When I reached the Fushimi Inari Shrine, I breathed in the cool air; almost unconsciously, I broke into a wide grin. I had finally arrived. I had previously only seen photographs of the thousands of orange torii gates that grace this historic Kyoto landmark. But stepping into the tunnel of iridescent doorways, it felt like the outside world became hushed, distant. The intensely orange gates glowed brilliantly in the afternoon sunlight, creating a reassuring warmth, as if trying to tell me that the magic of the place itself had been worth the many miles I had traveled to see it.
But in order to get to this moment, I had to commit to what I think of as ‘uncompromised’ travel – a kind of travel in which I don’t let outside factors or my own doubts dissuade me from doing anything I’ve decided to do. In the process of reaching the Fushimi Inari Shrine, I had to make such ‘uncompromised’ decisions twice: once before deciding to travel, and again when deciding whether to venture onwards to Kyoto.
“My hunger to see and experience Japan became the impetus for my theory of uncompromised travel – and with this hunger, my fears fell by the wayside.”
In the months before I decided to travel to Japan, I had spent hours each day reading through the vast spectrum of travel-related motivational essays and articles available on the Internet. Nearly all of the articles contained the same basic theme, the idea that no matter if you’re young or old, married or single, man or woman, you should travel. I, however, was skeptical. While reading, I consciously excluded myself from this “anyone can travel” group. I knew that I couldn’t go abroad; none of my friends could come with me, and I was afraid of traveling alone. “What if something happens?” I would think. “What if I get horribly lost, or find myself without a place to sleep for the night?
But as I was working hard to convince myself not to travel, that travel was too difficult and dangerous, too frightening and risky – simultaneously, I knew that Japan was a country that I had a deep desire to visit—the city of Kyoto, especially. The quiet beauty of the Japanese creative and cultural aesthetic was something I knew I had to explore. My hunger to see and experience Japan became the impetus for my theory of uncompromised travel – and with this hunger, my fears fell by the wayside.
I arrived in Tokyo to find a city which felt intensely alive, a metropolis possessing a powerful vitality which I had never experienced before. I found inspiration in everything I saw, from the oasis-like parks in the middle of the bustling city to the locals who, eschewing cars in favor of walking and biking, filled the streets with life. But as I began to feel more comfortable, my own thoughts would try to talk me out of my plans to travel further into the country. “Maybe I don’t need to put in the effort to take a bullet train all the way to Kyoto,” I remember thinking. “There’s plenty to see in Tokyo anyway.”
“Now that I’ve begun to travel without compromise, begun to have a taste of life on my own terms, my wanderlust – this hunger that drove me to uncompromised travel in the first place – has only increased.”
This voice, which echoed and resonated outwards into my consciousness, was one part laziness and one part the complaints of my tired feet. But just as I had nearly convinced myself to stay in Tokyo, I thought back to my resolve to travel without compromise. I wanted to see the ancient Japanese capital, and I wasn’t going to let my own reservations about traveling alone prevent me from visiting. I pushed myself to unabashedly go with the plans I had made, because wherever I went, something would ultimately happen—something that, in the end, would validate the experience, as well as my decision to travel uninhibited by my own fears or thoughts. .
And validation I found, though this affirmation was secondary to the simple experience of the place itself. I found peace in those orange gates of Fushimi Inari, entrances which suggested exploration, seemingly asking to be walked, discovered, experienced. I don’t even remember how long I spent at the shrine, savoring the taste of each step, absorbing as much as I could of the atmosphere. Traveling alone allowed me to take Kyoto at my own pace, and thus make the city my own. And while I have photographs to share with others—images that remind me of the fruits of the journey – the joy and triumph of the experience was intensely personal, individual – and, as such, deeply liberating.
In traveling to Kyoto, I was able to travel in a way which minimized my usual rational thinking and questioning in favor of simply doing. I practiced this active existence, an existence free of the boundaries and limits I previously placed upon myself, every day during my travels – and became a convert. Now that I’ve begun to travel without compromise, begun to have a taste of life on my own terms, my wanderlust – this hunger that drove me to uncompromised travel in the first place – has only increased.
“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go,” said Robert Louis Stevenson. “I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” And though I’m not always physically traveling, I’ve realized the importance of applying Stevenson’s philosophy to my daily life. During the times when I can’t escape to a far-off country on whim, I’ve tried to find ways to just do, to lead a more uncompromised and thus liberating existence in the everyday, to inspire others by sharing what so inspired me in my travels. Since the day I returned home, I’ve been blogging about my experiences in hopes of encouraging others to partake in the freedom, joy, and fulfillment that can be attained through solo travel. The kind of empowerment that came from fully experiencing Japan is not to be hoarded, not to be kept to myself, but is rather something to be discussed and shared. What are some of the ideas, sensations, or emotions that might hold us back from fulfilling our dreams of wanderlust—that intense craving and impulse to explore the world? Perhaps it’s time to begin taking steps to overcoming our fears and reservations, one at a time.