Dispatches from the Road

by Dore Ann Mendelsberg

Contributor Dore Mendelsberg has recently embarked on an open-ended trip around the world. She will be sending dispatches along the way, as internet availability permits.

I am about to embark on an adventure. In a few short days, I am boarding a plane to Mumbai with no return ticket and only a vague sketch of an itinerary.  I have no idea when or where this adventure will end, although before my Australian working holiday visa goes live in November I hope to include much of India, Nepal, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in my experiences.

I’ve traveled before.  This won’t be my first time putting on a backpack, taking myself away from the familiar and living as simply as possible in order to experience a different world.  In Morocco I was taken in by an Artful Dodger-esque clan of faux guides who showed me their Valley of the Roses in exchange for touting their services to other travelers arriving in town. In Cuba, I was seduced (and maybe deluded) by a young man who introduced me into both his family and the Cuban life Castro doesn’t want tourists to see. I can’t anticipate what experiences this new adventure will present. I don’t need to. I’m looking forward to the alienation, the unknown.  I am looking forward to getting on a path without knowing where it will end.

Clearly this is not the way everyone travels. For most, the idea travel is vacation. A comfortable bed.  A nice meal.  A cocktail, customer service and a beautiful view.  Rest and relaxation.  It is not doing without hot or sometimes even running water.  It is not arriving in a foreign land without a reservation, a plan or a return ticket.  It is not constant uncertainty.  But for me the funny thing, maybe even the defining thing, about travel is the aspect of deprivation.  To travel, to voyage into the unknown, is to deprive yourself of the comfort, familiarity, predictability and safety (or at least the illusion of safety) of the known.  It is a constant assault on the senses, the body and mind as you try to assimilate with an alien world.  Culture shock is actually the shock of recognition when you begin to understand that this thing before you which bares no resemblance to something you understand is actually something which, conceptually, you know well.  A house.  A city.  A toilet.  A pop song.  A greeting.  With every recognition I feel my ideas expanding to incorporate a wider perspective.  My view of the things I know changed.  My personal map of the world is redrawn.  Every where I go becomes home and home becomes part of the adventure.

Having been lucky enough to grow up comfortably in a developed nation, I don’t have a tremendous amount of discipline.  I’m not good at willfully depriving myself of anything.  Travel allows me to learn through deprivation.  Because being deprived of it you learn what things, what feelings, what people you truly miss.