6. Travel - The Ultimate Experience?

Over the last few weeks Gail and I have been watching a series on the BBC called 'Race Across The World'. 

The show’s premise is simple.

Five couples have to race between two points on a continent using any form of transport except aircraft. They have a cash amount equivalent to the cost of two airfares to pay for everything on their journey. They can use this money as they choose, transport, accommodation, experiences, but if they run out, their race ends. They cannot carry bank cards or smartphones. Along the way, they can choose from a list of jobs that give the opportunity to top up their reserves. But it is a race. Stopping to work takes time and risks losing.

They split the route into 5 or 6 checkpoints. The first to arrive at the last destination wins £20,000.

Series one saw the competitors race from London to Singapore. Series two Mexico City to Ushuaia in Argentina.

Given how the world has changed this year, I don't think there will be a Series three for a while.

I'll admit I wasn't expecting to get much out of watching the programme other than a bit of entertainment. But to my surprise, I got much more out of it than I'd thought.

The selected participants varied in age and relationship. Mother and son, best friends, married couple, uncle and nephew, father and son, brother and sister. The show focussed on these relationships as much as the travel. It was fascinating to watch how they developed during the race. Inevitably, hardships and shared experiences brought them closer.

Equally fascinating was seeing how taking some of the jobs on offer gave the competitors an opportunity to meet the local people, share their lives for a brief period, and ultimately prove to be the most memorable and rewarding experiences of the entire trip.

Most times the competitors were ‘forced’ to stop for work. In many cases they were ‘forced’ into making choices they didn’t want to make. Yet on every single occasion those ‘forced’ experiences turned out to be far better than they ever imagined., even becoming highlights.

There was one phrase they all came to use frequently. That phrase was 'the kindness of strangers'. 

Generosity, hospitality, empathy. Three human traits that, in the world of current affairs, social media and politics today, we could be forgiven for thinking dead. Yet out there, in the actual world, they are very much alive. 

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
― Mark Twain

Sure, there were some hard luck stories. One couple lost a money belt containing half their funds early in the race. They had to retire. Another got delayed 24 hours because of a medical problem. Budget travel is hard, things can and do go wrong. In these races there could only be one winner. The rest had to lose. 

Except they didn’t.

There was a special show after the last series ended. The producers got all the competitors back together, one year after they’d finished the race. It gave them the opportunity to catch up, find out how things were going, see what plans they had for the future.

One thing became obvious immediately. It was easy to see that their shared experience had changed them. All wanted to travel again, all wanted to experience more, to live more. Bottom line: They were all better people.

I’m normally an opponent of getting your experiences by proxy. Sitting on a sofa watching a screen can be nothing other than a poor substitute for the genuine item.

But watching this show was actually a worthwhile experience for me. It reinforced how valuable real-life experiences are and how travel can provide the ultimate experiences.

But it has to be the right type of travel. Travel that puts you outside your comfort zone, travel that 'forces' you to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise have done, go places you wouldn’t otherwise have gone.

That doesn’t mean you have to live out of a backpack with no idea where you’ll sleep tonight. It might, it doesn’t have to. But if your travel is all planned, vetted and scheduled, then maybe you need to let go a bit.

The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you're not a traveler. You're a f@@king tourist.
― Guillermo del Toro

Experientialists seek experiences because they know how precious they are. Some will be good, some will be bad. But all will enrich, educate and enliven. 

Today I'm close to finishing my third book. It's called 'A Foolish Escape' and recounts the adventures Gail and I had sailing our boat from the UK to Spain. Four years of experiences, four years of memories.

Right now experiences like those are beyond our reach. But the memories will never leave us.

And perhaps that's why travel experiences are the best experiences.

Because once you let them into your life, they'll stay forever.

Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey. - Pat Conroy