Tourism is surrounded by aphorisms. One of the recurrent ones – google yields over 300 million results – is Life is too short to wait.
The phrase is typically rendered in a faux-handwriting font, set against a sunset or ocean so as to signal, ironically, a sense of timelessness. Obviously, the underlying premise is that many of us spend our lives dreaming about traveling but fail to actually fulfill those dreams. Yet, the aphorism reminds us, there is no time for such doubts — life is too short for that.
There is a certain sense of pain in that contemplation: life is too short, regardless of one’s velocity, even if one would walk, or if one would run. And then there is that last word, ‘wait’. It presupposes that the traveler is always planning her next trip. It reduces idleness to a form of anticipation. It is a premise that coincides with books that are titled 1000 places to see before you die, and that offer the same outlook. It is going to be over soon, so stop wasting time.
As a teenager, I had a friend who was always up for an adventure. Our motto was to always pick experience over possession. The journey, not the destination. But as we all know, there’s a latent possessiveness in that attitude as well. More travel equates to more experience, more memories, a richer life. Stop wasting time.
But the more one travels, the more one is confronted with the falseness of this myth. There’s nothing you can take with you, and even your memories aren’t yours.
A while ago I had to give a talk about myself at a Chinese university. I was searching through pictures of the last four years, to show some places I’d been. To my surprise, I couldn’t remember the situations depicted in half of them. Were these photos that had ended up in my collection because I had taken, or because a friend had sent them over WhatsApp? Were these my memories? I honestly couldn’t tell.
Not sure if I experienced this
Instead of using them as a standing reserve, a repository to blow ourselves up in front of strangers, pictures should serve to remind us that experience is not cumulative. Instead of perpetual acceleration to experience new things, travel allows us to activate a new part of ourselves. This is the closest one can get to freedom: that you don’t have to be one thing, or two, or three.
Maybe that’s why walking among strangers in crowds can be so fascinating. They’re a reminder that all we can really do is bend and twist and move along in a relentless present.