Commentary

Why I Travel to Keep Moving

Written by Josh Elyea

Why I Travel to Keep Moving

These A Few Thoughts On Travel, Cobbled Together After A Week in Japan.

I’m sitting in a room on top of a mountain. Mount Koya, in Wakayama Prefecture south of Osaka, Japan. The room itself is quietly stunning, minimal in its decor and eerily peaceful in its assembly. It’s an articulate extension of the Buddhist temple in which it sits, and the beautiful simplicity of both the room and the experience are not lost on me as I wait for my tea to steep.

The Book, the Travel Companion

I look down at the copy of Kerouac’s On the Road sitting on the table in front of me. It’s flipped open to the title page, but I haven’t bothered to read any further. I wrote my graduate thesis on Kerouac, and if you gave me enough time I’m pretty sure I could recite the whole text for you, word for word. I’ll probably read the first chapter later (it’s the best one, anyways), but for now the book is open for a different reason.

See, scratched inside the cover are the names of ten countries – Canada, America, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia India, and Korea – and before my tea finishes steeping, I’ll have grabbed my pen and carefully added Japan to the list. It’s strange to think my copy of On the Road has been to more countries than I have, but it’s true. I gave it to my girlfriend during her tour of Southeast Asia, so I can’t claim to have added Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and India to the ever-growing list of countries inside the book’s cover. They still count, right?

Keep Moving!

I’m not sure how inscribing countries into the cover of a Kerouac novel became my dominant travel tradition, but it’s difficult to imagine visiting a country without taking a moment – usually near the end of the trip – to jot down the country’s name inside On the Road, a book that required such significant dedication and a huge portion of my academic experience.

Thinking on it, the book’s subject matter makes it a fitting travel companion. For all the (justified) criticism levelled at Kerouac, On the Road is an immediate and visceral experience, and its dynamic detailing of the American countryside never ceases to inspire a deep, rumbling growl in my soul that says “move, move, MOVE.” And move we have, my girlfriend and I. Osaka, Kyoto, Koya-San this week. Tomorrow, back to Korea. Eventually, back to Canada. After that, Spain. France. Croatia. We’ve got a long “to-visit” list.

Take More Than a Selfie

For as long as I can remember, I’ve understood the desire to travel as a constant, an omniscient narrator who only cares to describe events in motion. Maybe that’s why I like Kerouac so much. But the adventures and thrills promised in On the Road are vastly different from the ones you’ll find out there today, and as I wait for my tea I can’t help but wonder what it means to wander in an era when the world is growing smaller by the day. I wish I had the answers for you, but it’s never that simple.

I do know that it’s become all too easy to reduce travel to the sum of its parts. Facebook Photo Albums, stories for dinner parties and selfies in front of historic artefacts all come to mind. If I’ve learned anything from travelling, it’s that you’ve gotta make it about more than that. You have to string all of it together into some sort of cohesive unit in order to derive any meaning from it at all. You have to add all the sights and sounds, the food and the friends, the drinks and the beaches and the pagodas and the culture and the monuments and the languages, oh the languages, into some sort of cumulative kinetic experience that redefines the limits of who you are and what you know. There’s value in that, I think.

Why I Travel

It has to be about more than being able to claim you’ve stood and stared at the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. There’s more to it than being able to say you’ve danced wild, drunk, in the streets of Havana. Take those experiences and let them unmake you, pull you apart and put you back together so you’re different than before. Not always better, but different. That’s why we travel. That’s what moving gives us that standing still never can. He may’ve been wrong about oh so many things, but that’s what Kerouac got right. That’s why I bring On the Road to every country I visit. Sometimes, the only thing to do is go. Plus, that title page has a lot of blank space to fill.

Gotta move, tea’s ready.

Do you travel to keep moving? Even if not, I’d love to read your thoughts below in the comments section!

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About the author

Josh Elyea

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