Article in brief: Some musings on the beauty of travel and what makes it wonderful.
“Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” This quote by Ibn Battuta is one of my favorites. It so perfectly encapsulates the essence of travel. The word ‘travel’ itself evokes visions of colorful sunsets, dramatic cliffs, and cobbled, winding streets all at once (well, for me anyways).
Travel is not tourism. There’s a clear distinction between the two. Travel is about exploring and exposing yourself to new customs, cultures, and people. It’s about immersing yourself in the foreign and unknown, and learning things about yourself that probably hadn’t struck you earlier. Tourism, on the other hand, is experiencing another country through your comfort zone; your isolated bubble submerged in the midst of the vast unknown.
The benefits of travel are countless but to name a few of the more concrete ones: it teaches you how others function, it develops you into a well-rounded person with broader ideas, and it definitely can make you more efficient and increase your capacity to think outside the box. At times, when your travel experiences are not so great, it makes you appreciate your home. But most importantly – it recharges you.
There is a subjective art to traveling – one that each person develops independently over the years as the experiences accumulate. But there are four important factors involved:
- Getting the history. There’s no point going somewhere and walking around the streets if you don’t know what made it the way it is. Carl Sagan said that to understand the present one must know the past. Museums are a gold mine of valuable information that provide you with a more informed perspective and help you appreciate the place you’re visiting. But beware of turning into one of the guidebook-toting, museum-hopping species of traveler. Visit a couple of the main ones that you feel resonate with you and help you understand the social context of the place most.
- Experiencing the culture. Go to a festival, eat as much of the local cuisine as you can, and make friends with the locals (even if that means learning a bit of their language – but what can be more wonderful than that?). As a result, be open to experiences you wouldn’t normally have access to. Most importantly, walk the streets and stroll aimlessly. Wandering can make you stumble upon some amazing treasures that travel websites or books don’t usually write about.
- Live like the locals. If they take a siesta in the middle of the day, do that. If there’s a sport they enjoy watching, try going to a game. Remove yourself from the world you know as much as you can. BUT, keep in mind one thing: avoid the tourist traps. So many restaurants serving “local, authentic food” out there are catered for tourists and they compromise on the quality of the meal. Don’t be fooled – do some research beforehand on the good restaurants around the area and when you’re walking past one always try and see whether most of the guests are locals or tourists.
- Do what YOU want to do. Keeping in mind the previous three points, still make your schedule flexible enough to do exactly what YOU want to do. If that means staying in bed till 11 in the morning, then do that. If that means going down an intricate network of streets and exploring even though it’ll delay you for that art gallery visit, then do it. Travel at the end of the day is supposed to make you recharge and give you a break from your usual busy schedule and routine. And sometimes the best discoveries happen when you veer off the beaten track and follow your instinct…
So go out there, enjoy all the wonders this world has to offer and make unforgettable memories.
Sidiqa is 25 years old and is half-Emirati and half-Pakistani. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the American University of Sharjah and a Master’s degree in Conflict Prevention, Sustainable Peace, and Security from the University of Durham in the UK. Sidiqa owns and manages the boutique-café concept store “Spontiphoria” in Wasl Square, Jumeirah.