I love travel. It is early Sunday morning (or at least I think it is) and I am sitting in the Emirates business lounge awaiting my connecting flight to Gaungzhou, China. It is a whistle-stop trip – just four nights away and two of those will be spent at 35 000’. This will be my third routing through Dubai in a 2012 that is barley out its nappies – and a year where scheduled trips include destinations such as the UK, Switzerland, China, Thailand, Hawaii and India. Of course travelling business class does help but, for the record, let me quickly add that not all these trips will be done by turning left on entering the aircraft!
I love travel. But I think I already said that. I don’t like being away from home yet I love travel and therein sits the paradox. Travel makes the world seem real somehow. Places that were mere names now become tangible; strange words become recognizable; the unfamiliar becomes familiar and one’s bag of experience fills exponentially whist ‘on the road’. Years ago I remember being given some wisdom that has shaped much of my travel experience. I’m not sure where it comes from or even who said it first but it is something that I have attempted to live by as my journey has taken me to some amazing global destinations. The wisdom? Tourists take pictures – pilgrims collect stories.
Over the years I have done my best to travel as a pilgrim. I have tried to avoid seeing things from behind a lens and of course the good news is that you won’t be swamped with hundreds of pictures should I get to share with you my latest adventure! Why I love travel so is that it invites stories. Travel offers learning about others and oneself. The stories encountered and engaged serve to challenge plausibility and perspective; they challenge assumptions and entrenched prejudice; they reshape worldview and exercise curiosity that in turn invites discovery. Stories connect and so as you acquire more stories in all their shapes and forms, so one feels more connected – to others , the world we share and oneself. What is not to like about all that?
While sitting at my table I can hear conversations in languages both familiar and unfamiliar. I have just read the Sunday Times of India (so it must be Sunday!) that has pages of classified adverts for brides and grooms under the heading, ‘Matrimonials’. Here would be but one example: Hindu boy 19.8.84 / 5’10” HT. MBA from IIM B’lore wrkg 20Lpa. Seeks b’ful qlfd girl. Cast no bar (followed by contact details). Other headlines in a paper where the print is so small you need more than glasses to read, includes: ‘It’s cool to be called sexy, says NCW chief’ (NCW? The National Commission for Women!) ‘Kudankulam nuke plant ready to roll in six weeks’; ‘36% jump in HIV among city gays in 2 yrs: study’; ‘Women can’t be forced to take hubby’s name after marriage’ and one that cheered me up: ‘Mandela in hospital but out of danger’. And so I get a glimpse of the world through an unfamiliar window and I wonder about the context in which such news is familiar.
Travel invites conversation with strangers that reveal how small the world can be – or how big it really is. It reveals patterns of behaviour that surprise, amuse and bemuse. It offers tastes, smells and experiences that write new scripts to those already written and in so doing, add to the global tapestry and my understanding of it all. It seems the more I get to experience and learn, the more I realize just how little I know and truly understand! It makes me want to travel more, learn more, hear more and observe more. Maybe this is the real pathway of the Learner?
I love travel. I have had to learn to be willing to get lost (once I thought I would never again see the light of day having got lost in the Moscow subway!). I have come to understand that getting lost is part of the journey. I have learnt that sitting still is also part of the journey. What I call my ‘cappuccino diary’ (the rule being that each entry is made whilst sipping on a cappuccino) reflects pauses in busy schedules that capture word pictures of what is going on around me – places, people and activity that swirl around me unaware that they are being observed. It is a place where I try to articulate my thoughts not sure if they will make sense, or whether or not there will be any value to be had from my effort when viewed from further down my journey’s pathway. Nonetheless, my cappuccino dairy is amongst the first items packed for any journey.
I love travel. It has added to who I am and how I both live and do that which I am so privileged to do in and through TomorrowToday. As I speak, teach, consult and attempt to practice leadership – it is travel that has been my best tutor and mentor. The places I have been and experiences I have had seem to have added weight and gravitas to what has been my message when it comes to leadership in the new world of work. This is not something I can claim for myself or take any credit for – but rather it is just something that has happened along the way. And I am grateful for the gift it has and continues to be. Somehow when I sit in places like this busy lounge, thoughts find clearer pathways into words; perspective seems easier to grasp and the world seems both more mysterious and yet at the same time, more knowable.
Yes, I love travel. But I have said that haven’t I?
So I say to you, whoever you are and whatever your ‘on the road’ looks like: travel as a pilgrim. It will make all the difference.