What did you learn today?
I met Dinesh at our hostel in St Petersburg, in mid-conversation about his ultimate ambition: to hit 100 countries before he reached 25.
I thought that was an interesting goal, because I’ve never had one when it came to travelling. I’ve got a list of things I want to tick off, but never a target number of countries I need to visit by a certain age. So I sat and listened to him, ready to tear my hair out and feel like an utter failure. I am, after all, past 25 and I’ve only done 32 countries.
“Africa was amazing- I hitched a ride with some guys in Tanzania and discovered halfway that they were drug smugglers! I mean, come on, that’s incredible. Then there was that time in Poland when I was chased for three blocks by this gang of skinheads, all carrying knives. It was insane!” he said, totally unprompted.
His girlfriend- or at least, the girl he was travelling with- smiled and nodded proudly.
“Russia is actually my 86th country”- he paused to sip his coffee- “and I’m turning 25 next month, so there’s no way I’m going to reach 100. Maybe I should hike that up to 120 countries before 30? You know? Now that’s an idea.”
That was a cue for the girlfriend to nod again.
I never know what to say at times like this. More than anything else, I find it amusing that some people think that the number of countries they’ve been to would impress others, when it has no bearing whatsoever.
Is it a big deal, that someone has travelled to 75, 89 or even 100 countries? It’s a great source of pride, yes, but does that make him a better traveller or person than someone who has only clocked up 25 countries? That doesn’t sound right.
I’m not convinced that it’s possible to learn anything from your travels if your quest is only to collect as many passport stamps as you can. I can’t imagine anything more tiring than thinking, “Just a few more countries till I hit 50, just a few more till I’m done, I can do this, I can do this.” It becomes a chore, a constant need to be ‘better’ than the next person, but without a real end.
Travel should open your eyes and make you appreciate yourself as well as your fellow man. Surely the lessons that you’ve learnt are more important than the number of countries you’ve been to. Is it possible for one to learn anything if all one is doing is merely zipping through borders and crossing out countries on a map?
I’m only saying all this because I’m a traveller myself. I want to be inspired by people who know the true value of travel. It is to learn, to gather experiences. It is not to show off, which is why I find show-offs so tiresome. People who make statements like, “Yeah, this is nice, but the carbonara I had in Kathmandu/Rome/Prague was so much better.” You get the idea.
I am also a writer, which means I love reading about other people’s experiences. I believe in the power of words. But if all someone does is to brag and talk about how many countries he or she has visited, I switch off.
Either that, or I could go on listening quietly and write about you one day.
© 2013 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.