Real life stories of adventure

David Livingstone on Travel

"The effect of travel on my mind has been to make it more self-reliant, confident of resources and presence of mind."

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by admin

David Livingstone spent most of his life wandering the interior of uncharted Africa in search of the source of the Nile. He would return to Africa many times and his endurance was legendary among natives and Europeans alike. From the moment a European set foot in Africa, there was a high likelihood they would become seriously ill: dengue, yellow fever, sleeping sickness and malaria took the lives of thousands of Europeans and natives. Today people would convalesce when suffering from malaria, but Livingstone would keep moving, exploring traveling. How did he do it?

Certainly his remarkable endurance can be traced back to his childhood. He worked twelve hours a day in cotton mill to support his impoverished family, but still found time to attend school – he would continue this pattern of working in mills and attending school and lectures at night, with the intention of becoming a medical missionary. This, along with exploration, would be his life’s work.

In reading over his journals and publications it’s obvious that he simply loved traveling:

“The mere animal pleasure of traveling is very great. The elastic muscles have been exercised. Fresh and healthy blood circulates in the veins, the eye is clear, the step firm, but the day’s exertion has been enough to make rest thoroughly enjoyable. There is always the influence of the remote chances of danger on the mind, either from men or wild beasts, and there is the fellow-feeling drawn out to one’s humble, hardy companions, with whom a community of interests and perils renders one friends indeed. The effect of travel on my mind has been to make it more self-reliant, confident of resources and presence of mind. On the body the limbs become wall-knit, the muscles after¸ six months’ tramping are as hard as a board, the countenance bronzed as was Adam’s, and no dyspepsia.”

But he was not in Africa to merely site-see or ‘experience’ culture- he had a deep sense of purpose – that even went beyond discovery of the source of the Nile. He was first and foremost, a Christian missionary and worked tirelessly to eliminate the slave trade, this gave his travels a deep sense of purpose:

 

“In traveling in Africa, with the specific object in view of ameliorating the benighted condition of the country, every act is ennobled.
…..
The sweat of the brow is no longer a curse when one works for God; it is converted into a blessing. It is a tonic to the system. The charms of repose cannot be known without the excitement of exertion. Most travelers seem taken up with the difficulties of the way, the pleasures of roaming free in the most picturesque localities seem forgotten.”

Livingstone’s sense of mission framed his entire experience in Africa; When one has no purpose or do not believe their ‘mission’ it’s easy to become focused on the annoyances and distractions of traveling. When traveling is seen as a great quest, one forgets about the annoyances.

Footnotes:
* from The Personal Life of David Livingstone available at Gutenberg.
Wikipedia on Livingstone
Recommended reading:

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