meaning and effects of travelling on the world. You can learn more about him on his website for independent travellers ecesty.cz