Is travel about venturing far afield, or about having new experiences? Asks Clarissa Hirst
A while ago a friend of mine remarked that I didn't "really travel that much".
At the time the comment surprised me. I'd spent my early and mid-20s living abroad and had notched up over 40 countries. I'd travelled solo, with friends and with strangers. I'd been on motorcycle adventures, train journeys, camel rides and hiking trips. I'd stayed in everything from five star hotels to $5-a-night hostels without doors. I'd successfully learned another language and was the proud owner of a stained, dog-eared passport.
After six years living out of a suitcase I'd arrived in Auckland with the intention of slowing things down and exploring locally. To my friend, travel meant jetting off several times a year to a new country. In my mind I was still a traveller — just one who was having their adventures a little closer to home. However, my friend's comment really got me thinking: What is travel? And do we remain travellers even after we stop travelling in the conventional sense?
For many young Kiwis, the OE is a rite of passage into adulthood. Travel at this stage of life can often be about experiencing as much as possible in a short time. In your early 20s the world's your oyster, and you have the energy and time to do it all (at least until you run out of money). You're still discovering who you are and travel is a way to do just that. By taking you out of your comfort zone and exposing you to new people and situations, it's an invaluable experience.
Not everyone will have had the conventional OE or enjoy fast-paced exploration. For you, travel might be more Eat, Pray, Love style — taking your time to get to know a place and its people, culture and food.
If you're filled with joy at the prospect of returning to places you've been before to explore deeper and stay longer, and enjoy slowing down to appreciate a place instead of just passing through it, you're an immersive traveller. While the backpacker travelling Europe gets a thrill from that next new place, you're happier to get to know one place really well.
It's easy to discount domestic travel because it's not far enough away. Being at the bottom of the world, we have a tendency to want to travel as far away as possible. But is travel about venturing far afield, or is it simply about having new experiences?
At certain stages of life it's not possible to jet off to a new international destination every few months. If you're focused on raising a family, travel likely involves shorter, less frequent stints. Maybe there's the annual camping weekend over New Year, winter ski trips to Queenstown, a road trip with friends up to the Bay of Islands, or a family holiday to Fiji. With more commitment and responsibility comes less time for extended trips abroad, so travel becomes more of a luxury.
At its essence, travel is really about getting away from the day-to-day, seeing the world differently and shifting your perspective. Whether you're focused on other priorities, are unable to travel internationally for health reasons, can't take the time off work, or simply want to explore closer to home, you can have new experiences in your own country or local surroundings. British adventurer Alastair Humphreys would call these "microadventures" — short trips that are simple, local and affordable.
Some of my most joyful memories have been microadventures: Taking a few days off work for a solo hiking trip on Great Barrier Island, a weekend trip to Whakaari (White Island) and a long-weekend road trip from Auckland to East Cape. There have been bach weekends in tiny bays I can't recall the names of, forest walks and river swims in the Coromandel, and weekend hikes in the Kaimais. While I didn't have to travel for 24 hours to get to these places, the experiences I've had exploring them has challenged and changed me in some small way.
Once your kids have left home and work takes a back seat, travel may become a focus once again. You may not have the same energy you had when you did your OE, but you now have plenty of time to visit those places you've always had on your bucket list — and to really enjoy them, too. On the flip side, you might find yourself completely content with life right here in New Zealand and not feel the need to journey abroad. International travel might not be possible for any number of personal or health reasons.
This begs the question: Does travel require physical movement? After all, there'll come a time when we'll be too immobile to travel far. At this stage, our former travels will become part of our present. Journeying into the past and remembering all the incredible things we've experienced can be a form of travel for those no longer able to board a plane.
As a writer, I'm also of the firm belief that travel is a state of mind. There are some storytellers with the exceptional ability to transport you somewhere new using words or images without you needing to leave your living room.
Whatever travel means to you, I challenge you to do it. Even if you don't have the time, are physically unable to journey to a new place, are an armchair traveller, or simply want to slow things down, travel in your own way. Dust off your tramping boots and hike up that hill. Jump in the car with your kids next weekend and take them somewhere new. Pick up that book and journey back in time or across the world. Or maybe just buy that plane ticket. The way we travel might be different, but we're all travellers at heart.