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Travel Notes: Travel-Write: General Travel Articles: Discovery

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Travel used to be about discovering new and exciting places, new people to talk to, new foods that send you screaming to the bathroom, and new stories that regale your friends.

Once Upon a Time

There was a time when Australia seemed to be as far away as the moon and even more foreign. Now, thanks to Mick Dundee, Australia is about as adventurous as Disney World and movies like Crocodile Hunter are, for some reason, still being made.

The Internet, television, travel writers, and 'Crocodile Dundee 3' have all helped contribute to the death of discovery, among other things.

Maybe I spoke too soon

Discovery is not dead, it has just changed.

Gone are the days of the explorers; who went out in search of new frontiers, with no idea what lay ahead of them.

Let's face it, if Christopher Columbus had Internet access we all know he would have skipped Plymouth Rock and headed right for South Beach Miami, with a keg in tow.

That's right, I am the next in a long line of people who have decided to blame the Internet for some aspect of society's downfall. However, my beef is not with pornography (pardon the pun), violence, or MP3s. My gripe with the Internet is that it has left very little to the imagination.

From the comforts of this very room I can plan my travels, book a reservation, and pay for an entire trip.

I can see my hotel room, I can pick my restaurants, I can take virtual tours, have virtual meals, and probably get the virtual runs.

I know, I know

It's not the same as being there.

As good as the Internet is, as clear as the pictures and sounds may be, the reality won't be the same. Will it be better? Will it be worse? That depends on how much your expectations have been influenced by the sites you've seen. By just raising or lowering expectations, surfing the Internet has changed the way we travel, the way we discover.

I realise that no one is putting a gun to my head and forcing me to take a virtual trip before I go somewhere, but media is so proliferated that I would have to live in a pretty thick bubble not to be affected by it.

When everybody and their illiterate cousin has access to the Web and television, what's stopping some serial small talker from telling me that it is rude to tip a taxi driver in the Netherlands?

Perhaps my idea of an adventure is unknowingly offending a taxi driver in Netherlands; who's isn't? Instead of actually tipping a Dutch taxi driver and having a funny story to go along with it, I learnt that little tid-bit of information right here from this very chair with an unintentional click of my mouse. No funny story. No new Dutch swear words. Nothing.

Sure, I could still do it, but it's just not the same.

Already, I have created this scenario in my head where I tip a taxi driver, and he starts hurling low-grade Dutch cheese at me. Funny stuff. Now, however, if I were to actually do it, and I didn't get the cheese, I would be disappointed because my expectations wouldn't be met. Yet another unfulfilled fantasy.

To be fair, I can't blame all of this on the Internet, television, print media, and good-for-nothing small talkers (as much as I'd like to). The problem is much larger than that.

For example, I live in what is arguably one of the most multicultural cities in the world: Toronto, Canada.

Don't get me wrong, I love it; I think that multiculturalism is the best thing that ever happened to this city. Having spent the better part of a year in Italy, the one thing that I missed about Toronto was the variety in people and culture. I got bored with seeing one culture every day. The same style; the same mentality; the same opinions.

Multiculturalism broadens your horizon without you even realising it.

Torontonians know where to go for the best pizza, the best roti, and the best pad Thai noodles.

My 80 year-old Italian grandmother knows that Chinatown has some of the best vegetables, and that Portuguese restaurants make the best roasted chicken.

Meanwhile, her generational counterparts back in Italy still think chopsticks are oversized toothpicks.

Living in a city like this, we have such a great understanding and appreciation for what other cultures have to offer. And I wouldn't pass that up for anything. Yet I can't help but feel an ounce of jealousy when I see someone come to Toronto for the first time and experience a culture shock of sorts when they have their fist ever bowl of Vietnamese Pho.

Sometimes it feels like I've lost some of that ability. However, all is not lost. There is still much discovery to be had from travel, just in a different from.

As I mentioned earlier, I recently spent a year abroad. The better part of that year was spent in Milan, Italy with the remaining portion being spent in Swaziland, Africa.

I went to Italy to complete a Master's in International Healthcare, thinking I would come back to Toronto and begin my life as a Healthcare Executive, but I couldn't get the travel out of my mind.

When I was away, I missed the comforts of home for obvious reasons.

Showers in Europe have much to be desired (they still haven't discovered the benefits of water pressure) and showers in Swaziland are worse (they have yet to discover the benefits of... well... a lot of things).

But on a less obvious level, I missed the comforts of home because something as simple as washing out of a sink in Africa will force you to discover more about yourself (no pun intended) than you realise. And, therein lies the discovery that no website can take away from you; the discovery of yourself.

Sometimes, to get a better understanding of something, you have to take it out of its usual context to see how it reacts to something new. I found this to be the same for myself.

What will follow from here will be an account of my year abroad and how new surroundings, people, and experiences (although perhaps not as new as I would have liked them to be) allowed me to discover me.

I have always said that there is no better life than that of a student studying abroad; I hope to share this point of view with my readers.

By Andrew De Angelis.

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