The art of travel

"We do not remember days, we remember moments." Cesare Pavese

As no two people are the same, offering the same travel advice to everyone is, at the very least, unhelpfully simplistic. Yet there are some things in this world I believe we should all experience, to know it and ourselves as completely as possible. Experiences that turn a trip into a journey, and a holiday into a revelation, are aspects of travel we should all be open to it. 

French Concession, Shanghai

French Concession, Shanghai

As a traveller, almost limitless worlds are open to you in the people and places you see, but understanding them can only come from immersing yourself in their culture and history. A lifetime may not be enough to garner true understanding, but there are ways to get to know a place and it's people more intimately, even in a short period of time. Wander the back roads, strike up conversations with street vendors and shop assistants, learn a little of the their language and smile at strangers. Stay with hosts, ask locals for recommendations, visit museums and galleries and above all, notice the minutiae of daily life happening around you. You may not always succeed in these endeavours, but the important thing is to keep exploring. You will never be sorry for taking an unexpected road, but you may regret what you miss if you don't.

My very favourite thing to do on a journey is to wander, camera in hand. Without a definite destination in mind, I have frequently been lost and forced to ask strangers for help, but the beauty of life is revealed to me in those moments of exploration, connection and observation. Some of the places I treasure the most I found while exploring haphazardly. Some of my most treasured memories were formed while I was lost.

A journey can not only refresh your body, but it can sweep away the debris in your mind and fill it to bursting with inspiration; to change you, alter your perceptions and diverge your path. Finding myself lost in foreign places was certainly out of my comfort zone, but sometimes the best way to find true inspiration is to wander far outside the safety of daily life. 

When Louise talks of Shanghai, she notes the profound disconnect experiencing a country in which you don't speak the same language can be. Even the most basic things are difficult: relying on scrawled notes written by other people, that you yourself can't read; communicating with locals through apps; being unable to read street signs and unable to ask the average passer by for directions. Being thrown into such an adventure is disconcerting, but it is one you will never forget, or regret. As Louise wandered the streets of the French Concession in Shanghai, surrounded by European architecture and the familiar trappings of modern life, everything was alien, and yet strangely familiar. She felt she should be comfortable, and wasn't, but in that world of strange familiarity she felt truly alive; inspired, excited, energised and enthralled by the life around her. It is a special type of freedom, feeling the fear of total bewilderment, and pressing on regardless.

It is so easy to be limited by fear, but if we can push beyond fear's boundaries, there is growth and exploration to be found. Have you ever travelled alone and found yourself in a place equally exhilarating and frightening? Humans are naturally social creatures, so sometimes the best way to challenge the fear we carry in our blood is to explore this planet on our own, even if we don't feel equal to it.

Alain de Botton notes that when we travel accompanied, our reactions and interactions with the world are tempered by the expectations of others. We lose our curiosity because, consciously or unconsciously, we want to fit into our companion's perception of what is normal. Alone, we don't have that limitation. So to travel alone is to connect more authentically with the world around us. Who we want to be, not who we think we are, becomes clear as the routine of daily life is disrupted. We interact more readily with the new worlds we encounter and notice more of what is happening around us. Immersing yourself in the life around you, and finding the authenticity we all crave, is how we find the type of beauty that is hidden in plain sight.

The art of travel is about finding this beauty, but it is also about observing life and truly engaging with the world around you. It is stepping out of your comfort zone and travelling alone down unplanned and unfamiliar roads. It is pure, unadulterated existence, heightened by the fear of the unknown. The art of travel is about the journey, and becoming the person you were truly meant to be.

French Concession, Shanghai  Photography by @looseleaf

French Concession, Shanghai
Photography by @looseleaf

Travelling to Shanghai soon? Check out our Shanghai—Xuhui travel guide, part of our Asia Escape collection, featuring some of our favourite little-known hangouts and hidden gems, in some of the most amazing places on earth.