The word “travel” stems from the old French word “travail”. If you look up the meaning of this word in Merriam Webster, it will also mention Middle English words “travailen” and “travelen” as two other root words, both meaning torment, strive, labor, journey. In short, since ancient times, travel is associated with trials and tribulations or even death.
But humans possess, above all other qualities, curiosity. Curiosity to explain the origin of mankind, curiosity to find other habitable planets, curiosity to discover unknown cultures – extinct or alive. And it is this capability that helps them to survive and adapt and flourish. Traveling is a channel that helps humans to satisfy this very feeling of curiosity. It takes them into the space, to remote villages in the Amazon, to build research centers in Antarctica, to sail to the edge of the known world, to send Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and to find and seek and discover.
Thinking about travelers of the bygone days, long distance journeys were nothing less than a trial, made only out of absolute necessity. Not many, if any, traveled for pleasure. Not only were the roads riddled with perils of highwaymen, and wild animals but what truly made traveling difficult was the fear of the unknown. People just did not know what lay outside of their own cities and towns.
In such times, curiosity prevailed above all other feelings for people like Marco Polo and Ibn-e-Battuta, who were nothing less than adventurers – wandering into the unknown, alone, with nothing but their wits to survive, and leaving their detailed travelogues for those who wanted to start a journey of their own. Or Galileo, who gave the world the telescope and the insight that it is the Earth and not the Sun that moved. It was nothing but the desire to explain the unknown that held Galileo firm in the face of the Roman inquisition and the wrath of the Church.
Fast forward to present and traveling is still a stressful assignment – Even more if one is flying, it’s tiring – what with jet lags, airport security checks and what not. Things rarely go as planned – actually the only thing guaranteed is that in 9 out of 10 cases, there will be no connection between what happens and how you actually plan it to happen. Packing or lack thereof is another wearisome task – it’s a study of preferences, pack extra and pay an exuberant fee or pack less and wear the same pair of jeans for 2 weeks – this is a no win situation. In short, to this day, traveling is not as easy as it sounds. On the other hand excellent, online searches, travel books, information centers, travel agencies, etc. have made traveling much simpler than how it was, even, few decades ago.
But the true adventurers at heart are the same! The same unease that comes with a stagnant life and usual happenings compels them to seek unmapped mountains and valleys, take risks to dive deep inside the crevices in the ocean bed, take journeys into space and time and achieve the unachievable. The satisfaction comes not in the form of fame but the quest itself.