You never come all the way back

  • Opinion
  • August 20, 2014
  • Damon Stapleton
You never come all the way back

"For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." (Robert Louis Stevenson)

When I was young I detested travel. This was probably because I did so much of it. I went to 16 schools because my father was a hotel manager. Ok, I may have been expelled once or twice as well. It felt like every term I was the new boy. Living in hotels probably also didn't stem this feeling of transience. However, on the upside, room service is a wonderful thing and I can recite certain spaghetti westerns word for word.

Growing up this way made me associate travel with discomfort and uncertainty. I hadn't really considered the fact that it had also made me who I am. It might seem obvious but you always think your childhood's normal don't you?

Recently, though, I have started thinking about what travelling has done for me in the last couple of years. I am not sure why. Maybe, it's the fact that New Zealand is a bloody long way from anywhere. It's also the third country I have worked in as a creative in the last ten years. I have learned a few lessons. I have seen what travel can teach creatives. Or perhaps, more accurately, what travel has taught me.

Firstly, it's made me take a good hard look at myself and this strange thing called ego. Nothing grows an ego faster than being comfortable. No matter who you are, you start to believe all sorts of things about yourself and your ability when things are easy. A little bit of hype, success or simple laziness will do it.

This all goes out the window when you travel. There is no safety net. When you are the new boy on that first day your reputation means nothing. You have to prove yourself again. It is about actions and what you do.The blank page is put in front of you and it has to be filled.This is the scariest thing about travel and for me, the biggest learning. The lesson for me is simple. When you travel, your ego diminishes. And that, is a very good thing. If there is one thing that gets between you and an idea, it is your ego.

Travel also gives you the gift of stupid questions. No matter what country you are in there are ways things are done. They are not questioned or challenged because over time you are conditioned to accept stuff. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the locals don't notice the electric fences around practically every home. They are mundane and normal. If you were a tourist, you would notice it straight away. Seeing the ordinary in new ways is probably the greatest gift a creative can receive.

Travel allows you to be new. It allows you to not know the rules. You can ask stupid question and make so-called mistakes. It is often these glitches that let the new light in. You might fall on your face or discover something that had been staring everybody else in theirs. The learning for me is the one thing you always take with you is your perspective. When this meets new things and places, a strange kind of alchemy happens.

Travelling has also taught me the power of uncertainty. When you are comfortable, a large part of that is based on the illusion of certainty. Of being right and thinking you know how it all works. However, when you travel you are seldom right about anything. So, life doesn't become about being right, it becomes about finding interesting.

I guess for me that is the largest lesson of all. Growing up I thought travelling took certainty away from me. Now, I understand it was also giving me the gift of interesting. These last couple of years has let me understand the power of movement and momentum.

I was once in a bar in Brazil and an old guy in an older t-shirt told me this is how Brazilians solve problems. He said you have to move. And then he added whether it was for football or life. He shouted you have to dance and then did a little Samba and disappeared down the street.The next day in Sao Paulo I understood what he meant. We went to a restaurant and there were no tables. So, they served us a feast on the steps and made tables out of chairs for us. Those steps became a table and then a magnificent meal. And finally, a story I will always remember.

Travel teaches you there is no perfect. Only interesting. And when you know this you can never go back.

"You go away for a long time and return a different person - you never come all the way back." (Paul Theroux)

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