The Travel Junkie

March 3, 2011
By , Santa Cruz, CA
On a late Saturday night in the beginning of summer, I climbed the fence of the high school swimming pool. Intent on defying the rules of society, and perhaps to have just a little fun, my friends and I plummeted into the depths of the water without any clothes on. Yes, we were skinny-dipping. As we frolicked around in a carefree manner, all of us suddenly froze. A cop car was rolling down the hill, shining a spotlight at the direct location where we were swimming. As we sprinted away from the scene of the crime, an overwhelming sense of fear flooded through me. As blood rushed to the surface of my skin, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes. I saw the cop car bringing me to juvenile hall for trespassing, the college acceptance letters vanishing into thin air, and I saw everything I had worked so hard to achieve falling through the cracks. And yet, this incredible feeling of loss actually inspired me to partake in even riskier adventures. It seems odd that the fear would actually create a pleasing rush. While some of the people on this adventure vowed to never do anything like that again, it had the opposite effect on me. Dangerous activities will always remain in my mind and heart, like a gambler risks everything, so do I. These activities, coupled with my desire to travel and explore the world have drawn me to stories of adventure travel and I plan on emulating others who have gone before me.
I love the feeling of plunging off the edge and escaping the endless cycle of school, sports and clubs. The philosopher Shmuel Vaknin acknowledges that people, like me can understand and enjoy “the danger inevitably and invariably involved” in certain situations. And even become addicted to them, “when confronted with a boring, routine existence” (Vaknin) I need a simple rush of endorphins to feel alive and escape my tedious existence. We not only put ourselves in risky situations because of our personalities, but also because of our brains. Just like a recreational drug affects the brain’s endorphins, so do high-risk situations. People (like me) can actually become dependent on adventure. The only other times I have felt such a rush has been when I travel. Why would someone not want to see new parts of the world, skip work for a couple of years, meet extraordinary people, challenge him or herself beyond the ordinary, display an adventure as a trophy, and learn from a new culture? In Miles from Nowhere, by Barbra Savage, a husband and a wife set out to bicycle across the world in an adventure filled with adrenaline, challenges, fun, and education. They live a challenging life admired by millions because of their uniqueness.
It is clear throughout the book Miles from Nowhere that adventure cycling is an incredible hardship with clear rewards. Barbara and Larry Savage had to deal with “endless miles of bumpy or unsurfaced roads, no one speaking English, the lack of food, not enough water, and [they] had to live without toilets and running water”(165). This situation might sound outlandish to the average American, and yet oddly appealing to many of us. It is hard to imagine why someone would struggle through adventure travel, when it is possible to just see the world in a traditional manner. However, there are some key advantages to seeing the world outside of a tour group. If Barbara and Larry had only taken bus trips through the city, they would have missed out on the opportunity to stand “dwarfed by timber and majestic peaks, and feel a glorious sensation that poured into [their] souls that made the misery and frustration of the last week worthwhile”(182). Also, if they were trapped inside cruise ships or luxury hotels, they would miss the chance to “feel like [they were] accomplishing something [and they would have missed the opportunity to] prove to [themselves that they were] tougher than [they] thought”(166).
Initially, Barbara and Larry embarked on this dream adventure to gain a sense of accomplishment. They both wanted to turn this journey into a trophy that they could reflect upon and brag about in later years. For some such trophies become more important than the journey itself. In Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, it is obvious that the people were just looking to “buy the summit of Everest for their trophy case”(136). No one wants to die without having accomplished something; no one wants to live a wasted life. People desire to break the trends of modern day society in order to separate themselves from the masses. In order to feel worthy of life, one needs to have some aspect of originality. Since most modern day Americans’ dreams consist of financial success, traveling is one of the only ways to become an uncommon person. If one never “struggles and sweats and meets people and experiences the world as it really is”(11), life will not have a purpose, being average is not acceptable. People do not only want boring childhood memories trapped inside a classroom learning about the War of 1812, people want firsthand experiences and accomplishments! Almost everyone Barbra and Larry encountered on their journey completely understood the reasoning behind adventure traveling; however, they just did not have the opportunity to embark on their own mission. Lucky for me, I have already had the privilege to visit a new country.
When I went to Japan for two weeks in the spring of this past year, it is not the ancient temples and grand architecture that I remember fondly, but it is the little girl who still writes me weekly. Meeting new people is a rewarding experience, and one that makes travel worth all the hardships it causes. Even more than the desire to experience adventure and see the world, “it was the people who had kept [Barbara and Larry] going, giving [them] a family away from home”(317). When my mom Debbie traveled around the world, the culture and the sights were mesmerizing, but living with the general public is what truly changed her. Seeing people struggle to feed themselves forced her to realize that life at home really was not all that bad. Helping those in need and just meeting people who were brought up in a completely different environment can be an extremely rewarding experience. Not to mention the fact that it would be quite pleasurable to skip work for a couple of months, and maybe even years.
In order to escape an anxiety-ridden life, many use travel as a way to escape. An escape that may even be necessary because of personal problems. In both Into Thin Air and Into The Wild both main characters, Jon and Chris, had major Daddy issues. Younger children look to their parents as role models, and young men usually rely heavily on their fathers for guidance. When Chris and Jons’ fathers pushed them to succeed, and virtually change themselves in order to become successful, the rebellion began. With survival on the mind, they did not have to think about “the inescapable prison of [their) genes – all of [this was] temporarily forgotten, crowded from [their] thoughts by an overpowering purpose and the seriousness of the task at hand” (143 Into The Wild). Adventurous activities became an avenue to flee and become independent from parental pressures. Because Chris and Jon were pushed to succeed academically from a very young age, they resented their parents. In order to define oneself it is often necessary to sever the unhealthy ties and escape an unfulfilling life. By leaving their parents, and thereby society, both Jon and Chris were able to become their own persons, not the ones their parents desired. Often times adventure travel is used to fill a void. The people escaping need more, something is missing from life and adventures fill that empty spot. By constantly traveling and participating in dangerous activities both men were able to momentarily forget their problems and live a hand-to-mouth. For my entire life I have felt trapped between my own ambitions and my parents’ desires. The weight of the world, or more like the weight of my family, lies on my shoulders. I need the chance to unwind and traveling is the perfect escape. Although it only provides temporary relief, it is relief nonetheless. If I were climbing Mount Everest, or hitch hiking through Germany, the Spanish quizzes and the book reports would never run through my mind. I would be free.
A journey, an adventure, an expedition are all escapes from modern life. The seemingly endless and boring tasks of day-to-day life buries “our need to explore, to find out about the rest of the world, and to discover and develop ingenuity, endurance, and self-reliance”(18). Tired of the norm, many want a new way of life. The drowning noises emitting from the television screen, the unpaid bills laying in masses over the kitchen counter, and the massive overload of paperwork from the recent doctor’s visit all clog peoples lives with unimportant nuances, “the pollution and noise [is] suffocating”(40). This restless sensation forces many to flee their bonds. At the young age of 21, my mother Debbie, decided that a dull life at an insurance company was too much for her to handle and fled, joining the Air Force. Intent on escaping her oppressive life in Michigan, my mom was given free travel and cultural excursions unlike any other. Instead of visiting the highly populated areas of Europe, she worked to earn her house and its upkeep in small homey towns. The experience was unlike any other. From playing softball in Spain, to helping the impoverished in Turkey, she experienced a true vacation; one that changed her for the better, one that proved to her that anyone could accomplish his or her dreams, and one that showed her how truly lucky she was to not live in such extreme poverty. Like me, my mother is an adrenaline junkie who now works as a police officer. Her whole life has revolved around chasing her dreams, and believe it or not, she is not finished yet. After she retires, my ambitious mother plans to join the Peace Corps in Africa and complete another item off of her bucket list.
Crossing adventures off of a checklist is not the only reason people travel, in fact, many have much nobler reasons. People end up going all across the world not only to enrich their lives, but also to simply see the world. Around this earth there are countless wonders and amazing sights, which drives the tourism industry. People want to see the world; they want to marvel at its beauty and splendor. Looking at pictures of a waterfall is not the same as hearing the gushing water splatter across the rocks at the base, or watching the water glide across the surface of a mountain. Witnessing these impressive sights for oneself is the ultimate experience. People travel from all over the world to see specific sights. Even Barbara and Larry made a point to “set their eyes on Mount Everest”(216) on their grueling journey because some views must be seen with one’s own eyes. Breathtaking displays are meant to behold individually and often times even change the viewer.
Each experience and adventure is personal, and these experiences end up modifying the people who participate in them for life. Two people can go on the same trip to India and participate in the exact same activities yet have very different experiences. Often times people travel the world to discover “who we are”(6). Traveling is one avenue to force these experiences, and therefore change, upon oneself. When people set out to take a journey, their assumptions and plans end up changing, and the people themselves significantly change. Travel logs are filled to the brim with changing opinions and revelations. Only about a month into Barbara’s trip and her prejudices were seriously challenged. In Idaho, she “not only changed [her] opinion of ranchers and cowboys but also of healthy food”(57). And after the worldly travels of Sebastian Junger, a young national geographic writer, he learned to “trust other people, or you may not make it home”(The Rules of the Road). During most peoples’ travels something shifts in their perception of the world, and the thing someone might be certain about might completely change in a surprising way. People who have gone on similar adventures know that traveling is a “knife-edge that makes a life spent at home feel not fully lived”(Rules of the Road). All the wonders and knowledge gained from adventure is greater than anything one could have learned in a textbook. Most people who participate in adventures and journeys reach a point of epiphany, where a tangible change takes over. By the end of the story, Barbara’s view on life evolved from a modern western perspective to a more accepting one. Instead of entering new cultures with comparisons to what she already knew, she was willing to become a blank slate, and simply learn and appreciate. And, even after she returned to the United States, Barbara was so moved by the mode of transportation, cycling itself, that she transformed from a working wife into an activist. Something shifted in her that both matured and humbled her completely.
Adventure gives me a sense of hope. A promise that I will one day be able to escape the daily dread which plagues my life, and at the same time challenge myself and learn. A traditional workweek, the nine to five job, the endless amount of pointless paper work, all frightens me much more than death. It is a horror unlike any other. I will not become a slave to the working world, to a societal life and to useless obligations. One day I will separate myself from my current predicament, I will escape.

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bbratbo said...
Mar. 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm
Really liked this one too. Keep up the good work!!
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