Amtrak is the National Railroad Passenger Corporation in the United States; it is a passenger railroad service that provides medium- and long-distance intercity service in the contiguous United States. We have been on board for slightly more than 3 hours, heading from New York to Massachusetts. The ever-changing scenery we pass by at constant speed has been a feast for the mind and soul – endless plains, leafless trees, beautiful architecture and vast oceans; there is something about being in this (seemingly) non-stop train that inspires a sense of serendipity. There is calm and joy. On the way to the 10th State I would have visited in America, adding to a repertoire of places once travelled to, this piece is on Travel.
Frivolous. As an environmentalist, I am acutely aware of the detrimental effects of hopping on a plane to arrive halfway across the world. The heat and noise emitted aside, the particulates and gases alone are responsible for an incredibly astounding proportion of the developed or developing world’s carbon footprint. The social injustice trips me every time – the price of environmental degradation (resulting in the extreme weather conditions that affect agriculture, for example) is so often disproportionately paid by less developed countries; resource-scarce, they are also the countries who are most unequipped to cope with its implications. The documentary titled ‘The Age of Stupid’ once led to a promise to self to cut back on air travel, but time and again for various reasons, I have found myself back on board a plane.
My first flight experience dates back to 2007. I hardly remember the flight itself but I know there was no other way I could have arrived at Hong Kong with my family and shared the vivid Disneyland memories I occasionally recall. Let’s take stock of the environmental debt (specifically, from air travel) ever since:
2007, Hong Kong | Family Holiday
2009, United States of America | Destination Imagination World Finals
2011, United States of America | Odyssey of the Mind World Finals
2012, United States of America | Odyssey of the Mind World Finals
2013, United States of America | Odyssey of the Mind World Finals
2014, Cambodia | Interact Club’s International Understanding Trip
2014, Vietnam | Youth Corps Singapore Office Go Green Project
2015, United States of America | Family Holiday
2016, Hong Kong | Youth Corps Singapore Learning Journey
2016, United States of America | Family Holiday
The love affair with overseas travel is one I have come to be familiar with. Being in a different space facilitates practices that allow us to live (and not just exist). We learn to better appreciate where we call home from witnessing the infinite possibilities that sometimes leave us shifting with discomfort. The vastness of what lies beyond can inspire a sense of humility as we realise the small place we occupy. Novelty in store with each day’s passing, almost addictive – numerous fresh sights, endless learning and brave adventures. There is much to fall in love with in the valuable experience of being brought away from home exploring new boundaries and in some ways, discovering oneself.
We are better at being human, too, if we leave the new town or city with a sense of hope that we influence our local communities with. The birth of Strong Mind Fit Body itself is a culmination of personal development and exploration that happened both in and out of Singapore. I have once given careful thought to the dilemmas of overseas service but this piece is less about that than about being a critic of travel, in general. Travel internalizes the identity of us all as ‘global citizens’ (though ironically having little effect on the global awareness of the abovementioned environmental crisis). In many ways, my global perspective and the accompanying agency to be a part of problems beyond the geographical boundaries of our country has been inspired by travel.
Debatable, though, is whether the tradeoffs that we make are worth it – the environmental cost for the temporary pleasure. The addiction towards travel has seen ‘overseas holiday’ become synonymous with occasional getaway or an escape, sometimes even framed as ‘necessary’ because of the stress levels with which we work. Travel has become the only agenda to look forward to for the rest of the year or the only way to get a real break. I have been contemplating the means through which we can prolong the effects of travel so we don’t return only with a longing desire for more but a truly, deep appreciation where we can be content. Then, maybe, I would consider it worth it. We can memorialise moments with photos but the fleeting emotions fade eventually; we can write diary entries that articulate thought and perspective, but they rarely bring the same satisfaction albeit preserving insight.
Mindfulness on this year’s 27-day America Adventure has allowed me to revisit very real emotions and learning that I similarly, benefited from in 2016. Searching for sustainability, though, has lead me to the discovery of the spirit of travel which I believe, with practice, we can relive over and over every day and anywhere. Perhaps, it is this attitude of discovery that we travel with which truly brings us the adrenaline rush or deep joy. Maybe, it is the creativity and curiosity, our inner child’s assets relished in this time that truly rejuvenates us. Revisiting memories from the past weeks in America, I can only imagine them once more, closing my eyes and trying to reconstruct the details carefully. The emotions remain fleeting.
What truly inspires the emotions, though, can be derived from applying similar principles – the thoughtfulness, the curiosity and creativity; principles that do not become irrelevant even if we return to our homes. This is about our reframing of everyday. In the absence of flight, I had once found incredible energy from travelling within Singapore and revisited this energy in loving to learn in school. Following this train of thought, the revelation has it that these were, too, forms of travel. The same attitudes applied and the (metaphorical) walking boots worn, I had travelled even without the plane.
For 2017, I wish only for countless travels – physical and metaphorical. Here’s to the books I will read; courses and modules I will attend; people I will cross paths with; forums and plays, conferences and talks I will have the privilege of attending; the family and friends I will continue to savour precious moments with. Here’s to the incredible stories I will listen to and tell. In face of them all, may I rid myself of fear and anxiety, carrying only the imaginary luggage of thoughtfulness, curiosity and creativity and self to brave the uncertainty that travel comes with.
Bon voyage to us all!