Many travel to experience different cultures and places, which can lead to wonderful experiences. And in order to achieve this most desirable outcome, one simply needs to be a bit organised, and then step forth in the direction they choose. However there’s an art to travel, particularly in developing countries, which involves keeping a balance between open and closed, much like a shopkeeper does to keep his sanity.
Arguably the most fundamental aspect of travel, and the key to its true enjoyment, is to travel with an open heart. Say yes, blend with the local customs and habits, try new food, stay with families, surrender any expectations and have a grateful heart. Being too open, of course, has its consequences.
You read about a country before you go, you learn where not to go, and sometimes whom not to talk to. You’re also travelling in a much cheaper country, so you budget accordingly. You’ll invariably encounter beggars, whom you may want to help, but help them too much and you can’t continue, and it will never end.
Whether you like it or not, your preconceived notions of poverty may affect how you interact with the locals, and conversely they may view you as a way to get money, and you know this. Subsequently, a part of you shuts down, protected.
The Art to Travel
To enjoy your adventures, to appreciate the locals as the often beautiful and interesting people they are, you need to be open, and at times guarded (or closed).
Once, in India, I was too open, and was followed for days for money. I also met a naive girl in Calcutta who was shocked at the poverty and was handing out hefty sums of money to beggars. She didn’t last long.
Being too closed, well there’s not much point in going anywhere. Of course your ideal balance, the art to travel, varies depending on where you go. In India this notion was at the forefront of my mind.
While it pays to be guarded, I like to travel as openly as possible. Travel enough, and you’ll get better at discerning your balance. As writer and adventurer Mark Jenkins says:
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”