Why travelling isn’t about seeing the world

Have you noticed how different people respond to stress? For some, they get jittery – speaking fast and waving their arms, battling through the discomfort of a difficult situation by spinning around and doing more stuff with a spirit of wired wild gusto.

For others, (and when I say others I really mean me), ‘they’ do the opposite. They get quiet, overly-thoughtful, cramped into themselves as if the overwhelming task list or difficult situation were actually shaped into an physical box around their bodies. For these people, stress and overwhelm makes them retreat from the world, until it actually feels smaller. Room sized. Not full of action and opportunity and big African skies and deep turquoise seas at all.

Which got me thinking about why we travel.

I could wax lyrical about this for paragraphs and paragraphs, but what it comes down to is this.

Most of the time I don’t think the reason we travel is to see and explore more of the world. I think we travel to break down the temporary prisons we create in our own heads. We travel to remind ourselves of the way things really are beyond that made-up world of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’.

Travel is a kind of therapy. It forces perspective. It deftly dodges unwanted responsibilities. At it’s best, it can put you into the kind of lost and wild situations in which you can get back to yourself. Your bigger self. Your freer self. The self that sees through it all. 

When I was in Oregon last year, after a particularly difficult few days, I left my apartment, hired a car, and drove. I drove until I hit the beach, and when I did, I stopped the car. I watched the waves and waited. I was listening for something, inside me, which would tell me which way to go – north to Astoria or south towards San Francisco. I waited for about 20 mins, until somewhere, deep in my gut, a ball of energy appeared, expanded, and travelled up my torso. Out of it, a thought came. Not one of those heady brain thoughts. One of the deep instinctual ones. I started the engine, pointed the car in the direction this instinct was telling me to go, and drove.

For what ever reason, it’s that kind of behaviour that we have license to indulge in when we travel.

Which begs the question, if this is all about breaking out of mind traps and acting on deep instinct, why do we wait until we board a plane to give ourselves permission to experiment with this kind of freedom? Can’t we do it right here, right now?

And on this ordinary Tuesday night, sat in my bedroom with my work bag stuffed with papers and to-do lists at my feet, in a world made up of turquoise seas and big African skies, it’s that thought that I’m going to focus on tonight.

Around the World in Street Art: My 7 Super Shots

Last week the Kit from the lovely Seek New Travel blog tagged me to participate in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots.

So here are mine. I’ve chosen a bit of a street-art/graffiti theme and stuck to the suggested titles in only the very loosest of ways.

1. A photo that…takes my breath away

This shot was taken in early 2005, a few months after George Bush had defeated John Kerry in the US Presidential race. It was my first time in the USA and I had hired a monster of a car to drive down Highway 1 from San Francisco to LA. I’d never driven on the right hand side of the road before, or driven an automatic, so large portions of this trip were spent with me trying to navigate roads while not veering into the wrong lane while pumping the Chemical Brothers on full blast. Driving through the university town of San Luis Obispo I came across this stop sign and had to pull over the car to take a photo. As someone who thought Bush was a total imbecile, it was great to come to the USA and see that a whole heap of Americans thought so too.

2. A photo that…makes me laugh or smile


I found these patterns and paintings down several of the laneways in Jerusalem’s Arab quarter. They instantly made me smile – they seemed so fun and colourful. I asked one of the guys selling coffee next door to this one what they meant, and he told me they were there to commemorate that someone from that house had embarked on the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims are required to make once in their lifetime. I loved that this was an example of ‘graffiti’ being used to celebrate a religious tradition.

3. A photo that…makes me dream

What you can’t see in this shot is that I’m staring at the London Olympic Stadium directly in front of me. I had honestly thought that at this point – July 2011 and a year before the Games – that the stadium would still be long off completion. But it wasn’t. It looked sorted. I was impressed and happy. Meanwhile, behind me is one of Stik’s biggest projects; a huge huge stick man painted on the floor of what was a bit of no man’s land in Hackney Wick. I was there with my friend Heather dancing the night away at a local art and music festival – I don’t think it’s on this year because of the Games.

4. A photo that…makes me think

I was working on a UN event called ‘Cartooning for Peace’ in 2006 when I first heard of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, whose work regularly featured the image of Handala, a barefoot child with his back to us, silently watching what’s going on in his homeland. In 1987 al-Ali was gunned down in London; Ismail Sowan was arrested for his murder although it was never clear whether he was acting for the PLO or Mossad – both of whom he admitted working for as a double agent. The image lives on however – it’s painted here on the Palestinian side of the Separation barrier near Bethlehem.

5. A photo that…makes my mouth water

Slightly tenuous, but I was starving when I took this photo. I had just climbed to the top of Lycabettus Hill in Athens – everyone had told me there was a cafe at the top, but no one mentioned how expensive it was. By this point my stomach was really grumbling, but I liked that someone had bothered to draw the words ‘Antifa Hooligans’ on the stone slab – I remembered someone telling me once that this was an anti-fascist football song of some kind. The view was gorgeous, and here I was thinking of anti-fascist football songs. With a rumbling stomach.

6. A photo that…tells a story

This mural is right around the corner from my house and was painted way back in 1985 based on the Hackney Peace Carnival two years earlier. I love it because it has loads of energy – something which the area still has in bucket-loads. Here, Ray Walker’s mural show the community coming together against the bomb and the threat of nuclear war. There are a lot of things Hackney residents come together on here in 2012, but CND isn’t usually one of them.

7. A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

I’m not sure it’s so much this particular photo I’m proud of – it’s not like the composition or even the subject matter are particularly unique now. I do however like it for personal reasons. While at uni in Bristol we saw Banksy stencils and artwork pop up all over the city, so it was great to see how, ten years later, similar images of resistance and satire were finding themselves on the Separation Barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Quite a long way from the rat stencils he printed outside our local Somerfield.

And now it’s your turn…

Over to you:

>;;;;;;;;;;; Mums Do Travel


>;;;;;;;;;;; Taste of Slow

>;;;;;;;;;;; Hectic Travels

>;;;;;;;;;;; Kendall in Paris