Three summers ago I fell in love. Not with a man, as expected at my age. That hasn’t quite happened yet. Instead, I fell in love with the world. I dreamed of spending my life living in new countries, exploring the continents, learning new languages, embracing new cultures and meeting new people.
Two summers ago, my heart was taken again, by Thailand. Still a part of the world, but a bit more specific. A lot of the young travelers who arrive in Thailand are there for the parties, the cheap prices and the beaches. Throngs of young people migrate to particular areas in each city and on each island to drink buckets of Sang Som, attend Full Moon Parties and see controversial ping-pong shows. While the cheap prices are certainly an added bonus and the parties are indeed some of the wildest I have ever been to, Thailand is so much more than that. I fell in love with the people there: the men and women working hard at a street stall, children zigzagging through the crowded bars trying to sell roses to drunken foreigners. I volunteered and became passionate about something I knew very little of before I went. I got my priorities straight, realized just how lucky I am, and learned about a new way of living that I’ve tried to integrate into my daily life at home.
With a love of travel comes a sacrifice and for each individual making travel a priority, their sacrifice is unique to them. Some may sacrifice romantic relationships, friendships, wealth, or material possessions. Some might sacrifice the idea of a career or a family all together. But with that sacrifice comes something that many travelers yearn for. An indescribable feeling that comes from a mixture of ultimate freedom, terror, empowerment and lack of control. Travel isn’t easy. It can be hard, but it’s both the good and bad that make me love it. I haven’t gone as far or seen as much as many but I have gone and seen more than some. I am both thankful knowing that I have been born into a lifestyle that allows me to continue to see new places and grateful for the things I have already seen.
Each destination I face brings out a new reaction. I am disappointed by some, others I enjoy but will never return, and a special few steal pieces of my heart. It feels as though every time I fall in love with a new city or a new country, a piece of my heart is left behind with it. It takes a special place to do that but it is because of those special places that each time I come home I feel as though I’m being stretched farther than before. There is something beautiful, yet terrifying, about that feeling. Having your heart belong to so many places already, feeling the intense pull whenever you hear its name or see a photo.
Travel isn’t for everyone. I don’t believe that you have to travel in order to be cultured, aware, or a better human being. A traveler is not better than anyone else. A businessman or woman is not better than anyone else. For some, travel can only happen in the summers. For others, travel is their lifestyle. Either way, travel is something more than a vacation. It’s more than five-star resorts and parties on a beach. It’s forcing you, especially as a backpacker, to trust. That’s something people don’t seem to have a lot of these days. It’s becoming as fully integrated into the local culture and way of life as you can get yourself in the time that you have there. It’s exploring parts of a town that few tourists have. It’s befriending the music students in the park, the lady at your favorite smoothie stand, or the homeless child on the street.
As it is now, I feel my heart scattered across the world in Thailand, Canada, England and Ireland. Four places, so far apart from one another. Travel is so many things: invigorating, fun, tiring, terrifying, spontaneous, and enriching. But why do I do it? I travel to push my own limits. I travel to find something that I wasn’t aware that I was looking for. I travel to connect with people, nature, myself, the world in general. I travel because it is what makes me the happiest. I travel because I can’t imagine not.
So, for all of you readers who also travel, why? What does it mean to you?