My article this week came about as yet another conversation with a close friend of mine. This friend is my roommate. He lives about half the year with me in Asia and about half the year in another country. And since both of us have traveled quite a bit we were discussing travel in general one morning.
He is of the school of thought that he’s perfectly happy to travel somewhere just to travel to that particular country and look around. He makes plans to be able to go and explore and just find out about the country. He researches his destination and figures out what he wants to go see.
Now, during my life, although I’ve been in a great many countries, I have never gone to a country simply as a tourist to look around. Until that is, my trip to Finland. Up until that time I had always, as is the name of the article, “Traveled with a purpose”.
Now by that, I mean that I have always gone to a country because I am either working there, or I have a mission there of some sort. I use the word ‘mission’ in the military sense, not the ecclesiastical sense. And by mission, I mean simply having something that I need to do in that country. For example, when I went to Estonia recently, I was forming a company. The reason was irrelevant, but the fact was that I actually had something I had to do there. I wasn’t just checking into a hotel and then coming up with a list of tourist sites to go see. I went to Singapore recently and it wasn’t just to be in Singapore, it was because I had some business to take care of. I take frequent trips to Hong Kong and Bangkok. And every time I go I always try to make sure that I have a reason for going there. The reason cannot be just to relax and enjoy myself. I seem to have a really hard time with that. Now, I may not need to have a requirement to work the entire time that I am there, or to have a mission that lasts for my entire trip, but I always need to have a reason to go there rather than just to be on the ground and look around.
I don’t know exactly why I’m like that. But I have noticed that it certainly seems to help provide me some structure. And I function better that way.
When I went to Helsinki, that was the first time I’ve ever gone somewhere just to go there. I didn’t have any reason to be there, I just wanted to look around and see the city and say that I have been in Finland. I felt quite aimless. I simply didn’t know what to do every day. I am no longer someone who needs to buy things so shopping is kind of out as an activity. And I’m not much of a sight-seer or picture taker. But there were a lot of nice coffee shops. But … then again … how much time can one spend sitting in coffee shops. Especially as I seem to be incapable of having coffee without wolfing down egregious amounts of pastries.
I guess what I found out is that I do better if I have some structure in my life. Now how do I actually create that structure? This is something that I’m learning about. I may have to come up with some good reasons as to why I travel someplace. It just seems so pointless to me to go somewhere and not have a reason for doing so. And my own gratification doesn’t seem like much of a reason to me. Well, I’m sure that is a topic that merits some introspection. In fact, this article is making me do exactly that.
However, I’ve never been a tourist. And frankly, I loathe tourists. I’m afraid tourists, for me, always conjure up some person or gaggle of persons, badly dressed, oblivious to the local culture and mores, taking photos, chattering away in their own language, taking pictures of all the “sights” and generally just being freaking obnoxious. I did not ascribe a nationality to those persons, because I have seen equally reprehensible behavior from all sides. The ugly American or the ugly German tourist is unfortunately, well, there is a reason that there they are a cliché. And as for the Asians all you have to do is watch a Chinese tour group in Thailand. Some of the rudest people I’ve ever been around.
That being said, what is my idea of enjoying myself? Well, I like to be around people, even if I’m not the most sociable person in the world. And I love nothing more than having coffee in a place with nice ambience, reading my book, and watching people. But I’m a very quiet, calm sort of person. I don’t have to always be doing something. I don’t have a bucket list of things that I want to see or do. I’ve been to numerous countries, and I’ve seen and I’ve done a lot of things. Not everything. Not even close. But, there is not too much that floats my boat anymore. So, as I approach a time in my life where I will have the ability to travel more but without much to do, I am finding that I have a bit of a personal challenge about how I can travel with a purpose.
My upcoming trip to Argentina is going to force me to figure out how to deal with this. Of course, I do have a purpose to be there. I am establishing residency. However, other than, as far as I am aware, a brief appearance at a courthouse to get my residence visa, there isn’t much more for me to do after that except simply spend time in the country. I don’t have a job there (although I do online consulting), I don’t have any other reason for being there. Well, it should be interesting. I do have one “purpose”. I need to learn Spanish. However, I can’t work on a language more than about 3 hours a day without getting some burned out. So, what to do with the other 13 hours one is usually awake?
There’s no reason that I shouldn’t be able to travel to another country just to be able to look around and enjoy myself and experience it. But, having a “purpose” in order to do that isn’t a bad thing. I just need to figure out what that purpose can be. And, the one thing that I am thinking about, based on a suggestion from my roommate, is teaching. I enjoy it and have a lot of knowledge to impart. If I can figure out a way to do that, it seems an ideal purpose for me.