An Ode To Travel

Just applied to Pedestrian to be a part-time travel writer and in writing up a cover letter (I seem to be on a roll with these) I nearly drowned in nostalgia. I thought I’d share that here, and expand it a bit too.

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Dear James,

My name is Omar Sakr, I’m 22 years old and I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Writing & Cultural Studies) from the University of Technology, Sydney, wherein I studied various forms of writing from short stories to novels to feature films, plays, creative non-fiction, essays, and poetry.

I want to talk to you about travelling and the irrepressible joy of discovery that comes with losing yourself in new cities, strange countries and unique cultures. I want to tell you about the days I spent in gorgeous Greece, a place steeped in history and gods, old and new – you can’t walk around these sun-drenched islands filled to the brim with slim, toned, bronzed beings without realising us mere mortals are not alone. I’d like to tell you about the stunning vistas from the sky, the view from the plane as it descended into Athens, this earthen city that sparkled in the sun, a thousand reflective solar panels scattered on rooftops everywhere.

I’d like to describe the view from the rooftop bar of the hostel I stayed at, with the setting sun above the Parthenon, and cool, refreshing drinks in hand. The same view also afforded me an unreal shot of the riots in Syntagma Square just down the road, tear gas, smoke and pepper spray leaving a bitter taste on the breeze. I can’t talk to you about Greece without mentioning the adjective-defying island of Santorini, with its old world charm, winding streets, white cliffs and incredible beaches. I want to regale you with the story of riding a donkey down the face of a cliff, the reek of dirty animals and manure wafting through one of the most unbelievable viewpoints afforded by the natural world, and the insane old Greek man that fought, yelled and talked to the donkeys like old friends.

I want to tell you about Crete, about the gorges and beaches there, about the fantasy-city of Prague and its architecture built from dreams and more; the gothic beauty of Krakow riddled with pocket-sized underground clubs; the intense sex-strip in Hamburg’s famous red light district; the inspiring skyline in New York, and the film of dirt that covers the most famous billboards in Times Square; the 14th century beauty of Norwich in England with its 365 pubs (one for every day of the year) and 52 churches (one for every week of the year); the awe-inspiring Colosseum, bowed and broken with age; the lovely Ha-Penny Bridge in Dublin spanning the still, black waters of the River Liffey.

I want to describe a hundred different places and the multitude of restaurants and spectacles I’ve seen but I don’t have the time, not here, not now, especially because descriptions of places are all very well and good but they’re not what makes travelling so special. It’s the people you meet, the random encounters and instant friends you make, never to be forgotten. It’s the two American girls I surprised in Crete by asking if they’d be celebrating Independence Day tomorrow (they hadn’t realised that it was tomorrow) and the following day we spent on a tiny, forgotten beach; it’s the French bar girl I met on a rooftop in Athens who told me about French music and brought me a selection of French cheeses to try; it’s the New Yorker on the subway who overheard a bunch of tired, sullen, argumentative tourists trying to find their way and interrupted to show us the way; it’s the gregarious Australian guy who, through the sheer power of his personality, convinced a disparate group of tourists to sit and introduce one another and talk about our day.

It’s the chance encounter with an old friend, halfway around the world from where you last met, having dinner at a TGI Friday’s restaurant nestled in the centre of Prague. It’s the down-to-Earth Americans from Florida that introduce you to a lifelong drinking game (once a buffalo, always a buffalo) and get you hammered faster than you’ve ever been, or are ever likely to be again. It’s the misunderstandings that lead you to dream hungrily of a good, hot meat pie when your American friends tell you there’s a famous pie stand coming up that we can stop at and the crushing disappointment when you discover they’re sweet pastries instead. It’s every single person that reaches out to you, that tries to help for no other reason than you’ve asked, and the adventures you could never plan that occur spontaneously.

I have a hundred of these stories, and I want a hundred more. Even that isn’t enough to fully encompass the experience of going places, there’s the ugly side of it too, the long plane rides on budget aircraft, knees folded up to your chin; there’s awful food and tourist traps designed to gouge your wallet, horrible beds and cold showers in hostels, there are the snorers (guilty), and the people that think it’s okay to play classical music at 5 in the goddamn morning. There’s the seemingly endless over-night bus trips that you think are bargains but soon realise that even were it free, you’d never willingly submit yourself to that kind of torture again. And yet, you will, because no matter the pain, the drive to see more and meet more people, to have a thousand new experiences to supplant the old, propels you forward.

To travel is to connect, not just to people, but to the world in a loud, noisy, messy but always intimate way. You get to leave your mark on the world through the people you meet and you get to have them leave their mark on you. You cannot go through these journeys unchanged. It’s simply not possible. I want to share these stories, these memories, while making new ones and always, always —

I want to inspire you to see the world and to share your own story while you do.

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