The Internet is a hothouse of information – you can find the particulars on just about anything. But, just like reading about aviation doesn't make you a pilot, reading about a country doesn’t make you a cultural expert. John Keats said it best: “Nothing ever becomes real ‘til it is experienced.” Word, John. Here are five things the internet can’t show you about travel.
That Sweet Smell of Travel
It’s a straightforward truth - you can’t smell the internet. While, people generally agree that you have to see it to believe it, the theory of smelling it to remember it isn’t as widely repeated. Your olfactory bulb, the part of your brain that processes odors both stank and sweet, is BFFs with the brain’s limbic system, which handles long-term memory as well as emotion. You never know what may move you – the saltwater smell coupled with the sunrise you stayed up partying all night to see, or maybe the stench of garbage alongside a well-kept family home somewhere in the slums.
All of your senses work together to help you process information and help you come to an understanding of a situation or place. These senses are not stimulated through an internet search. Look, point and click just doesn't compare with see, inhale and feel.
Scary is a State of Mind
Forget the news, the world isn’t scary. In fact, it’s amazing. And so are most of the people in it. Yes there are riots and unrest around the world, but would you tell someone to stay away from America because of the Occupy Wall Street protests?
Countries around the world practice different religions, eat things you never considered food and enforce different laws. But that doesn’t make them unwelcoming. Once you realize most people are just trying to live, take care of their families and pay their rent, things become a lot less intimidating.
Getting in the Thick of It
Making your way through another country challenges your sense of what’s normal and customary. And it’s a great thing. So you always thought dogs were man’s best friend? Wrong. In the Philippines dogs are birthday dinner, and they’re delicious.
Reading that rats are a symbol of luck in Hindu culture isn’t quite the same as learning there is a rat living in your driver’s car. Or that said rat is slowly gnawing at the electrical wires. But what really drives this predicament home is when you learn your driver has been, wait for it… feeding it little Indian bananas.
Yes you can meet people online, there are many sites dedicated to just that, but these relationships generally stay in cyberspace. Getting to know a local where you are a visitor not only gives you an insider’s look into the country, but also opens up doors to other experiences. Dinner at a restaurant *gasp* not listed in your guidebook, or - even better - a home cooked meal in someone’s mother’s kitchen. If you’re lucky it might be someone’s doggone birthday.
Elbow Room and Why It Matters
With more than 7 billion people in the world, it’s amazing more of them aren’t all up in your grill. In Western countries in particular, people tend to give you your space – leaving a graceful few feet between their body and yours whether standing in line or on a full train.
Our “intimate space”, as identified by anthropologist Edward Hall, extends about 18 inches in every direction. In countries with elevated populations, full of crowded buses, trains, and hostels, this zone just doesn’t exist. But giving up your personal space will put things in perspective; it will make you less annoyed and more willing to cram yourself into a bus that smells like humans and chickens, because its carrying an overwhelming amount of both. You will learn that the journey is far more important.
What You’re Made Of
Travel helps separate needs from wants, and more importantly, will teach you that you NEED very little to be happy. Recognizing that all around the world people are happily living with even less than you shoved in your backpack, is life-changing.
What do you do when your bus is 7 hours late, you lost your debit card or phone, you can’t find your hostel or can’t communicate with your taxi driver? Traveling permits you an insight into yourself that would otherwise go unnoticed. Not only are you capable of handling sticky situations, knowing you have these mad skills adds a crucial bit of perspective and bolsters your self-esteem. Just don’t be a dick about it.
While we hope the OTP corner of the internet has inspired you to travel, we urge you to stop living vicariously through others and get out there yourself. Smell the funk, throw away your fears (and personal space), get to know someone outside of your social network, and learn about the world (and yourself) by actually seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, and feeling it.