As many of you may have guessed, I’m a little behind on writing. And by a little, I mean a few months. Since Bali, I have traveled (slowly and by many hard earned hours on various buses) through the awesome and weird that is SE Asia, worked on my tan on an island paradise in Malaysia, spent a few extra days eating, drinking, and relaxing in Bangkok before an expensive two day extended layover in Dubai, and now I am finally in Madrid. I have every intention of backtracking to share stories, tips, trials and triumphs from my journey over the past three months, but today I feel like I’m entering into a new stage of my travels. The transition between East and West, if you will. It’s also a bit of a momentous occasion in my book because I don’t have a ticket out of Europe, and truthfully (visa permitting), I have no plans to leave for the next couple of years. So that’s where I’m at-a crossroads in front of me with the anticipated path already shimmering, faintly visible to my wandering soul.
Something caught my eye as I was exiting the Dubai airport a couple of days ago. When you make it through passport control and have collected your luggage, there is a point right before the exit leading to awaiting taxis and shuttle buses, where you have to choose one of two paths: “Goods to Declare” or “Nothing to Declare”. In the past, I have always gone through the designated “Nothing to Declare” route. It is easy, hassle-free, and at this point I’m always genuinely relieved to not have to wait in another line or explain my travel plans to officials once again. Besides that generic feeling of easy relief, I’ve never given much more thought or recognition to the final process of airport control and security. I’m not sure why those two signs made me mentally double take in this particular instance. As I passed through the gate that determined I had nothing to claim, I mused at the fact that I felt slightly cheated. We all have something to declare; we all have stories, dreams, fears. We all have lived a life different than the person next to us. It’s spectacular and overwhelming and monumental when you consider the infinite number of stories that you’re surrounded by, on any given moment of any given day. I will never forget the instant when I felt that I really grasped the vastness of humanity. I was sitting at a downtown sky bar, enjoying a cold beer and watching the busy chaos of Hanoi pass by below me; the hundreds of motorcycles, cars and pedestrians all blending into one constant blur. Between sips the full force of what I was witnessing-what I was missing out on from my observation tower-hit me. I was simultaneously saddened and thrilled by the thought that every single person swirling in the lights below me had their own story, and I would never know…could never possibly know them all. But I could try, I told myself. I could give it an honest shot. Isn’t that a big part of the reason why we travel-why I’m traveling? To find out what other people are holding onto that they want to declare, to discover my own story worth declaring? I think so many of us go through life consistently and consciously choosing the other path-“Nothing to Declare”. After all, it’s easy and hassle-free to pass through the world undetected and uninterrupted. But we all have a story to tell, and you should never underestimate that impact that sharing your own may have, or the number of people who would be truly interested in hearing it.
Funnily enough in Dubai, when I had breezed through the unguarded screening for the “Nothing to Declare” gate, I was stopped by an officer and asked to retrace my steps to exit instead through the scanner and additional inspections required by the “Goods to Declare” gate. Maybe my eyes look like they have a story to tell, I thought to myself as I turned around to do as instructed. Maybe I’m starting to look like I have something to declare.