Lately I’ve been fixated on this idea that prior to the Industrial Revolution, career options and opportunities were severely limited, and that in the midst of striving to make a meager living dreams were simply smaller. World travel was beyond the imagination.
Yes, it is a ridiculous and offensive thought, and I have summarily eradicated it from my belief system; it’s a bit like thinking humans 2,000 years ago weren’t as smart as humans today when the difference is really the accumulation of knowledge. But there’s an unspoken part of this false belief that rings true: world travel was hideously difficult.
And yet people were compelled to explore, to pull up anchor and sail into the monotonous expanse of sea and sky. Such courage is difficult to fathom. Do we have enough food and water? What about hurricanes? Is this sextant working? Where’s Vespucci? The Age of Discovery is studded with, well, seafaring studs like Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Prince Henry Sinclair, Ferdinand Magellan, and the list goes on and on. Ok, ok, Christopher Columbus too, though I think he gets more credit than is due. It’s true that many of these explorers were driven by the promises of riches or fame or the discovery of some mythic kingdom like Shangri-la or Prester John’s displaced homestead, but I believe humanity’s need to find and discover with child-like glee fueled much of these quests.
Modern day society owes so much to the courageousness and determination of these explorers. Nearly every nook and cranny of our world is mapped and known. It’s incredible! Except, wait…what’s left to find? How does our need to explore express itself now? Are we really left with undersea cartography and frickin’ Mars?
No. In fact, we all have our own worlds to explore: our selves.
We are uniquely situated at the nexus of cheap and easy world travel, burgeoning disillusionment with the routine, and instantaneous means of self-expression. Multitudes of people don’t know what they want to be or what they want to do, but they know all too well what they don’t want. All it takes is some currency in courage to fund the expedition. I’ve often thought about how little I know about myself in a variety of situations: stranded in the desert with two Slovaks? Not sure. Sneaking into Cambodia with a lemur in my pack? Beyond me. Gun to my head in a Russian bar in Bonn? No idea.
Extreme examples, but the point remains that there’s quite a bit of me not knowing ME. I’m not going to learn these things riding a desk until Medicare kicks in. I want to learn them now. I want to explore. I want to travel. Perhaps digital nomads, flashpackers, and RTWers are the modern day equivalent of those storied mariners and frontiersmen. As they ply the heaving ocean swells and hack through the copious jungle brush of their own twisted ids, new desires, new dreams, and new goals are discovered. As you spread out across the map, take this opportunity to find new worlds inside yourself.
Tell me, what have you learned about yourself during your travels? Could you have learned the same things in your previous routine?
Photo credit to ~Prescott via Flickr under Creative Commons