I was once having a conversation with a friend over some delicious 닭갈비 (Dak-Galbi: Korean stir fry with chicken) in the Korean city of Chuncheon. We were discussing my upcoming trip around various parts of Asia that I was to depart on in the next few days. She asked me to explain this yearning, this desire to run around the world with no set plan, no end goal, and only a backpack to offer comfort. It wasn’t that she disagreed with me; it was that she herself was searching for a way to explain these same desires to her friends and family.
Many people say that they want to be free, free from responsibilities and overbearing bosses and mortgage payments and pesky neighbors and the general monotony of everyday life. However the actual thought of leaving all of these elements of their life behind is a very scary proposition. It’s very difficult to leave everything that you have ever known behind. Questions swirl in your mind. What if I get lost? What if someone robs me? What if an alien spaceship comes down claiming to be from Sarah Palin’s home planet and abducts me in order to take me back to their distant planet where everyone is just as smart and well-read as she?
So then why? Why do it? Why travel? Why let go of everything with no plan of when to return and, in deed, no idea of how you will even return home, if you can even still refer to that place as home?
As I continued to contemplate my upcoming journey, this central question flowed through my consciousness. My lease was up on my apartment. I packed up my belongings and sent them to a far off place. All that remained on me were enough clothes to fill a medium sized backpack and my camera bag. I traveled south to see my best friend before I departed the Republic of Korea. I had only a one way plane ticket from Busan, South Korea to Okinawa, Japan. How long could I travel on the money I had saved? It was only March, after all, and I had no intention of returning to my family until Christmas time later on in the year.
So why do we travel? While everyone has their own individual reasons, I believe people share similar reasons for journeying out for months or years at a time with no home, no set plan, and no real goals, other than to see and experience life. We travel to learn. No matter what country you were born in, or raised in, or have even lived in, traveling is the best education you can ever receive. The world is a massive, magnificent place that no extremely well-directed Discovery Channel special can ever measure up to. Drop yourself in a foreign land where the lingua franca is different from your own. Observe the people. Smell the intoxicating aromas indigenous to your new surroundings. Try to navigate through a possibly frustrating mass transportation system that may even use an alphabet incomprehensible to you. Wander around aimlessly among the backstreets of the backpacker areas to find the hostel you are supposed to be crashing at that night, but doesn’t seem to exist outside of an internet map.
While this may sound scary or intimidating, and is quite often frustrating beyond belief, catching the sunset or having dinner in a night market with hundreds of locals chattering around in a foreign language which you haven’t the faintest idea of what they are discussing is one of the most intoxicating feelings you may ever experience. Tomorrow what do you have to do? Stroll around the city? Peek through local markets? Converse with fellow travelers about what adventures they have done and what they plan to do? The simple greatest thing about backpacking is in this: you decide which of these you want to do or you can even choose to do none of the above and sit around all day relaxing in a foreign land.
Over the next few months I will be attempting to guide you through some of my travels retrospectively. My goal is to share my experiences with as many friends, family, and strangers as possible to let you know what I have been up to as well as attempt to convince you to let go of everything, give it all up, and go searching for something you may not be able to find within your current lives: Peace.
I hope that you enjoy this glimpse into my life on the road.