Why I Travel

Travel is the Quickest Way to Enlightenment

Written by Brady Ehler

Brady’s passion and search for enlightenment has thankfully come out in this wonderful piece that’s so full of greatness, it’ll be coming at you in two parts. You can read more of Mr. Ehler’s thoughts at his website but first, here’s why he travels. Enjoy! – Duke Stewart


Travel To Enlightenment

Twelve years ago, on any given night, you might have found me playing tavla with my best friend David, in our sparsely furnished apartment in Izmit. All we had in the living room were a table, one chair, and the tavla board. Usually there were a couple dozen empty beer bottles clustered around here or there. We spent many an evening drinking Efes Pilsen and gambling for beer, cigarettes, or a few lira, philosophising all the while. It may have been on one such night that David declared that travel is the quickest way to enlightenment.

I assumed he read that in a book somewhere, but he said with such cool confidence, that I thought there must be something to it. Travel is the quickest way to Enlightenment…I let the thought roll around in my mind a while. I wasn’t immediately sure what it meant, but I liked the sound of it. I found the idea thrilling that something should make enlightenment quick. Maybe it isn’t surprising that I found it appealing—I was living in Turkey, which must have meant I was getting enlightened just by gambling, drinking beer, and talking about the world, sitting on the floor of an unfurnished apartment.

Two years earlier, I had moved from a small town called Grand Forks, in butt-fuck nowhere, British Columbia, to a marginally bigger locale called Kamloops. At the time of the move, I was chronically depressed and contemplated suicide daily. I was eighteen years old and a high school drop-out with very little work experience. I lived with my parents. I had no money and no friends. After hitting the streets and handing out a hundred or so resumes, along with my brother, I finally landed a job flipping burgers at the local A&W on the graveyard shift.

I made the food in the back, and my brother worked the drive through window. It was a shitty job—having to live like a vampire and only get minimum wage for it. I think we got hired because they couldn’t find anyone else to do it. Even so, I somehow managed to get fired within a few weeks. A few weeks later, I got a job next door working the graveyard shift at the local McDonalds. This time, I would be working by myself, cleaning the kitchen and staff washroom. It was not the happiest time in my life, but I had escaped Grand Forks and was now, at least, no longer suicidal.

Also, for the first time, I had a little cash in my pocket. A great deal of which I would spend at a cafe downtown called The Grind, where I would dedicate the bulk of my free time—especially Wednesday and Thursday, which were my days off. One cold Thursday morning, after a sleepless night of awkward cuddling, which contrary to my hopes, did not culminate in me losing my virginity, I decided to go hence and grab a cup of coffee before taking a bus home. I usually didn’t go there so early, but I thought maybe I would get lucky, and there would be someone with whom I could share a game of chess.

It was chilly and the sun shone brightly from the eastern sky, washing the city in a golden light. Despite my cause for self-pity, I felt uncharacteristically peaceful. The cold air was invigorating, and the normally drab-looking city, basking in that beautiful sunshine looked like something out of a dream. I thought that maybe, for some reason my life might be taking a turn for the better.

Once at the Grind, I ordered my usual large Americano, and climbed the stairs to the lounge. To my surprise, there was someone there, way in the back, sitting alone with the chessboard all laid out in front of him…as if he were waiting for me. That golden sun was pouring through the windows, and I had a salient feeling that my life had significance, and that this was an important event.

Sitting behind the chessboard was a short fellow who was a couple years older than me. He had bright blue eyes that shone with intelligence. He introduced himself to as “Dave”. After a couple of games we took a break to chat. He had just come back from teaching English in Japan and was making a brief visit home before taking a job in Turkey. David had done very well in high school and as a result, was awarded with a scholarship for the local college. However, within a couple of semesters, he was on academic probation, and decided to go Japan to teach English.

In those days, he explained, all you needed to get a job in Japan was a high school diploma and a pulse. He regaled me with his exploits and sexual misadventures, and I felt suddenly very depressed that I didn’t have a high school diploma, let alone the bachelor’s degree, which was now required to get a job in Japan. But, leaving the cafe, for the first time, I toyed with the possibility of going to college.

Dave went to Turkey, and I resolved to get my GED—and did it. Shortly thereafter, I got my first taste of travel. I got accepted into Katimavik: a bursary program for Canadian youth. Over the next nine months, I would live with nine other young Canadians (and a project leader) in three different provinces, do volunteer work, learn leadership skills and even pick up a little French. It was a life-shaping event. Katimavik delivered me from my soul-crushing job cleaning dirty grease out of deep fryers for McSatan. I had my first girlfriend there, and had my first sexual experiences. Katimavik gave me self-confidence; and it gave me perspective.

The little French I picked up sparked in me a love for language, and the experience as a whole sparked a lifelong love for travel. These two passions are now so deeply a part of who I am that I cannot imagine where I would be or what I would be doing had I never participated in Katimavik.

When I got back to BC, my parents had moved to the Vancouver area, so I stayed with them there. I wanted to keep moving, so I visited some friends on Vancouver Island. It was fantastic, but my thirst wasn’t quenched. So, two months later, on Dave’s invitation, I went to Turkey to teach English. Istanbul at night is like a waking dream. I’ll never forget that first evening. It was like stepping into a time machine, or a different dimension…or like being really high on hallucinogenic drugs. I still recall the twisting alleys of cobble stones; late night tea shops, and virtuoso classical guitar buskers.

Here, I would have my first taste of teaching ESL, and my first taste of living without a guardian. I binged on drinking, smoking and computer games, because there was nobody to tell me not to. I chased girls. I wandered the streets. I was shocked at and gave money to mutilated beggars. I did my best to study Turkish, but lacked discipline. I grew a pot plant in my room with a stolen halogen light. I climbed trees, played chess, gambled over table games and talked endless philosophy with David.

But unfortunately, I wasn’t a very good teacher at that time, and they gave me the boot after three months. I felt defeated, and for the next year or so, I worked as a cook or a dishwasher here or there. But I couldn’t seem to hold a job for more than a couple months. I was, again, totally dissatisfied with life. Then I remembered my dream of Japan. Maybe I could go to college. After all, my peers from Katimavik weren’t any smarter than I was, and most of them were going to college.

So I thought, what the hell, I was a terrible high school student, but I had lived, learned, and become wiser. And I had excellent motivation, so I maybe, just maybe, I could hack it. I took an English major, and a history minor. It took me five years, but I did it. My grades were pretty good, too. During the process, I developed a love for writing, and was heavily involved with my college and university newspapers.

By the time I graduated, I was desperate to get back out into the world. I had travelled to Abbotsford, Victoria and Winnipeg as an editor for the college newspaper; Montreal and Quebec City on a French bursary program, and back to Grand Forks when my grandfather died, but that was essentially all the travelling I had gotten to do in six years. I needed to go somewhere far away. Someplace strange.

Japan was still in the forefront of my mind, but in the time it took me to get through college, it became even more competitive to get a job there—now, for most jobs, I would need a college degree, experience, and a pulse. But as it turned out, there were loads of jobs to be had in Korea. So, after a quick trip to Toronto to get back into travelling mode, I was off to Tongyeong, Gyeongsandnamdo, Korea.


Do you think travel is the quickest way to enlightenment? Whether you agree or disagree, share your thoughts below in the comments section!

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About the author

Brady Ehler

3 Comments

  • When that taste of travel enters the soul, it can’t be sated! It’s the moving and observing, I think, that provides growth for those willing to grow!

  • Indeed. I can’t think of any other way to turn your world upside down so easily–and when it does so, it shatters the assumptions you have about yourself. It makes you think, hey I don’t have to be this person–I can be someone totally different. For me, that’s what so addictive about travel.

  • Isn’t it amazing how a taste of travel can spread into other areas of our life and motivate us to improve in those areas as well? I’m always of the mindset that what I do for a living (whether it’s been cleaning toilets, teaching English, or editing) enables me to see the world. That is the best reward ever. Even today I still think about maybe going overseas and teaching English as a second language at some point, but who knows?