To travel or not to travel?

My friends are often jealous because they think I travel a lot. I have pinned 314 cities in 40 countries on my travel map, marking the cities that I have visited. But still, some people are travelling more than me. I don’t feel that I travel that much, so I keep travelling. I just can not stop. It’s an addiction.

People comment that my life is comfortable. They think I have a lot of money to travel, that I am not busy or don’t have responsibilities like them. That I don’t live an ‘adult’ life. Judgement is classic, isn’t it?. For me, travelling is about courage. I do not want to be naive to the big wide world around me. I hear people around me complain about their life. They wish to travel more, but no matter how many times they say they want to travel, many never take the first step.

“It is not easy,” they tell me.

I know it is not easy because it’s not easy for me either, but it is not impossible.

I know that there are many people whose situation is worse than mine, but to give you an idea, as an Indonesian passport holder, travelling often sucks. The bureaucracy of the system is enough to deter you from ever travelling! I need to get visas in advance to visit 144 countries in the world, including to visit our neighbour, Australia, while a German passport holder can travel to 159 countries in the world WITHOUT a visa or with a visa on arrival. And still, my Indonesian passport is not the worst. There are still Afghans who need visas to visit 176 countries, which is almost all the countries in the world (See the Passport Index to learn more).

Applying for a visa is also not a pleasant process. You have to fill in a very long form, prove to the embassy that you have enough money and sometimes a job, pay a big visa fee, have an interview, and still, there is no guarantee that your visa will be granted. Often, I have to come back again and again to the visa office because they need more ‘papers’ from me. I have also learnt to behave politely and when to be assertive if I suspect complications.

I also don’t have a lot of money. I save money only for travelling. My travelling style is very low-budget. I’m addicted to seeing new places, communicating with people, sharing houses and cars, getting lost, missing the bus, learning languages. Staying in a hotel or eating at a fancy restaurant are not options for me while I am travelling.

Yes, travelling requires money, but I believe if you make travel a priority in your life (if your values are inclined that way), there is always a way to do it. After I had finished my studies in Berlin, I couldn’t find a job immediately and I didn’t have a lot of money. Instead of using my money to pay the rent, I decided to pack my stuff, move out from my flat and use the money to travel, mostly to more affordable countries like Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania. I stayed with local families, cooked for them, and lived an ordinary daily life, just as I was in Berlin. While looking for a job, I thought if I still couldn’t find a job after I had used all of my money, I would return home to Indonesia. I shared this experience with my friend and then realised that not so many people are brave enough to leave the comfort of their daily life and do what I did. Again, for me it’s all about courage. My willingness to see the eastern part of Europe on a shoestring budget, and venture into the unknown by myself was challenging compared to the comfort of my enjoyable life in Berlin.

Travelling has been the best investment in my life. Travelling teaches me a lot of things, mostly about culture, history and human nature. But also to understand and accept the differences of lifestyle choices, backgrounds, religion, and race. The experiences I have had from travelling stay with me, and no one can take them away from me. Just as Ibn Battuta says in The Travels of Ibn Battuta, “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

However, my thoughts while I am travelling are not always about what is happening in the place where I am present. This morning, I got a message from my sister:

“Mama is sick,” said the message that I read soon after I woke up.

Whenever I get a message like this from my family back home in Indonesia, I always feel miserable. Not only because my mother is sick, but also because I am too far away to be there for her. I cannot travel the 11,000 km distance between where I am now, Göttingen, Germany and Jakarta, Indonesia within one hour if something happened to my family. I will be too late.

I believe that travelling enriches who I am as a person. It does not mean that I am better than other people who decided not to travel. Not at all. Of course, I am facing a lot of difficulties while on the road which have “changed” me, but choosing to stay is also difficult. While I’ve been away and my life has changed, so has my family.

I was not there when my mother was sick. I’m not there to take care of my 80-year-old grandma with my cousins as she loses her sight. I’ve missed a lot of best friend’s wedding and birthday celebrations, as well as my sister’s graduation. I couldn’t attend my relative’s funeral, and my two beautiful nieces, Melody and Grace, are growing up without knowing their uncle. Despite the distance though, we comfort each other and accept each other’s personal life decisions.

One day my mum was texting me intensely. She said that she missed me every day.

“But Ma, we haven’t been living together for so many years now,” I answered. I left home when I was 17-years-old.

“Yes, I know,” she replied. “But before, you were always here in Indonesia. Even though we didn’t live together, I knew where you were. Now you live in Germany. I don’t know what Germany looks like, how the food is, if the people are friendly, and all of these things makes me feel so far from you”.

The world is undoubtedly tiny, and at the same time, huge.

I choose to travel to challenge myself. The courage to leave and not to stay is by far the biggest leap. From there, the addiction sets in and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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