Brendan van Son

Why I Travel: A Life Travel Story by Brendan van Son

Why I Travel: A Life Travel Story by Brendan van Son

As I sat down to wright this article I began reminiscing about the person that I was before each of my travel experiences, and more importantly, the person that I became once it was all said and done.  Each time I left to travel I didn’t do so trying to have some sort of growth experience, it just seemed to happen.  I left to travel because of the things that I wanted to see and the people that I wanted to meet.  I left trying to understand the way the world works, and the reasons why.  But each time I return from traveling I realize that it’s not the world that I have begun to understand; but rather it’s myself.

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall

I traveled across the western part of the United States with my family when I was about seven or eight years young and naive to the world.  And I do remember some of the sights we saw.  I remember looking at the tall figure-like pillars of Bryce Canyon or down into the gaping mouth of the Grand Canyon.  I remember the rolling waves of sand dunes in Oregon and the winding coast highway.  I remember the flashing lights of busy Las Vegas and the interlaced and extensive freeways of Los Angeles.  But through all that I saw, the one thing I remember most clearly was crossing into Tijuana from San Diego.  On the pedestrian bridge which files visitors into Mexico there was an older looking lady sitting on the sidewalk.  She had a small child flung vicariously over her shoulder, hanging on to his or her legs with one arm while the other arm reached out with an open handed obviously hoping for some sort of donation.  I grew up in a small town in Canada, and this was the moment my eyes were opened to a world that I had never heard of; a world that still needed cures, construction, and, most of all, compassion.

I traveled to Japan when I was thirteen years old as a part of a school exchange between my home town and a small mountain town

Me at Tikal ruins... age 20

called Kamikawa on Hokkaido Island.  I left Canada and headed to a part of the world I knew nothing about, only that someone once told me that they ate seaweed, which was maybe the strangest concept I’d ever heard of coming for the interior prairies of Canada.  But in hindsight I’m sure they thought it was weird that some of my countrymen ate “Prairie Oysters.”  I remember standing next to the golden temple in Kyoto surrounded by green vegetation, calm water, and high hedges that protected the park from the urban sounds of the city.  I remember feeling for the first time in my life a true peace, an honest calm of which I still can’t really explain or understand.  I remember leaving Japan aware that our world has different cultures, religions, ideas, and methods, and there is a difference between being different and being right or wrong.  It was at that point in my life that I realized that although I am a proud Canadian, I am also a citizen of the world.

I skimmed my way through high school really unsure of its use, and less sure about its value.  I slid my way into University still

Me on top of Bolivia's Death Road... age 25 (now)

without a purpose or an aim.  So I decided, rather than spending my time as I did in high school, avoiding work, I would try to find refuge on the unmarked paths of our world; or I would at least distract myself long enough from the idea that I had to make a choice on a proper path.  I chose Central America, mostly because of Costa Rica (I heard it had great surf, a rainforest, and cheap beer).  I left alone which confused a lot of people, and even made me a little bit nervous.  I read Lonely Planet guidebooks to give me some sort of direction as I wandered around the not so far removed from civil war countries of Central America.  And then one day I decided to read the history section of my Lonely Planet.  I soon discovered that I was traveling the paths of countries rich in history and stories which rivalled any book from the fiction section.  As I looked around the ruined streets of Tegucigalpa, Honduras I was confused as how a place so rich in history, and natural wealth could suffer from so much poverty, crime, and violence.  I was then led on a path to understand why.

Traveling alone also brought me out of my proverbial shell.  Anyone who knows me might argue the idea that I was ever a shy person, but the truth was that I was.  The first few weeks

Me on top of the Fort in Cartagena

I spent in Central America I spent swinging in hammocks and hanging out in hostel common areas hoping that someone would invite me out to participate in whatever there was going on.  By the time I had left I was knocking on strangers doors and organizing activities with people I had never met.  I remember the shock on some of my friends’ faces, noticing the difference after I returned.  I told three of four friends that I would meet them at a pub one night.  I got a text message after arriving at the pub saying that they were going to be an hour late.  Pre-travel Brendan probably would have sat alone trying to save myself from the embarrassment of looking as if I was there all by myself or maybe hiding myself behind the texting screen of my cell phone.  However, when my friends finally arrived an hour and a half late they were welcomed by me as well as a group of about ten other people.  When one of my friends asked me how I knew them, I said I met them here while waiting, a concept which dumbfounded the lot of them.

Traveling to Central America changed my life.  I didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, travel in search of any personal

Me at the Sphinx... age 22 (acting 12)

breakthrough.  I traveled to see the cloud forests of Costa Rica, the Mayan pyramids of Guatemala and Honduras, and the calm blue waters of Belize.  I didn’t travel in the hopes of finding myself.  But somewhere in between the Costa Rican surf and the howling monkeys of Guatemala I did find myself, as cliché as that might sound.

After University I’ve again found myself without a marked path leading me where to go.  So again, I lifted myself free of roots and let the wind blow me where it will, like a dry orange leaf in the cold fall air.  I have found myself traveling South America for the past year.  And again, with the goal of seeing the sites, meeting the people, and learning about the culture I have found a number of breakthroughs of sorts.  I had always written, but I have found a new enjoyment in it, something I never expected to find.  And reading through the stories of the places I have been and the adventures I have had will always allow me to feel the way I do while enclosed in the moment.  Because of that, I don’t think I will ever lose the feeling.

I look back at the person I was just one year ago and who I am today and shake my head in amazement.  It’s almost as though growth on travel is the personal equivalent to steroids.  And although so far my life path still hasn’t been drawn out in front of me, I know that that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we keep growing, keep trying to understand the question “why”, and keep learning.  If you do that then everything else will fall in line.

Blowing kisses in Mexico City (age 23)

Unlike spending a thousand dollars in an electronics shop, when you travel you don’t get anything of monetary value in return.  What you get from travel isn’t quantifiable, or worth anything in dollars, or pesos, or pounds.  What you get from travel is priceless but not free of value.  To me travel means finding a path despite the lack of a map or directions or a guide.  To me travel means finding ways to be compassionate, understanding, and patient.  To me travel means growth.  And unlike Television sets, DVD players, and IPads, those are things that no one can take away from us.