In a word: experience.
In a 1000 words, it is a bit more complex.
When new friends ask me, “Why have you traveled so much and lived in so many countries? What are you looking for?” My one word reply, “experience,” usually halts the thought line in their head. They can’t look at this as a trip, which returns to its origin to stay. They must reroute their thought path to consider true travel, cultural immersion and life as a story. No longer metaphorical, but actual. A life’s journey becomes a life of journey.
As with many stories, it all begins with a circle, the wheel. For me it was the bicycle wheel spinning down the country roads of Oregon. A country kid has freedom to roam, as long as he’s back by dark. Ever growing loops grew larger, particularly during summer. Until the limit I could ride before dark reached its maximum.
Day adventure bicycle loops became longer over night circles. Long overnight circles curled and bent into rambles by foot into the mountains and canyons of Cascade peaks. Backpack always tight on shoulders, a map to find the way. My eyes were always fresh for signs of unwritten road rules and chances for the unexpected. The circles kept getting broader. Long holiday trips down the west coast, a few days cycling up the Columbia Gorge, a few weeks trekking further back and up into mountain crags.
Then local journeys branched out to expanded loops. The circle stretched to the American desert southwest and unknown cacti forests, pushed down to Mexico, Belize and further south. In Guatemala City, a chance encounter led to immersion in the culture of the Central American street performer. I was no longer traveling and seeing. I was now participating actively in my adopted societies. These growing loops were not only of geography, but also of personal growth.
The idea of movement to journey and experience became the guideline. The plan slowly started to become much, much looser. The destination was no longer even a consideration. All focus got poured into the points along the way and how to get experience with the unexpected. This concept translated from just physical travel to the inner journey of growth and adaptation of experience. In time, it became even less about physical movement around the globe, and more about the focus on details of where I reside. As the landscape, people and languages change, so does the nomad.
These changes and experiences built into instinct. Life had become dynamic for me. The next journey, new challenge, higher hurdle kept me pushing forward. When difficulties were at their utmost tension that is when the instinct of the road kicked in hard core, and I was right there in that moment and knew exactly what to do. My impulses began to drive the moment before stress, when I just knew exactly what was up and how it would all pan out in the end.
The circle of travel expanded over the Pacific Ocean, and I found myself in another hemisphere, Asia. The circle back home grew ever broader, until the loop did not reconnect, and I was out there on the lines of the web. The loop had failed to return home because home had become the planet, not just one town. Instinctual knowledge builds and accumulates out in the world. It changes you down to the core. The chemical makeup of each cell is altered, and you are never the same again.
True travel’s circle does not encompass a tourist checkpoint list. Instead, the traveler gets to know a place, a culture, a people, or more specifically, a neighborhood. In the neighborhoods where I stay there are chance encounters to trade stories in a mix of languages and styles. Through exposure to so many diverse cultures and participation in the local society, random chances have lead to the next chapter when I thought the book was finished. All these factors contributed to one of the most useful circles I have completed in my travel experience, the circle of communication that goes beyond the spoken or written word.
When you must communicate, and there is no shared vocabulary, you learn how to exchange complex ideas through instinctual language. A desire and deep yearning to learn and share is the motivating force that can drive an inherent human ability to communicate thru body, hand, tone and more importantly, eye contact and intuition. It is there. It exists. We only have to experience the right conditions, like any learned skill. It is not until the mind gets scrubbed clean by an overload of drifting, changing, challenging experience that we can drop our conditioned blocks and filters. When those preconditioned filters get removed, the moment of communication can be grasped with someone who doesn’t share much vocabulary-based language with you. On some levels, the circles of travel show you how instinctual communication can be tapped to tie into a dialogue with new friends in a way to just get an image across and know what the other knows, not one under the other but equal, not understanding, equal standing.
Courage and confidence develop with instinct. In time, perception directs you and the journey works it self out. When you leave the map and go into the unknown, the new and unexpected become the plan, and the path ahead writes itself. That is when the journey’s circle becomes a tale unraveling within each passing moment.
Excitement in my chest builds in anticipation of the next circle to come. Every peak moment has a platoon of trials and difficulties as its minions. They are ever present, lurking in the curves of the way ahead. All the problems that can stumble you up somehow get worked out through diligence or instinctual chance. The story has become so interested in its own writing that it can’t end yet, and it doesn’t.
This is the experience of an adventurous life journey born from instinct. The circle bumps and bends in ways unpleasant, but the need is always there to tell a good and intriguing tale, even if it is only told to myself as memories for rainy days.