robyn davidson

The Art of Travel (With a Camel or Two)

robyn davidson
Robyn Davidson © Rick Smolan/Getty Images

By Agnieszka Bielecka

One might need a serious reason to embark on a journey. For some, it would be a desire to see things with their own eyes, rather than on photographs or computer screens. Others like to cross their own boundaries, establish new records and get enough adrenaline for endless months in the office. Personally, it was always hard for me to explain why I liked to leave the comforts of my apartment, people who knew me for years and still made me laugh, and train stations with clerks speaking my own language, only to explore unknown destinations.

Then one day, I came across a book ‘Tracks’ by Robyn Davidson, describing her gruelling solo trek of almost 2,000 km. Davidson walked across the arid lands of Australian outback, all the way from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, completely alone, if you don’t count four camels and Diggity the dog.

In her memoir, Davidson writes about the challenges of her endeavour with such emotion that it makes me, not at all a desert creature, yearn for scorching hot flatness of the Australian outback. More importantly, she never clearly states why she embarked on such a risky journey, nor does she put much importance on proving herself or breaking any records. Rather than that, Robyn mentions one important factor that I found crucial in my explanations of an urge to travel:

The need to rattle the foundations of habit. That to be free one needs constant and unrelenting vigilance over one’s weaknesses. A vigilance which requires a moral energy most of us are incapable of manufacturing. We relax back into the moulds of habit. They are secure, they bind us and keep us contained at the expense of freedom. To break the moulds, to be heedless of the seductions of security is impossible struggle, it one of the few that count. To be free is to learn, to test yourself constantly, to gamble. It is not safe.

Comforts of my own home never feel as alluring as at the moment of locking the door before leaving for the airport. However, as soon as I get into the rhythm of travelling, no matter if it’s a month-long journey across Peru or a weekend trip to Vienna, I invariably feel a rush of inspiration. Being away from my routine is disturbing and liberating at the same time, and the exercise of escaping from habits helps to keep my mind fresh.

Another quote from Davidson’s book I enjoyed was a slightly cranky comment, showing a tad of irritation while facing multiple questions that everyone on the road seemed to pose: why to embark on such a risky endeavour?

Had I stayed back home, studying half-heartedly or working in a gambling clubs or drinking at the Royal Exchange Pub and talking about politics, that would have been quite acceptable. I would not have been up for all these astounding projections.

Somehow it’s so true. How often, I wondered, do I ask people why do they live average lives? Safe – if boring – life choices don’t raise much controversy, but in the comfort zones of our cosy everyday reality we’re likely to miss some eye-opening experiences waiting around the corner.

Just a thought.


Agnieszka Bielecka is a writer and translator born and raised in Poland. She spent several years travelling and living abroad, and is still looking for the best place to call home. She is the author of a blog Where is Somewhere Else?, where she documents her travels, inspirations, books and food.

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