The Age of (Self) Discovery

by Keith Savage · 10 comments

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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

AndiNo Gravatar February 15, 2010 at 8:30 PM

This was a really though provoking post! I love these lines, “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.” I couldn’t agree with you more! Funny enough I had an argument about this very topic today with someone. They think that traveling is just a vacation and I tried to explain how much more it is than that. The amount of self-discovery that has taken place on my travels is extraordinary. I feel so blessed and grateful. 🙂

KeithNo Gravatar February 15, 2010 at 9:31 PM

Hi Andi, thanks for stopping by! You know, I think you make traveling “just a vacation,” but why waste the opportunity for a little personal growth? Traveling is really what you make it. I just think it’s important that travelers understand how varied and deep it can be.

floretaNo Gravatar February 13, 2010 at 10:42 AM

brilliant article!! you are so right on. but, i actually don’t think it’s too disingenuous/ offensive to state that opportunities were limited, because they WERE. it’s generalized and maybe oversweeping to say that world travel was beyond the imagination but i’ve often thought about this very thing. the traveling bug is a uniquely modern concept. people have more opportunities, and they choose to have experiences that will lead to yes, self-discovery. it’s interesting that you likened this with the first-time world explorers. the next time i ever feel lost in my travels, unsure of myself, and of the unknowns etc. etc. i should think of the explorers and how THEY must have felt traveling in literally the unknown. thanks for keeping me humble.
.-= floreta´s last blog ..Gateway to my Travels =-.

KeithNo Gravatar February 13, 2010 at 8:59 PM

Thanks for the kind words!

SofiaNo Gravatar February 12, 2010 at 11:48 AM

When I started travelling for longer periods, I realized that what I was really looking for could only be found within.
I think many of us travel to escape from ourselves. We think it all has to do with what’s outside ourselves; Where we live, what we do, our jobs, friends etc.
We think it will all be better as soon as we leave this ‘shithole’, but it’s not the place itself that is the problem, but our minds.

My boyfriend Nathan moved all the way to Europe from New Zealand thinking he would leave all the problems behind and start fresh, only to find that he had brought his problems with him.
You can’t escape from yourself, but I think you only realize this when you’ve tried.

That’s why travelling really makes you aware of it and forces you to look inside yourself, and understand your inner world before you can understand the outer one.

KeithNo Gravatar February 12, 2010 at 1:36 PM

Thanks Sofia. Really insightful commentary here. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head when you say that traveling forces you to look inward. Excellent take and one I wish I’d included in my article.

Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar February 11, 2010 at 1:43 PM

I could write a novel on my discoveries. Hmm.. probably will. SE Asia revealed all the possible selves I could be, yet wasn’t fulfilling. In the aftermath of that trip, it dawned on me that if I clung to familiar routines, those truths would have stayed buried. The oddest thing I learned: this traveling concept was achievable. In fact, I’m pretty good at it. Sounds obvious, but hauling a pack, navigating, loneliness.. these parameters are not always second nature to people.
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Gypsy Wednesday – My Time to Travel =-.

KeithNo Gravatar February 11, 2010 at 9:16 PM

Good point. You have to be mentally and physically built for travel as well. How long can we travel before we need to return to work and refresh the funds?

GrayNo Gravatar February 10, 2010 at 9:31 AM

Interesting thoughts, Keith. I’m not sure any of us *need* to travel to explore who we are, what we want, and what we’re capable of, but we certainly need to step out of whatever rut we’re in, step outside of our comfort zones, and shake things up a bit. Routine can be comforting, but it can also cause the soul to atrophy.
.-= Gray´s last blog ..The Aha! Factor =-.

KeithNo Gravatar February 10, 2010 at 10:03 PM

True, but if you’re a gambler the odds are good that traveling will provide some new insights into yourself.

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