To travel, to see – what’s in your mind may not be what’s out there – but what’s out there is probably even better than you believed.
It begins before the suitcase is even packed, when the notion of a journey is just an inkling of an idea budding in your head. And it becomes concrete the moment you settle on a destination. From that point in time the artist’s hand never stops moving, fluttering across the blank canvas with delicate strokes as the image is painted in your mind: a fantasy image of the destination-to-be, that comes to life with the first step off of the plane.
As humans, we have an innate desire for understanding; our minds sort information into categories the moment it is received. Our mechanical nature ensures we have a continuous understanding of how one thing relates to another – where each sliver of information fits into the ‘grand scheme’ of our knowledge. We cannot be content with an idea that floats ambiguously, free from the ties of categorization and labels. Until that idea is snatched up and pinned down to its appropriate niche, our minds will not rest. This poses a challenge when we travel. For the experience of travel does not give rise to easily defined boundaries – it is not transparent by nature. For me this is one of the irresistible attractions of travel. It forces the mind to rise to the challenge, working extra hard to dig up buried archives of information that may help build an understanding of the foreign setting. Old memories are dusted off from depths, previously forgotten. New links are made, and an unfamiliar side of the self is revealed – one that often remains hidden, submerged in the dull rhythms and patterns of daily routine. Travel forces the mind to stray from the well-worn path of its everyday workings. The myriad of novel sights and sounds puts the mind into sensory overload, whirling into overdrive, unable to work fast enough to make sense of everything. This is the crucial moment that brings magic to traveling – an eclectic mix of uncertainty, awe, and adrenaline. No longer can we switch into autopilot and let our bodies go through the required movements like robots. Travel awakens the soul. Mind and body unite as a dynamic pair, a force with unprecedented strength ready to meet a world of challenges. Rarely do we experience this unity of being in our lives.
Setting off to Budapest for the Easter holiday with my flatmate, I speculated on what awaited me. The painter’s brush began to move as I started to reflect on what I knew about the city – anecdotes from friends’ travels, images from an old postcard I had received from Budapest, and lists of things to see and do from travel websites about the city. A faint image of the city began to take shape in my mind, soon to become real.
One afternoon several days into the trip, we sat twirling on leather stools eating Hungarian bakery goods as we watched street life pass us by through the window. We began talking about the city, referencing previous travels and experiences in an attempt to give the city a label – to fit it into our network of destinations. I realized what was occurring. We were doing what every human mind does best: trying to make sense of what was around us. We were overeager to consolidate the variety of novel experiences and impressions we had collected into one overarching ‘label’ of the city. But thinking about this further, I realized why it was so difficult. How does one label a city? On what basis is it categorized? A city is comprised of a multitude of factors – architecture, location, size, atmosphere, local residents, landmarks, activities, food, nightlife, traffic, sights – so how are all of these components expected to fit under one broad ‘label?’ And even if one does manage to assign a label, the very act of doing so is entirely subjective. No two people will ever have the same experience or impression of a city.
As we sat there struggling to conclude on the overall impression of the city, I realized there was no need to. Our attempts were futile, as narrowing down a city into one idea is virtually impossible. Our minds do enough categorization in everyday life, and it is the very fact that travel pushes the mind to escape this pattern that makes it such a rewarding experience. So next time you catch yourself trying to assign a label, whether it be to a foreign destination or something else, stop yourself. Become aware of it, and dig deeper. Even if you cannot escape attaching a label, examine what you are basing it off of: the people you met, where you met them, if they were locals or fellow tourists; the history of the city, how you can see its impact, and the various eras. Look at what you base your impressions off of and dig further – for this is where the real learning and value are gained, both in travel and in life.
Travel can be enjoyed for any number of reasons, whether it’s simply for the pure pleasure of escaping to somewhere warm, or to visit someone dear to you. But next time you travel, use this as food for thought – you may discover a side of travel you never knew existed.
Budapest – JamieVD
Budapest by night – Bruxelles5