Traveling: An exercise in vulnerability and humility

Mother and Son making the transfer from Bantayan Island to mainland Cebu. March 2014.

Mother and Son making the transfer from Bantayan Island to mainland Cebu. March 2014.

I started the Holidays with a quote from Gustave Flaubert where he said “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Flaubert’s words speak the truth, particularly on humility. And the thought of that quote has stuck with me over the past few days.

It is true what Flaubert wrote. Travel does make one humble. And it is not merely because you are surrounded by multitudes and swimming in a sea of strangers, but it is more of the experience of having your life, rather the control of your life placed onto the hands of others.

While it may not be apparent on the journey but traveling does entail vulnerability. Vulnerability to the shifting schedules of trips, flights, changes in the weather and landscape, and even in the unpredictable attitudes of drivers, conductors, cashiers, ticketing persons, travel mates and guides. All these things are more or less beyond your control as a traveler. But you go along with it. You go along because you know that it is a part of the experience. You go along because it is part of the adventure. You go along because it makes your travel experience unique, rich and memorable.

If traveling from one place to another had been so smooth and seamless, you would not notice much of anything, nor remember anything. It is actually the experiences in traveling which makes one’s travel special and worth writing about, reading about, and of course, reminiscing about.

In short, travels are memorable because we allow ourselves to be vulnerable – to knowingly put our lives in the hands of others who we believe will deliver to us, the kind of experience which enriches our lives.

And these experiences, random, funny, sad, depressing, irritating and sometimes even boring, fill our minds with images we will recall whenever the name of the destination, the trip, the plane, the company, the month or even a day is mentioned. They become part of who we are and what we will be.

When Flaubert wrote those lines, he must have had the experience that traveling makes one realize that the world does revolve around you, rather you revolve around the world. And in that revolution to different destinations, you are not alone, nor are you special, privileged, immune or sacred. You are like everyone else: a traveler, a person with a bag, a seat number, a ticket, a name on the manifest, a statistic.

For people like myself who are frequently involved in projects where the desired outcomes are set by myself or those I am working with, the experience of vulnerability in traveling can come either as a blessing or a curse.

In my case, I often think of my lack of control in traveling as a blessing. A welcomed experience where I do not have to worry about everything or anything. A much needed time where I could just sit back as the driver, pilot, ship captain or guides take the responsibility over my life. It is a necessary experience which instills the feeling of humility – that despite my being able to manage much of what I do for the most part of the year, I have some time to just sit, sleep, listen to the music, watch a movie or contemplate on things as the flight, trip, trek makes its way.

Truly, traveling is more than just the desire to tick off places in the bucket list or take some photos of wonderful places or have some time off work. It is also a very necessary exercise in vulnerability and humility.

I actually don’t know if I am making sense here. But I guess this is what happens when you miss your flight by just a few minutes and you have to wait for the next one, scheduled for the next day.

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