Growing up in a travel-hungry family I have often wondered why the itch, the yearning, the need for travel is so strong, and what it is that drives the hunger. One might think that stability, love, and the comfort of home might be fulfilling enough for the average person. However, wanderlust seemingly perseveres.
Pico Iyer brings up many answers to this question in his article “Why We Travel: It whirls you around, turns you upside down and stands everything you took for granted on its head”. One of the reasons he provides touches on a concept I have been ruminating on, which is that travel can be seen as an enacted metaphor for infancy. Iyer talks about this in regard to finding a child-like self. He writes that “travel, for many of us, is a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing; I, at least, travel in search of an innocent eye that can return me to a more innocent self”. In this quote Iyer delineates the ways in which traveling to a foreign place can insinuate feelings of child-like innocence. He creates this parallel as a way to dissect and explain the temptation of travel, as an avenue through which one can feel pure again. While I see how purity could be magnetic all on its own, I think this parallel can be extended further. Perhaps individuals seek this innocent child-like lens on the world granted to them by travel not because they feel dirty or weathered, but instead because of a fear of mortality and limited time. Seeing a new place with fresh eyes forces you to do the mental work of a baby. One deciphers new language, learns new laws—both social and political, and mimics new body language in order to survive and thrive. I think this process of infantilizing one’s self would bring about an especially enticing feeling for someone who anxiously believes “time is getting away from them”. For people with this tendency, (a tendency that arguably lives within all of us to varying degrees) what could be more liberating than the feeling of being transported to infancy—being transported to a time in which time itself feels endless?
However this projection onto travel as a way to escape time is perhaps, dangerous. In the first chapter of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel entitled “On Anticipation”, the writer guards against falling prey to projection. They write that it is fallible to project too much onto a trip in anticipation, for the trip may not truly be able to fulfill the hopes one projected onto it. In other words, traveling may not be able to cure you of all the things you do not like about yourself, because in the end, the heaviest luggage you bring on that trip is you.
With these theories in mind, I am entering into my spring semester abroad in Berlin, Germany. As a student in Gallatin studying the intersections between Creative Arts, Activism, and Wellness, I hope to expand my knowledge base in these fields academically, and to gain a greater understanding of the way these subjects mingle with one another globally. So far as I can tell, pieces of Berlin serve as unique spaces for creativity, healing and empowerment—all elements that will be crucial to my studies. However, as an individual embarking on the adventure of living in a foreign cityscape, within a new culture, and amongst fresh faces, I am quietly hoping to harness these elements for myself in the months moving forward. I will be holding on to lines from “On Anticipation” by reminding myself that now that I am here in Berlin—deciding how I would like to use my time and what I would like to feel, hear and see—the heaviest luggage for me to unpack will be myself.