If you’ve ever done some reading about Eastern philosophy or religion, you might have come across the concept of Tao. If not, let me introduce you. I admittedly have a very limited understanding of Tao, but thinking about how it relates to travel feels like something beneficial, and I’d like to share it with you. To any Taoists who think this post reads like nails on a blackboard, apologies in advance!
For such a tiny word, ‘Tao’ has quite the definition. From the font of knowledge that is Wikipedia:
Tao or Dao is a Chinese concept signifying ‘way’, ‘path’, ‘route’, or sometimes more loosely, ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’. Within the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and religion, The Tao is the intuitive knowing of “life” that of which cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but known nonetheless through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.
There are all sorts of interpretations and meanings attached to the concept of Tao. Some are philosophical and some are religious. Universally, Tao is something that can be experienced but not described. Possibly like the word ‘cute’ – we are all able to identify and experience cuteness, but it’s hard to explain the little heart tug that lets us know something is cute.
The Tao of Travel
So what does Tao have to do with travel? Tao is a holistic and balanced way of being that does not compete with the natural order of the universe. I find the idea enticing, albeit slightly unattainable in modern society. But can travel get us closer to that ideal? And is there a way of travelling that, like Tao, is holistic, powerful and eternally generous?
I felt on the verge of a breakthrough. The Tao of Travel. What a delightful concept!
Then I thought, am I the first person to have thought of this? A quick google search revealed that I am not. Turns out, an author named Paul Theroux has already written a book that is literally called The Tao of Travel. It’s about the enlightenment various individuals gained from travelling. So no originality there, but it was nice to see some confirmation of my own thinking.
Finding Your ‘Way’ with Travel
In travel and in life, we find our way in two ways (sorry!). We find our way physically and we find our broader ‘way’, our way to be and believe. This is where thoughtful travel comes in. As human beings, we are driven to make sense of the world. It’s time we stopped analysing so much! For me, the Tao of travel is not about creating order. It’s about recognising, accepting and connecting with the order that already exists.
Travel gives us a wealth of opportunities to do this, all wrapped up with getting to know ourselves better and getting to have fun on the road. We can learn and observe as much as we wish before taking some time to digest it all.
Travel helps us overcome obstacles and alter our perspectives. Over time, it moulds and softens us with slow and steady persistence. To unlock its transformative powers, we need to be flexible, open and observant. The process of gaining experience will then shape your ideas about the nature of things.
Zen Habits has a lovely post on the Tao of travel with some tips for minimalist living on the road. The ones I swear by are walking a lot and packing little. The ones I need to work on the most are finding space to relax and being present. My travel life has been immensely enriched since I began to focus on being rather than seeing. There’s always opportunity to improve, although I can’t think of many things I’d like to work on more than connecting with what the world has to offer.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. 🙂