Why I’m Not a Perfect Traveler

How do you define the perfect traveler? Is she or he that person who has traveled the world in a span of 9 months or the type who has made a hundred friends in South East Asia? Is she the person who has studied in Wudang or the guy who wrote a book about hitchhiking in Jamaica?

Majority would usually picture a perfect traveler to be that person who has done everything from running in Pamplona to doing the craziest thing you can imagine. If you got drunk with a Ukrainian soldier or you’ve jumped off a cliff in some remote area, you’re cool and courageous, therefore you are the prime example of what a “perfect traveler” ought to be.

In his introduction to The Skeptical Romancer: Selected Travel Writing of W. Somerset Maugham, one of my favorite travel writers, Pico Iyer, described the novelist as a “perfect traveler” who “was eager to try everything—to smoke opium, to visit prisons as much as churches, to do the very things that another part of himself would denigrate as reckless or susceptible.”

“Eager to try everything” means going beyond one’s capacity because the “things” we perceive as audacious ventures are those that go against our very own principles that have been influenced by customary habits, culture, religion, or mommy and daddy. Swimming with sharks is an example, because it’s an outright WTF undertaking. And once we conquer the perils of life’s unpredictability in the presence of sharks, we become born again. The entire experience will give our mind a kaleidoscopic view of life’s attractions and complexities and we are molded to become the “perfect traveler” because we no longer simply see the world; we embrace whatever it gives us.

But what if you have to set limits? What if swimming with sharks will never be an option because you’re allergic to saltwater?

When I found out about my heart condition, half of my life was put to a halt. Not only was I told to stop playing tennis, I was also asked to avoid the trail of the bold traveler (difficult mountain treks, bungee jumping, etc). Despite the many benefits of extreme adventure travel in both the physical and spiritual aspect, in my present situation, it has become the “reckless” and the “susceptible”. The attempt to “try” is not even encouraged because the consequence is a matter of life and death, according to my cardiologist.

Take for example, skydiving. This is one extreme activity that I’m sure most of us would like to try before we die. I would love to go skydiving, but when I asked my cardiologist about it, she told me to FORGET IT. “We can’t let your heart go dug dug dug dug”, she explained. You see, if my heart starts to pump blood faster than the normal rate, it’ll cause a backflow of blood to the atrium because of my abnormal heart valve. That’s why the medicine I take makes my heart pump blood slowly.

Before my diagnosis, I had dreams of jumping off a 100 ft. bridge, kissing the sky at 15,000 feet above sea level, or even trekking the Himalayas. I had my adventure bucket list ready: Sand dune boarding in the Middle East, joining an international friendly marathon, rope swinging in Laos, going nuts in Six Flags, and so on. And when I found out that this condition spelled the word IRREVERSIBLE and I could never RUN even just one kilometer ever again, I cried like a sissy.

ACCEPTANCE

I admit that I felt really jealous when I read about a few travelers going on an adventure trip for free. They’ve been chosen because they can do anything from jumping off a cliff to running a race.

So I shared my personal drama with a friend and she gave me a good advice:

“Don’t think of things you cannot do. Focus instead on those that you can do”.
(Spoken like a Jedi Master)

This made me believe that limits are as common as possibilities. Why strive to be “someone” or “something”? I don’t think we have the obligation to chase after the “glory” just to please others.

In the end, it all boils down to acceptance. The world seems to put much emphasis on going beyond limits or surpassing impossible feats that we forget about the very thing that makes us real – accepting who we are.

“As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.”
Oprah Winfrey

I know that my 30-day journey will have a lot of surprises for me, but I also know that I cannot go out there and act like an ignorant and proud idiot while risking my health in the process. Though I still believe that there should be no limits, I’m actually trying to put emphasis on having no limits to what I CAN DO at the moment, not what I can never do.

That being said, I don’t think I’ll skydive for now, but that’s ok. As long as I open my heart and soul to other experiences, I guess I’ll be fine. After all, “nobody’s perfect”.

esplanade park singapore

Light at the end of the Tunnel (Esplanade Park, Singapore)

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