Discovering the True Zen of Travel
As I sit in a quaint coffee shop just off the main square in the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala, I watch the world outside pass by. The booksellers promoting their stalls, the painters readily available to paint a portrait, the children performing in the street, the cafeterias offering coffee outside in the sunshine, the locals resting in the shade and of course the backpackers who seek with an inquisitive nature how this part of the world works in its everyday living.
It isn’t only Guatemala that connects backpackers to the Zen of travel. It just so happens that at the time of writing, Guatemala is where I find myself. What you are about to read can be used in reference to any part of the world.
Why do people travel? Why do people put themselves in that awkward situation of not knowing anybody; being alone; having outcomes rocket ten times higher than any income and leaving pretty much all comforts at the door of the plane they board to leave their home country? Think about it, why on earth would people want to do that?
An uncertain, thrilling and enriching experience
It is madness, or is it? How many people do you know who have travelled, whether for a week or for a year, and have returned home richer in understanding, knowledge, maturity, outlook and personality? Those exact people who now may have a completely different understanding in life are those crazy people who put themselves in that awkward situation and as a result transitioned through some level of the Zen of travel.
It is very hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t backpacked why the lifestyle is so uncertain yet so thrilling, so expensive yet so rich and is a journey on a road as clear as mud which leads only to complete clarity. Forgive me for trying.
Travelling is uncertain because you never know who you are going to meet or where you are going to end up. It’s thrilling because not knowing brings more opportunities. It’s expensive because it’s like having to pay for every breath of air you breathe. It’s rich because the contrast of lifestyles, activities and sights (not only physical places) overpower anything you have witnessed before. Because of all of the above, you are led down a road as clear as mud due to forever changing perspectives, principles, priorities, conflicts, debates and arguments and because of that, when you get to the end you have a much deeper understanding of things that happen in the world as a whole. For this reason the Zen of travel is a contrast in itself.
Different levels of the Zen of travel
There are different levels of the Zen of travel however, and which level you transition through depends on what style of traveller you are and for how long you travel. It is easy to see a backpacker as a backpacker and that is that but this is certainly not the case. After many years of travelling the world alone I have discovered several styles of travelling, general motivations behind each one and typical characteristics for people in each group.
As a general overview I have discovered five main groups of travellers.
Who I refer to as group 1 are people who tend to travel with a companion, will travel for a matter of weeks with an itinerary or in a tour group to tourist hot spots and who will have a return ticket back to their home country.
Who I refer to as group 2 are people who travel sometimes alone or sometimes with a companion. They will travel for a matter of months with either no return ticket or a return ticket which is changeable, and will have a rough idea of where they wish to go but will also stick to tourist hotspots.
Who I refer to as group 3 are people who tend to travel alone for anytime up to or over a year and who tend to have no plans, just an idea of continents they wish to visit. They will try to venture off the beaten track more than groups 1 and 2.
Who I refer to as group 4 are people who will always travel alone and are in search of something completely opposite of their life at home and usually different to most other travellers. People in group 4 tend to travel for a matter of years in search of voluntary placements to gain life experience from places not many travellers tend to venture or paid work to help fund their travels, and usually with the intention of staying in one place for a matter of months.
Who I refer to as group 5 are people who extend that of group 4. People in group 5 turn travelling from an activity into a lifestyle, perhaps returning home to visit but always with the intention of returning back to their life out in the world. There is no time limit for a person who is in group 5; it could be for 5 years of 15 years. The longest amount of time I have learned about is a friend who has been travelling for 14 years.
Each group has a different level of susceptibility and opportunity to experience the Zen of travel. People in groups 1 and 2 have low susceptibility as they tend to be mostly surrounded by other backpackers and visit tourist hotspots, bypassing hidden local gems. People in groups 3 and 4 have more susceptibility as they seek more off the beaten track adventures and therefore heighten their opportunities of local encounters which will extend their vision of life. People in group 5 have the highest susceptibility due to the length of travel, their intention behind travel to immerse themselves into local culture and the adventures they seek to learn the ins and outs of a community.
Discovering a totality of understanding
The higher susceptibility you obtain the more your journey is lead through a mud like path towards clarity; because, the more contrast of the world you experience, the more your understanding individualises and the more your understanding individualises the more your totality of understanding becomes a whole.
The true Zen of travel can be experienced anywhere in the world; all you need is the desire for adventure. Which level of Zen you are susceptible to depends on how awkward and crazy you want to make your initial situation. The more you travel the more tolerance you will have to awkward and crazy travelling.
Always remember the reason why you do it; to experience the true Zen of travel.