Friday, May 26, 2017

Why travel?

I've often been asked why I travel so much. Every chance I get, I'll take off. Either flying to a new locale, experiencing a different environ, culture and way of life. Or heading to a nearby town by road, re-acquainting myself with familiar haunts. These people who ask me the question usually say I'm just wasting my money. "Why bother going to a far off place where you have to adapt to different languages and foods, and sleep in uncomfortable, strange beds? They ask. "You can just as easily watch them on TV."

Those who share my wanderlust will understand that there is no substitute for travel adventure. Perhaps this love for travel was instilled in me at an early age. Growing up, we didn't have much money and air travel was prohibitively expensive. But my parents would drive us to the seaside or hilltowns for the school holidays. The sheer pleasure of just going away was awesome, and we got to enjoy picnics as well as eat out. Even sleeping on lumpy beds and being bitten by bugs didn't detract from the exhilarating experience.

New places present a new vibe, with different sounds, smells and tastes that just can't be replicated by watching a travel program on the tube. I've always loved the singular smell of English towns, a sort of crisp, piney scent that's at once invigorating and comforting. If you blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of New York, I would recognize the Big Apple at once. Again, it has its own inimitable aroma, of steam rising from the underground, gritty fumes of the buses and of course, stale pee on the sidewalks. The city has cleaned up its act over the years, of course, but the same smell lingers.

One of the pleasures of being in a new city is trying out the local food. Despite living in a city with a wide variety of international cuisines, nothing beats sampling sushi right next to Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Or paella in Barcelona. Eating a hotdog from a street cart in New York. I've decided you really can't top the experience of slurping wonton noodles in a cramped Hongkong eatery. It has to be Hongkong, nowhere else.

I'm a huge tennis fan and try to catch any number of matches that are televised live. But nothing beats the experience of actually watching a match live, complete with the roar of the crowd and the thwack of the ball flying in front of your eyes. I guess travel brings you to those live experiences, whether it's a sports event, concert or dance actually performed live in that particular country.

I know friends who insist on visiting the same places because they enjoy the familiar, from staying at the same hotels to dining in the same restaurants. And I do share the same anticipatory joy of revisiting old haunts. It's great to be greeted like an old friend and re-acquainting myself with a stretch of beach I've always enjoyed walking along, or searching out a favorite restaurant to see if the food is as good as I remembered it.

Of course things never remain the same. An island destination that was a firm favorite of mine for many years has undergone such a drastic transformation that I hardly recognize it anymore. Highrises have gone up where there were once quaint fishing villages. There are now Starbucks and Mcdonalds where simple stalls once stood. And so I lament its commercialization and seek out new islands that are more unspoilt and tranquil.

I guess there will come a time when I become too decrepit to travel on my own or walk for hours discovering a new destination. Never say never, I guess. So I might still go on a cruise one day, where everything is pretty much all organized and provided for. And I don't have to search out famous eateries and quaint little cafes on my own.

For now, I still enjoy finding out all about a new place I'm heading to. Seeking out markets where the locals shop. And cafes where they have their morning coffee. I enjoy hanging out at neighborhood parks, and watching families out with their dogs and old ladies taking their evening constitutional.

There will come a time when I will find travel too taxing and tiring. But until then, I'll keep my passport updated, ready for the next travel adventure!

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