Korean flag at sunset

In a recent article, My Life as a Professional Water-Treader ~ A Guide to Salvation, I cite pending freedom as light at the end of the tunnel, giving me hope and guiding me through the monotony of everyday. I take a step back to explore my reasoning. What is it about travel that is so alluring to me? What makes it my route to salvation?

A congenital day-dreamer, my head forever in the clouds, it was only a matter of time before fanciful musing of nomadic wandering took hold. By young manhood, I must have dreamt myself round-the-world  a-thousand times over: circumnavigation in sleep. The sky ablaze in the Serengeti, the captivating silhouettes of giraffes strolling gracefully before the setting sun. Trekking through Himalayan moonscapes to the camp at the roof of the world. Submerged in the South Atlantic, peering out from behind rusty cage bars as dancing shafts of light reveal a Great White shark gliding menacingly through the depths before me. The People. The Cultures. The Cuisine…  I’ve known since as long ago as my mind cares to remember that this is a journey on which I must one day embark, but it would take me considerably longer to find the underlying cause of my wanderlust.

June 2011: Swimming in a sea of disillusionment, I took my boldest step to date. I’d never been one for rash decisions: I over-think, scrutinizing the merits and demerits of ANY potential outcome, no matter how remote. At times I become so overwhelmed by the vast array of imaginable consequences that I take no action at all, rendered ineffectual by the inability to say with any degree of certainty which way the tale might twist. The simple act of purchasing a toothbrush is at times enough to send me into a tailspin: “Why can I only buy a 4-pack? I only need one. Should I buy the firm bristles or the soft? What if they’re rubbish? Are four toothbrushes worth $12? Oh, Christ! I give up!” That I had the audacity to give up a steady-salary and safe existence to take a leap of faith into the unknown marked a real turning point in my life, and surprises me even to this day. I moved to South Korea.

June 2012: Approaching the end of my first year in Asia, ample time for reflection had passed. A glance back to the opening lines of my first foray into travel writing, the first uneasy casting of my muddled thoughts into the blogosphere, triggers a wry grin. It commences with a clichéd quote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Twain’s immortal wisdom was wasted on one yet so wet behind the ears. What feeble understanding I had of its true meaning. What little notion of regret my tender years afforded me. “REGRET,” I told myself, was why I’d one day travel the world. However, still without purpose, and no inkling as to which way I might like life’s journey to take me, I opt for safety, eschewing challenge. I put pen to paper on another year’s teaching in the Far East – not through any great desire to remain, but through absence of apparent alternative. Whilst citing “no regrets” as my mantra, I found myself at apathy’s door once more, treading water and wasting what precious little remains of my youth.

August 2012: A solo trip to Japan would mark the next turning point in my nomadic transition. My puddle-hop to the Nippon was far from my maiden voyage, having already travelled extensively in my younger days. Nor was it the first time I’d ditched the well-trodden tourist track and truly sunk my teeth into a place. It was, however, my first one man voyage: an experience that I found challenging yet uplifting, granting more intimate access to culture and people, people I’d never have met were it not for my solitary status. Six months prior, I’d felt less liberated standing atop an unrestored stretch of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng; my travel buddy and I had been the only souls occupying this stretch of the iconic stonework in the bitter cold of northern Chinese winter. Breathtaking views and isolation weren’t enough to distract me for long, frequently glancing back to the bottom of the trail to find the silver Ford Mondeo marring the otherwise unspoiled vista. Our local guide was warming himself inside. We’d hired Vincent to shepherd us to a series of sites over the course of Lunar New Year. In his flawless second-tongue, he’d offer insightful tidbits of local legend as we “explored,” at no time intruding. As we hurtled back toward Beijing, it became apparent that the same could not be said of us; a previously unnoticed photograph of Vincent’s young family hung from the rear-view mirror. No doubt he’d had little choice to accept the RMB 1,000 ($150) we’d thrown at a logistical problem we chose not to trouble ourselves with. China was handed to us in a nice, manageable, underwhelming package.

Japan was markedly different. I went with no real plan. No accommodation booked beyond my first night. Relying solely on public transport: I lost myself in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Golden Gai district; tiptoed through the woods of Kanto to fabled midnight onsen; hauled myself to the summit of sacred Fuji-san, skirted its crater, and continued down the ashy Fujinomiya route to the railway station that never was, somehow managing to make it to Kyoto nonetheless to wander the backstreets, eat ramen with the locals, and let the city unravel around me. Lines drawn in the dust by weathered old gents served as my guidebook, and rumours from mysterious Scandinavians led me to the suspended bamboo restaurants and misty shrines of Kurama. I did all this without a hand to hold, and in doing so filled a void in my life; the missing piece of the puzzle had been ‘Challenge’ all along. Upon returning to my home away from home, I challenge myself to follow the Kaizen path, striving for continual self-improvement. How I now lust for the challenges of the afore-unmentionable perils of travelling; the biting cold of the inner Himalayas, the searing heat of the desert, no electricity, no running water, sporting the same soaked sweats for weeks on end, living from a backpack for even longer, “becoming one” with nature, Delhi-belly, 2-day bus rides, language barriers, culture shock, the lot. Passing up on the opportunity to vacate my comfort zone altogether would surely be my most regrettable non-deed.