Some of the best experiences can be found on a busy carriage
Some of the best experiences can be found on a busy carriage

What does it mean to explore in the modern world?

Something to declare: how travelling can be rewarded by a sense of adventure

Juliet Kinsman
Friday 08 July 2016 13:05

Exploring for the sake of exploring is a distinctly human thing to do. For some of us it needn’t mean a voyage to remote lands, it might just mean going on our jollies. Travel companies urge us to “Explore! Discover! Be inspired!” But is that fly-and-flop package-holiday really exploring? Not according to the dictionary definition, which is “to traverse or range over for the purpose of discovery”.

The reality is, there's little left to discover in the world, which perhaps explains why there’s been a shift towards self-discovery and how trips make us feel. And while we think we’re more adventurous than ever, full-time connectivity often means everything is so optimised there’s a danger that our travels become predictable as we plan every moment and crowd-source advice.

People often ask me for practical packing tips, but far more important than a cashmere blanket or eye mask is to set off in the right state of mind and be open to altering your outlook. In Sri Lanka recently, we stayed at Tri, a new luxury hotel on Lake Koggala. It wasn’t the sleek architecture or the excellent dining that inspired the strongest and most memorable moment of joy: it was when the owner Rob Drummond took us to a nearby tea field where we met the mother of Douglas, his Sinhalese right-hand man. My daughter and I climbed up through the spiky branches of the tea shrubs to meet Malani, who along with another lady was hunched over the little green leaves with great bundles on their backs. We couldn’t speak to each other in the same language but our mutual smiles were universal.

I also fondly remember a train journey in India on which no dialogue was exchanged, yet the encounter was unforgettable. Our train tickets had been lost and we ended up crammed into a second-class compartment. It was sticky and uncomfortable. It wasn't long, however, before we were being offered vegetable pakoras from the tiffin tin of a friendly grandmother as we huddled together. The memory of their delicious taste endures better than any of the smooth, air-conditioned train rides we took during the rest of that trip. As Freya Stark put it: "One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one’s own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism."

So I urge would-be explorers to prioritise one thing: keep eyes, ears, and hearts wide open. Imagine you are creating your own story: be the author of a journey that deserves to be recounted. Don’t worry when things don’t quite go to plan – just smile and look around. Take pleasure in not knowing what’s round the corner. Travel’s most rewarding experiences go hand-in-hand with a burning curiosity. Surrender and go with the flow – it’s only that way that you’ll achieve a sense of exploration.

Juliet Kinsman is founding editor of Mr & Mrs Smith, a guide to boutique hotels

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