“To travel is to discover everyone else is wrong about other countries”

Aldous Huxley

To me, one of the big problems in our world is strongly held views that can’t be altered. If one of our politicians (having considered the facts, taken advice, and listened to opinion) were to change their mind, they would be quickly labeled spineless, weak and indecisive. We don’t learn anything by talking, we only learn by listening, and when we do, we should consider what we’ve heard and adjust our opinions accordingly. To hear a well-argued, opposing view from someone with more knowledge on a subject than you, and still believe you’re right – that surely is madness. 

But yet madness runs fast and free on our little molten-cored rock at the moment.

I was pondering the quote at the top this week.

It’s certainly not a new one – Aldous Huxley died in 1963 – but it does seem to have done the rounds on social media lately. Normally floating on some high-resolution landscape photo, quotes like these are staples of ‘motivational travellers’ on Instagram.

But what is it trying to say?

Clearly it’s a quote not to be taken quite literally. To suggest everyone could be wrong about other countries is clearly a provocative statement, but not a factual one. And wrong about what? About the people? The food? The politics?

But it does resonate with me on some level.

I have already come out in protest against people who are nostalgic about ‘the real‘ in travel. The real Paris, the real Thailand, the real Iceland. Newsflash guys, it’s all fucking real. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t make it unreal. Things change.

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And Mr Huxley would seem to agree with that point.

You see, the thing is about travel, and life in general, is that it changes. Change is life – the sooner you realise and embrace it, the happier you’ll be.

So let’s re-work that quote a bit.

How about:

“To travel is to discover no two people will ever have the same experience of one place”.

Yes it’s a bit more corporate bullshitty, but I feel it gets closer to making this quote make sense for me.

It’s that uniqueness that truly makes travel exciting.

One person, one day, one place – one hundred million (and possible more) variables.

Take the person.

A mixed up mess of emotions, experiences, memories. No two are the same. We will all experience a place with the baggage we carry around with us. The busker playing a tune in People’s Square in Split might take me back to a time and place that instantly makes me smile. The location will then be forever etched in my memory as having an association with that song. For you it might not. (If you’re interested, that busker was playing Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol).

Or the day.

It might rain, or be blisteringly hot. It might be a national holiday or the day of a riot. My memories of our first trip to Barcelona were of ‘The National Day of Catalonia’. The city filled with yellow and red, street performers, chants – an intensity that a normal day just wouldn’t have had. I was hungover as hell, but I couldn’t fail to enjoy the spectacle, even if the noise felt like an axe to the skull.

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Or the place.

The planet has changed rapidly is the last few hundred years, but the difference from decade to decade in some places can now be extreme. Visit Mostar in the 1990s and you’d see a very different place to the one in front of you now. The Zimbabwe I visited as a kid was tense, but safe. Large parts of the last two decades have made it a place most people would steer clear of. Then there are the real explosions of growth such as Dubai, which has transformed from a desert to a modern city in just 50 years.

You could go on even further, and suggest that even one person will never have the same experience of the same place. Hell, I only noticed this week that there are murals on the side of the bridge at the railway station in my hometown. I have used this station four times a week for over a year!

So maybe Aldous was trying to be a tad provocative, but the more I read the quote, the more I believe it is the essence of travel.

The reason I travel is to learn, to find stories to tell, but more than anything, to see things with my own eyes.

See all the photos of Angkor Wat you want, but it’s not until you go that you realise its size, the detail of the bas-reliefs, the smell of incense blowing through corridors of ancient or the humidity that the gets held inside.

That’s the point.

That’s why we travel.

So maybe everyone else isn’t wrong.

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But you certainly won’t know until you find out for yourself.