“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” The opening lines of ‘The Go-Between’ by LP Hartley, describes a man in his mid-sixties reminiscing whilst pouring through a box of mementos. As a child who lived her life in books, I’ve always loved the idea of travel – through time and space – going back in historical time to imagine the lives lived by others, and travelling to near and distant places, soaking up the smells, sights and sounds of difference.
One of my most life changing experiences involved travelling overland from Kathmandu to Europe, through India, Afghanistan and Iran, in 1973. This trek, later termed the Hippie Trail, was my introduction to the world beyond Australia. The trip was popular with young Australians for a relatively brief period, after Nepal was opened to the world through a tortuous road down the Himalayan mountainside to the Indian border, and before Iran and Afghanistan were effectively closed to the world by the Islamic revolution in Iran and Russian invasion 0f Afghanistan.
It seems a lifetime ago– a time free of care. I wasn’t even a ‘hippie’ but a young professional just graduated from university, but it seemed easier then than now to take a year off to travel across Asia on the cheap. Was it cheaper? Was it just easier to get work so that we could give up our jobs and know that when we returned we could find another? Did we need less then?
It was not only that language, landscape, culture and food were different; stepping out of everyday life through travel meant slowing down to a different pace and accepting that things didn’t always go according to plan. There were often long periods of uncertainty such as waiting at border crossings, sometimes for days. Many countries, such as India, seemed to move at a different pace.
I’m writing about travel today as I’m heading overseas for a few weeks – partly for work to attend a conference and partly for pleasure to catch up with an old friend. Despite the guilt of adding to atmospheric carbon, I think the thrill of being at an airport and actually taking off in a plane will never leave me. In my mind, there’s always something to be gained by travel and I’ve actively encouraged my kids to spread their wings. Travelling often challenges us to rethink our comfortable assumptions about life or excites us to think about the possibility of new ideas. I’m writing this blog from the plane and have included the miraculous sight of sunrise viewed from above the clouds. After travelling you can’t help but feel some responsibility towards a shared humanity.
I’ve included a link today to a blog from a work colleague who is involved with a charity in India called ‘Help a Child’ that focuses on supporting meritorious children from poor families to finish their education. It’s worth looking at http://helpachildtostudy.wordpress.com/ .
I’m so grateful that turning sixty needn’t mean an end to travel – and that not only is it possible that new adventures await, but I also have the pleasure of reminiscing through my storehouse of memories.