Big World, Small Planet

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“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We will soon begin our descent into Chiang Mai…”

The announcement caught me by surprise. Not because I had got on the wrong plane, but because it gave me a strong sense of déjà vu to June 2013, when I arrived in Chiang Mai for the first time.

Back then, I was at the beginning of my long term travel. I had it all laid out – six weeks of volunteering in Chiang Mai, then Edinburgh Fringe, UK for the following year or so, before heading to Brazil for the World Cup. What followed couldn’t have been further from my plans.

I met Mark and Alana, and the three of us knew by the end of the first week that I wasn’t going to be leaving Chiang Mai in six weeks. Instead, I ended up becoming a partner in Trade Monkey, living in Chiang Mai for eleven months and using it as my base to travel South East Asia.

Since I left home, I’ve been to fifteen countries and numerous cities. I’ve trekked snow capped mountains, visited beautiful temples and cathedrals, sailed through natural wonders, swum at serene beaches, run exotic trails and been on absurdly long bus rides – but the two things that stand out most about travel are the people and food.

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Mark and Alana, founders of Trade Monkey

After the memories of beautifully painted churches, of jagged haphazard hills jutting out of the sea, of rolling fields and white-sand beaches start fading, what stays with you are the strong bonds you make with the people you meet. You remember them like you’ve known them your entire lives. They become a reason to travel more – just so you could meet them again or kindle similar meaningful friendships.

You also crave the foods and drinks you sampled. You crave them like you grew up eating them. You go around the world, not only trialling the local fare but also looking for restaurants of your newfound favourite foods. You can recall the taste as if you just had it yesterday – you describe them with such passion people think you’re obsessed – and you are.

Bun Cha - A North Vietnamese delicacy
Bun Cha – A North Vietnamese delicacy

Don’t get me wrong. Nature is beautiful. And many a city and monument are testament to what we can achieve when we put our heads together, but a mountain is a bunch of rocks and a building is an arrangement of bricks, and what really makes the long bus rides, the uncomfortable beds, countless mosquito bites, upset stomachs and dealing with immigration officials really worth it are the people you meet and the food you eat.

For a long time, I’ve struggled to explain (and understand), how travel can make the world seem so big and small at the same time – until I found myself saying the following words to a friend recently: Travel makes the world seem big and the planet feel small.

Sure, I can take a flight from New York to Sydney and traverse the Earth from one corner to the other, but it’s the varied people and cultures that make this world so fascinating.

So if you’ve been looking at the globe and feeling a little overwhelmed by the size of our planet – open a new tab, book a flight and take off. Don’t try to plan, don’t worry about the detailed budget or which of the three jackets you should pack, just go and you’ll find your feet along the way.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost

This post originally appeared on the Trade Monkey Blog.

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