One question that everyone who spends time (and a lot of money) traveling will have to answer for themselves is: why do I travel?
I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question. It can be different for everyone, and it can change over time.
As I’ve started racking up the miles on my personal travel odometer, it’s something I ponder from time to time. I wonder: am I escaping something? What am I looking for, exactly? What questions am I asking, and what answers am I hoping to find?
For me, as I ponder this, I think it ultimately boils down to a few very specific reasons. There are lots of little ones, but here’s a short list of the ones that are the easiest for me to answer.
To expand my view of the world.
Yes, I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. When I was about 13 years old, my family took a trip to the U.K., and while I was excited to go, I didn’t understand the deeper meaning until I read something my dad wrote in an email to a friend. He explained that one of the reasons he decided to take us there was to help us learn about the country that America came from. (I don’t recall exactly how he phrased it, but it was something to that effect).
My 8th-grade brain hadn’t really thought about that before. I thought it would be fun to fly across the ocean and see another country, but I hadn’t considered the important historical connection and how the country I lived (USA) in wouldn’t even be a country without the U.K. That was eye-opening perspective. Plus, riding on an airplane for 15 hours showed me just how big the world is. That’s something you just can’t properly appreciate as a middle-schooler who’s never left your country before.
To meet new people.
This is an extremely obvious and simple answer, but also one of the most important. When I met Duško, a man from Macedonia, on a cruise ship, he had a different perspective than me. Having lived in a former socialist republic in Europe, his entire life was different than mine. Yet we met, and become friendly, and I learned from him. That was only possible because I left home and went somewhere new.
To find new ways of thinking.
I had a philosophy professor many years ago who told me that she took trips to Japan as often as she could, because it was the furthest culture she could think of that thought about life in an entirely different way than we do in the west. I think I’ve kind of adopted that mindset: I try to find people who don’t look like me, believe like me, and think like me, and see what I can learn from them.
I don’t believe the west (in general) or the USA (in particular) has all the answers. So when I have the opportunity to see how other countries, and cultures operate and think, I’m going to listen to that whether I ultimately adopt it or not.
It’s much more interesting to GO places than see them on TV.
As much as I like watching nature shows about the Australian outback, I would much rather actually go there and see it for myself. Certainly, TV, podcasts, videos, magazines, and other ways of learning about the world are helpful. But if I possibly can, I’d rather see it with my own two eyes.
It clears my mind.
In my limited travel experience, I’ve seen a tendency for some people to use travel as a way to avoid responsibility, or put off “growing up” as long as they can. That annoys me, and what annoys me most is how some people seem to think that they can escape their problems if they just go far enough away from their daily lives.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, is that when you travel, whatever problems you have back at home will still be there when you return. Simply putting distance between your circumstances and your current location does nothing.
However, one thing that travel definitely does do for me is this: it gives me enough time, and a change of scenery, to quietly contemplate my issues, and find a good solution for them.
One of my favorite places to do this is, perhaps surprisingly, at my local YMCA. Just a few miles away from my house is the gym that I go at least three times a week. If I’m struggling with a particular business challenge, or a stressful family situation, I’ll go to the gym.
Just the act of getting out of the house, driving in the car, hopping on a treadmill and working up a big, heavy sweat, while breathing hard, then getting into a sauna allows me to sit with my own thoughts, undistracted. I write down notes on a pad of paper as I breathe the hot, dry air. I do some of my best thinking in the sauna.
On a bigger scale, I’ve used travel at several junctures in my life where I had to make a major life decision. Getting out of my normal routine, hopping in a car and driving several hours to another city, alone, where I don’t know anybody is a huge benefit as I weigh the big issues I need to think about. Some of the most crucial decisions I’ve made as a married man happened this way.
I’m certain that if I wasn’t able to extract myself from the daily grind, I wouldn’t be as confident in my ability to decide the best choice. But, as I said, I can’t escape the problems I have in my life: when my trip is over, I need to go back and deal with them.
It makes me more appreciative of my life, home, and family.
Traveling away from home can be an exciting experience, and sometimes you can’t wait until it’s time to leave. But, just like a kid who spends too many nights at his best friend’s house, you can eventually start to get tired of living out of a backpack and you start to miss your own bed. You may even miss your mom’s cooking (which is something you never thought you’d miss until you tried other moms’ cooking).
That happens to me too: when I go away from home, it’s good. But it’s also really good to have some time away from the people I love because it reminds me how much I love them.
When I’m driving down the highway, 2,000 miles from home, and see a sign that reminds me of an inside joke my wife and I share, it makes me a bit sad that she’s not there to see it. And so I store up little mental notes to share with her when I get home. That makes me miss here when I’m away, and excited at the thought of coming back.
Similar to how I mentioned that travel clears my mind, it also gives me energy in a way. It offers a break from the ordinary in a way that recharges and refreshes. Like summer vacation during the school year: one of the reasons we’re able to survive going to school all day, every weekday during the school year, is that we know there will be a big break with a change of pace every summer.
Being able to take a few months off in the summer gives students enough rest and energy to come back and attack the new semester with gusto. Travel, at least for me, is almost never relaxing (because of the way I do it) in the sense that I get sleep and have lots of down time. But it does energize me in the sense that I can come back home after a trip and finally sort the garage, or finish that paper, or whatever I’m wanting to accomplish, because I’m just somehow ready. It’s not always that way, but oftentimes I make lists of “things to do when I get back” because I’m all full of vigor and ready to take on the challenge. That’s good for me, and my family.
What about you? If you’re reading this, and you travel often, have you thought about why? Or, if you don’t travel, have you thought about why not? Let me know! I’m always open to having a discussion with people on the topic.
Thanks for reading.