According to a Moorish proverb, "he who does not travel does not know the value of men." Indeed, the importance of travelling is manifest for all those who have experienced the mind-opening services it can offer.
Nowadays, people across the globe travel in greater numbers and cover greater distances than ever before. For expats, the practice of travelling is all the more special, as it relates to their daily life and experience. Their inability to fully grasp local peculiarities often makes integration in the surrounding culture an insurmountable challenge.
In a way, they can be seen as perpetual explorers, constantly trying to map uncharted territories and build bridges over open chasms in their new worlds. Travelling, thus, becomes a way of everyday life, if only figuratively.
But literally too, at least for a big part of the expatriate community here in the Netherlands. Going back home one or more times each year is customary for many expats, while others tend to devote more of their free time to discovering new destinations. Next to this physical transportation, computers nowadays also offer the means to an effortless mental transport, invaluable to all those leaving thousands of miles away from home.
The possibilities presented to us through the internet, mobile technology and the new social media are simply limitless. Whether it is getting in touch with friends and family or just sharing a photo of a new apartment, this can be easily done in a matter of seconds.
In fact, it seems that online communication tends to increasingly overshadow more traditional, offline forms of interaction. This has obvious advantages, but presents us with some considerable challenges as well.
A new cyber code of conduct is being shaped day after day in the virtual world with its own normative and ethical implications. Human communication is changing rapidly and a fine balance between old-fashioned and newer forms of socialising is yet to be established.
Going back to the notion of travelling, one may wonder to what extent the more personal and private element of the whole experience is still relevant in today's frantic fashion of online "sharing."
For someone's travels to be acknowledged and accepted by the online community, a long string of (mobile) photos, updates and / or blog entries are expected to fit the bill. Plain recollections or mental souvenirs are irrelevant and somehow incompatible with the new ways of this communal virtual tourism.
Referring to the powerful medium of photography, Susan Sontag once wrote that "in the modern way of knowing, there have to be images for something to become 'real'." Next to this prerequisite of having images as evidence for existence, we can now add the need to share these through the increasingly popular social media, in the same way a tweet or a Facebook entry is becoming the norm in expressing one's thoughts and feelings.
In this ever-growing interconnected world we are all becoming virtual tourists, exchanging glimpses into one another's visual souvenirs and special (or even intimate) moments!
PS: I recently found myself in a weird place after losing my camera while travelling. In the absence of tangible evidence reminiscent of my trip, I felt the imperative to write down a long, diary-like outline of my impressions that made me think through and re-live the whole experience. In the process, I even drew a couple of sketches, something I haven't done in years.
Who knows, maybe it's worth the wait until I get a new one..