Explorer Perspectives: Does Wanderlust Ever Go Away?

by Dheera Venkatraman

It depends on whether you travel to sightsee or explore. I’ve been quite lucky enough to have had an enormous number of travel opportunities at my age. A long time ago I used to be a typical tourist, interested in seeing the great castles and palaces and museums and landscapes of the world. I would flock to the top places on traveller magazines and snap my couple photos and move on like anyone else.

Over time I found myself less interested in all of that. Having travelled so far to some 35+ countries, 200+ cities, I started at some point a couple years ago to feel that I’d seen enough of the world’s superlatives and all the tourist attractions. Museums no longer interested me as much as books and even Wikipedia which contained more information; impressive constructions and monuments were impressive, but I’d already been wowed by enough of them. The tallest this, the grandest that, the smelliest this, the oldest that. Scenic viewpoints gave me photos no different than the thousands and millions already on the web. Castles, palaces, forbidden cities, ruins, they all start to get old. They’re impressive, but you’ve already been impressed by them. I began to feel that there wasn’t much meaning in actually travelling to see things. One would say that it’s “different” to actually see something in person than to read about it. That’s true initially, but it wears away after a while. Sooner or later you’ve seen enough of Michelangelo’s own handiwork that scanned copies online suffice. Sooner or later you’ve seen enough fantastic landscapes that living them through 21-megapixel photos ends up being not all that different.

However, I didn’t lose interest in travelling. Rather, I stopped travelling mainly to see and instead began to travel to discover. That is, to see what others don’t usually see. That doesn’t necessarily mean going out into unexplored territory on Earth — there frankly isn’t much left — but rather to go and try to have a different experience than most. Sometimes that means travelling by uncommon means (say, cycling long distance when most take trains and buses). Sometimes that means travelling at the “wrong time” (travelling [safely] in bad weather to see a place under different conditions). Sometimes that means heading to a major city, looking at a map, crossing off everything mentioned in Lonely Planet and going elsewhere. Sometimes that means getting to otherwise-touristy destinations at the crack of dawn to see a serene sunrise when nobody is there. Sometimes, there really are places to explore that nobody has ever heard of and in some of those places it may actually be safe to wander out and explore. Often, it means interacting more with locals. One should of course also exercise responsible tourism when doing all of this.

Nowadays, I’m also out for photography. I go to places just to explore the art of photographing things. I photograph things that I think people don’t usually photograph. I don’t usually take recommendations on “photogenic places” because those are precisely the places that have been photographed to death by others. I just wander and find things as I go.

This is all of course apart from travelling to see family and friends. That’s entirely another purpose to travelling. And hiking, because it’s good exercise and escape into nature from city life. But my touristic interests are no longer in sightseeing but more in wandering, exploring, photographing. And if possible, understanding people and different ways of life. As long as that remains the case, no, the interest doesn’t stop and I don’t think it ever will.

Dheera is an MIT graduate student in Electrical Engineering and works at the RLE Optical and Quantum Communications Group. His non-academic interests include physics, technology and computer science, hacking up and building electronic gadgets at home, ancient history, culture, linguistics, [vegetarian] food, community service, environmental conservation, philosophy, photography, classical and traditional music, tea, hiking, and travelling (especially by train, bicycle and foot). He currently lives in Beijing.

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