How to travel is a question that is very much on everyone’s minds. Most people are curious about how to find the cheapest airline ticket, the best-priced hotel, or how to find all the places that the Lonely Planet has already discovered. Yes, it is important to get to your destination affordably, and you want to stay in a nice room, but other than that, I have found that the best way to travel is to let the place you are in take you to the places you should experience. Notice I said experience, and not see. I have learned from my travels, that there are three types of tourists. There are those who like to see, those who like to do, and those who like to be.
Those who like to see often look like the typical tourist, Lonely Planet guide in hand, camera strapped around their neck, and they are constantly on the go. They usually try to cram in every tourist destination in a short period of days and while they end their trip having seen a lot, they usually end their trip feeling like they need a vacation from their vacation. They also haven’t really felt the place around them. They usually have eaten the same kind of food they would eat back home because that’s where the guidebook recommended they go. And they have ensconced themselves in a hotel room that provides all the same comforts of the home that they just left. I, personally, find the most disappointment in traveling in this style. Oh, yes, I have done it. My first time traveling alone when I was in my 20’s, I booked a eurail pass and went to France, Switzerland, and Italy, all in the space of fourteen days. My feet were bleeding at the end of the trip, and while I had enjoyed seeing the churches, museums, and other tourist destinations, those weren’t the things that stuck in my memory. The things that I remembered most were the first time that I tried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese in Italy, the long conversation that I had with a guy on the train trip up to the Jungfrau in Switzerland, and the few moments when I actually did wander the streets with no destination and actually saw what was there because I wasn’t looking for anything else. At the time, I didn’t know how to travel, but, through experience, I realized what it was I wanted from it. For me, I learned, I like to travel being a combination of a do-er and a be-er.
Yes, there are still certain tourist destinations that I will go see, as they are tourist destinations for a reason. But take where I am now, for instance, in Ubud, Bali. The first thing many tourists do is line up and go through the monkey forests to see the tame monkeys who have been trained to steal their sunglasses and wallets. No, thank you. Now, yes, I will absolutely hike through a Costa Rican rain forest where I can see a monkey in the wild. Yes, the chance will be that I won’t see a monkey at all, but I will have been surrounded by the earth and will at least have seen the trees and, maybe, a butterfly or two.
Yes, I am very much a doer. Give me a waterfall to hike, a mountain to climb, a patch of ocean to snorkel in. I didn’t come to see. I came to do. I want to get to know a place. Walk its streets. Taste its food. Listen to the sound of its birds and geckos. Smell it flowers, it wood smoke, even its sweat. I don’t want to leave until I have touched someones hand or their life with my own. I want to taste its life, know its people. I want to know what makes them come alive, what they are afraid of, what makes them dance.
And then, I want to just be. Being for me used to be hard. But I learned. I learned that if I didn’t let all of those experiences soak into my bones that they would be lost. So, now I will take the time to laze around in a hammock, have a refreshing cold drink, and just sit. Sit and remember the joyful conversations, and all the things that touched my senses, and let those inside, so that they can touch my soul. I am learning that the doing and the being are two dancers that belong together, and that need each other, for my own experience to feel whole. I can also do and be at the same time. This happens when I decide to go on an aimless walk with no destination, sort of a walking meditation, if you will. This is usually when I take my best photographs. Because I am noticing the old woman that everyone else is rushing past in their hurry to get somewhere. I am noticing the big old doors, or the way the light surrounds a statue. You see, how to travel, is something you can only do so much research on. And if you only follow in the steps of someone else, then you’ve missed the point. You’ve missed your own experience.
Today, I had the experience of all the things that I look for when I travel happening in one pure moment, in one space, and it was pure bliss. I went to a Sunday Dance at the Yoga Barn here in Ubud, Bali. The only rule was that there was to be no talking. The music mix was a true mix with a huge variety of music, everything from Leonard Cohen, to reggae, to dubstep, to yoga music, and tribal jungle music. The tribal jungle music had people tuning into their primal animal energy and having play fights, roaring and snarling at each other, which made me wonder what the world would be like if more people acted out their anger and aggression this way, moving it out of their body through movement rather than holding it inside only to come spewing out like a volcano in other ways. People of all ages came. One woman even had her baby tied to her back with a sarong while she held her three-year old’s hands and danced with her in the front. Here, there was no gender. Men came with their toenails painted. Women with their legs unshaven. Men wore sarongs, flowers in their hair. People seemed to be in touch with both the feminine and masculines sides of themselves. Everyone hugged one another. Smiles were freely given. There were moments where you made eye contact with someone, and in that one second, you knew their story. No words were spoken. But you could see their hopes, their fears, their pain, and their humanness. The music told the story, the way they moved told their story. People were there from all countries and yet it wasn’t necessary to speak the same language to hear their words. People were their vulnerable, raw selves. No one had altered their senses with alcohol or drugs. People were revealing their truest selves. Watching someone else’s movements, you would realize that you, too, wanted to move that way, and you would feel your body opening more, letting go, being free. At the end the hundred or so people sat in a circle and named with one word why they came to the dance. It was not surprising that the most used word was “Love.” Here, no one was rejected. There was no judgement. People of all shapes, sizes, ages, and cultures came to dance.
I had a moment when tears came to my eyes because I realized that these moments embodied everything that I look for when I travel. I want to hear others stories. I want them to accept mine. I want to honor and embrace their differences. I want to laugh as I realize how alike we really all are. I want to look at someone and not see man, woman, old person, or child. I want to see your humanness. I want to take you by the hand. And then I want to dance.