Why do we travel?
On the 26th of June, I embarked on a 5 week journey across Europe with my life’s savings in one hand and the intention of answering that question in the other. Up until this point, I hadn’t really traveled. I mean, yes, I had been to China with my parents and Thailand with my school, but I had never planned a trip on my own – never done my own research and chosen my destinations and booked my accommodation and all that other stuff that comes with moving your butt across an ocean. It took forever to plan, and a heck of a lot of money, but we did it anyway. Because we wanted to travel.
The reason why I thought I wanted to travel before leaving Melbourne was pretty simple. I wanted to see more of the world. When you’re growing up and watching Mary Kate & Ashley movies, you really want to see the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain and live that “fencing with a baguette” kind of life. The plan was to go to Europe. Obviously. It’s like a rite of passage for Australian Uni kids. But the first stop was actually the United Arab Emirates – Dubai.
I have had many preconceptions of Dubai. I mean, just Google the place and you’ll be confronted with terrifyingly futuristic buildings and giant floating tennis courts and man-made islands shaped like planet Earth. In my mind, Dubai is in another world.
As it turns out, Dubai is still Earth. Sure, everyone drives a Mercedes (if that) and the blues are crazy blue and the pinks are crazy pink (it’s like someone upped the saturation in your eyes when you’re looking at the place), and you can flipping slide through an aquarium of fish. But, Dubai is still filled with humans and built by humans and it is kind of this physical representation of human gluttony. This isn’t necessarily negative because gluttony spawns INCREDIBLE architecture and luxurious resorts and you walk around thinking “man oh man, humans are just so creative”. But it’s not sustainable. Everywhere is air conditioned (because, like, desert), and water is bottled, and giant range rovers need to be replaced every 2-3 years because of the sand. Dubai is simultaneously everything I worry about the world becoming and everything I find fascinating about human growth and creativity.
While I was there, it was also Ramadan, which meant that for the pious, the consumption of food and drink could only happen between the hours of sundown and sunrise. I also learned that for citizens of Dubai, their weekend goes over Friday and Saturday. So for them, how we feel about Monday is how they feel about Sunday. And Thursday nights are where it’s at. And I don’t really know why, but this kind of stuff really blew my mind. I was sitting in this pull out couch at my friend Gabby’s father’s house (he, Noel, lives in Dubai for work). And I was looking at this city with it’s copious amounts of lights and cars and man-made lagoons, and I just realised that these little things can change your entire worldview. Not just in an “Oh I practice a different religion to you” but in a “Things like Manic Monday and TGIF don’t work for us” kind of way. Do you get what I mean? It’s just easy to think that everyone fundamentally experiences the world you do, but I don’t think that’s true at all.
I really enjoyed getting to know Noel as well. He is the kind of adult that treats you like you’re an adult. I mean, I’m 20 so yeah I am an adult. But we don’t often get treated like adults until they expect something from us. What I loved the most was hearing Noel tell us stories about his life when he was our age, or when he first met his wife, or how he became a Lawyer. It’s nice when you hear the history of others because it reminds you that their life didn’t start the moment they met you – which seems like a simple idea but I think it is still easily forgettable.
After 3 days in Dubai, I thought to myself that sure, I’m travelling because I want to see the world. But perhaps people also travel because they want to know about the lives of others. And I got to see the mall aquarium and I got to see Souke Al Bahar and the Burj Khalifa. But that’s not really what made me enjoy Dubai. Learning about the lives of others? Yeah, that did it.