Why Do We Travel?
The Great Eye Opener, The Great Mythbuster
The runs on the slopes are done for the day as the team reaches the lodge to join each other in community after an alpine skiing event. My colleague and I start discussing my upcoming trips, a quest overseas as well as a pending rendezvous across the country to see someone I really only knew a couple weeks and haven’t really met. She is inquisitive about my desire to leave the country and how I can fly by the seat of my pants into uncertainty. I share my excitement and try to give her an access to my mind, to answer the question, “Why do I do it?”
Why do I do it? Why do I travel? Why do we travel?
After that conversation over the next several weeks those questions began to play in my mind. I began to think more and more about my travel adventures. I opened the discussion to dig into where that “tick” to see and understand the world comes from. No matter what I came up with it just didn’t seem to do it justice. This was a question that I couldn’t answer myself. Minds other than my own had to be tapped into. I sought input from others that have had similar experiences. What followed was blasts of texts and calls to friends and family to answer the simple question, “Why do you travel?”
That question in itself seems simple so it should warrant a simple answer, right? The responses were diverse yet similar. Each one uncovered a little more truth.
This is why we travel…
The Unquenchable Curiosity For the Unknown
The unknown does not simply mean something is unknown to the mind but rather it has not yet been seen with one’s own eyes. For some of us our thirst to experience the world has deep roots. It could go back to a five-year old hearing stories from her Nonna and seeing her special spice gained from the seasoning of her world adventures and then one day hoping gain some of that spice as well. It could also go all the way back to the age of eight years old and having the shiny, embossed pages of a National Geographic magazine expose colors and images that dance before your own eyes. The pictures of places and races of people shown to exist that were unknown to you. A dream to experience what those pages illustrated lights a curiosity, one to see those images in their real existence.
“I travel because I am curious. I want to see new horizons, new cultures and peoples and learn things I don’t know – stories, histories, and customs.” – Susan D.
The fuel of those early influences set the vessel in motion, so to speak. The desire to learn more about the world began. The traveler knows they cannot do that from the comforts of their home. It’s the dream to get out and see the world. As country music great Garth Brooks once outlined in his record ‘The River’, A dream is like a river and to reach it one must leave the shoreline and chance the rapids and dare to dance in the tide. In order to see that unknown one has to become a student of the world and go into it.
The fundamental commonality among those that go about or wander the globe is they all have a keenness for learning. It’s one to learn about what is out there and to view the world through their own eyes and not a publication or screen. It’s the whole array of senses; the smells, sounds, feelings, and tastes of a different corner of the world. They’d rather have the aromas and flavors of food come to life from a street stand or native cooking class than from an Instagram picture or recipe card. Sensing the happiness through the feel of an elephant’s trunk wrapped around you in a sanctuary as opposed to one at a circus. Seeing vivid colors of fish through clear water that appears like glass or seeing your reflection in an animal’s eyes because you are that close. It’s impossible to hear the true cadence of a waterfall without being physically near one.
A traveler is an explorer and an observer with an inquisitive and inquiring mind. We want to pick up knowledge of cultures, people, and their lands. How do they communicate? How do they live? What is their story and their history? How do they get around? What’s day-to-day life like for them? Is it that different from our own? These are just a small slice of the bigger pie of what we seek to know.
There are those of us who are more introverted and want the solitude of nature. We seek answers to other questions about new territory. Does the sun rise and set the same way? What do the stars look like? (Did you know people living in the southern hemisphere see different stars than people in the northern hemisphere?) What kind of wildlife inhabit the area and how close can one get? Where can we get the best view? Some of us seek to learn about lands the same ways as Lewis and Clark once did, as voyagers unknown to the lands. There is new knowledge to be gained by playing a game of chess with Mother Nature.
“I go to learn from it and bring its values with me to the next place.” – Amanda H.
The exploration of a new place is an education that cannot be obtained by reading books or going to school. We want the firsthand experience of understanding a place and its people. It allows us to interact with all kinds of people and that can’t be gained without going somewhere. The values can be life changing and it can not only teach you about others, but it can teach you about yourself and your own culture. That is unexpected and can’t be found on a page.
Confident Steps Outside the Zone of Comfort and Into the Zone of Growth
“Traveling challenges you to grow in a way unparalleled to anything local.” – Anna P.
Every journey has its own challenges. It isn’t always predictable. One can plan all they want but there are always variables that are unexpected. An acceptance is gained when journeying through a new place because it’s required to keep moving forward. A situation arises and a decision has to be made. Whether it’s the right or wrong decision, a new confidence forms. Navigating new territory pushes one outside their comfort zone and forces the hand. “What do I want and how am I going to get there?” Many times the luxuries for making those decisions are stripped away. That challenge pushes a traveler but the end result is gratifying and confidence boosting, especially when a negative situation turns into a positive outcome.
“I’ve learned how to be alone and grown to enjoy it as well as make decisions for what I want. There are situations where you have to figure it out and go with it.” – Steph P.
“There have been times when traveling there were some issues, but I always feel that you can still enjoy it in spite of the issues.” – Denise T.
One thing many of the world’s wanderers have in common is that they can make something negative into a positive. They have an optimism and positivity. Through their escapades they grow more and more comfortable weathering the little difficulties which make the bigger headaches relievable. A missed flight, lost wallet, or heavy traffic can turn into a good thing. That kind of confidence is real and simply gained through experience.
“Travel opens me up by making me more open to new ideas and different ways of living. It gives me courage to try new things and know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.” – Sarah D.
Why would anyone want to be stripped of their securities and put in a difficult situation? That’s the answer right there. We are challenged. Being in a foreign country where the language is one other than our own and we are lost pushes us to figure out what to do. We have to try to understand people. We learn that most people are the same and will help if we are willing to release our timidity. These situations are empowering and make us realize we have the “guts” inside us. That’s a test everyone loves to pass. It enables freedom from fear and more importantly, provides a mindset that anything can be accomplished.
“No risk taking equals no problems, no change. Travel makes us take risks and forges a growth, a change.” – Dave L.
Global wandering requires risk, but risk is good. One can’t grow without taking risks. We recognize that world is our platform for that growth. The risks are seen as an opportunity to get better. In the words of Randy Nelson,”Sometimes you have to walk on broken glass in the world, but when it’s all done you’ll have tougher feet.” We find ways to toughen our feet by becoming immersed in other cultures, other languages, and in other mindsets. That kind of growth is gratifying and one we crave. More importantly, it is one that is invaluable.
Creating a Perspective Through Lenses
Have you ever seen the layering on a landscape that helps create atmospheric perspective, not what was captured through a camera lens or paint brush, but in reality? The real view is different and more diverse. It creates a deeper understanding. A traveler wants to form their own perspective, not through the lens of a publisher, but through the two lenses on each side of their own nose. It’s the eyes that expose the truth of the world.
(Atmospheric perspective is a means of indicating relative distance in terms of a gradation of clarity, tone, and colour, esp blue.)
“To be able to see other people in their lives from around the world really helps me have a better perspective and understanding of people.” – Doug I.
One of the greatest things about experiencing the world is we are able to create our own opinions and understandings of it. We widen our views and develop them according to how WE see them. Our eyes are opened. The previous perspective of a place is erased and filled with a new one that is better, one that is real. To quote Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
“I travel to open my eyes and heart, to expose and embrace the world.” – Cait M.
Did you know you can cook food by burying it the ground over hot rocks? That is how the Maori people cook their meals. Did you know you can remedy an illness through herbs or acupuncture rather than popping a pill? That is how many people in Asia practice medicine. There are more methods and ways of thinking than the ones we call our own. Seeing the way people live and hearing how they communicate teaches us that there are ways to do things other than the way we know. Their culture was once shaped just like ours was once shaped.
“I love changing the perspective of my countrymen. Meaning, I want people to say, ‘that’s a cool American,’ and I want Americans to say, ‘Wow, Russia seems pretty cool.'” – Ralph G.
We all have stereotypes whether we want to admit it or not. How are those stereotypes destroyed? That’s easy. The best way is experiencing the place and meeting the people. What is their view of us? We want to meet people who show us what is good and in turn we want to show them where we come from is good too. We want to break down those barriers. All countries have some tendencies, or cultural markers, but there are a lot of things that make people similar. No matter how much truth a film, a magazine, or CNN may try to show, our own vision is the most accurate. It is the goal of many travelers to find that truth and find what is great about each place and people.
“Travel gets you out of your own mental arena, the one we create about our home country. We begin to see the ways other countries measure up and ways our own country does not.” – Randy N.
Travel is a mythbuster. It’s an equalizer. One may go into another country thinking their country is far superior because it is more developed. In reality, they may find things that are superior in that country compared to their own. For example, that country may be more efficient at catching fish. Refreshing our perspective, many times, frees us from judgment and instills some humility.
“When I look back to the person I was before traveling compared to the person I am now, I would have to say traveling has changed the way I see things. It educated me and opened my eyes even wider.” – Benson L.
Navigating other countries allows us to change, to see not only the world we don’t know but to uncover a world back home on our own home doorstep. When we learn a new perspective about another culture it changes the perspective about our own culture unexpectedly. The scope of our world is broadened. There is more appreciation and empathy. You appreciate what you have, what you don’t; you empathize for what others do have, what they don’t. This is what makes travel so unique. These are the all-encompassing views seen through the lenses of a traveler.
The High of Adventure
We all grow up reading of great tales in books or seeing an epic journey on the big screen. Too many that is enough but to others setting out on a quest provides a stimulation. The uncertainty is a catalyst. It’s a feeling that the world is in front of you and you are the explorer. It’s like that feeling when you punch the pedal down in the car and see the red needle rise, the fleeting feeling on the jump, or even seeing a masterpiece come together in the final stages. It’s excitement. There is a high that one obtains, and it’s ongoing. Many times we get locked in to the moment and that is when the adventure high takes over for days, weeks, or even months (however long the travelling may be).
“Meeting people of other cultures and seeing and experiencing another culture and all of its aspects was addicting. From there, I couldn’t stop.” – Becky N.
Have you ever seen someone travel and then come home and they are in a funk for a while? Sure, jet lag may have something to do with it but it’s also because that person was riding the adventure high and when the trip ends they crash. It’s almost like a patient having an IV hooked up to them with a slow drip keeping that rush going and then the needle is pulled. This may make it sound like someone being a druggie but it really is an addiction of sorts that travelers experience. It’s exactly why they say once you travel more and more one gets the urge or itch to keep going. It’s again that curiosity to experience even more. It’s the curse of the traveler.
“It’s such a high to find a new place and have to navigate it yourself without knowing the language.” – Caitlin C.
Many can recount the first experience where their desire to travel started. It may have been as a coaching stint that ended up in the Alps, an ambassador tour to the other side of the world, a lengthy study abroad program, a family trip into foreign territory, or an international athletic competition. The unbounding, insatiable, and never-ending curiosity for the adventure was hatched. Move ahead to today and through that first door to the bigger world many more were opened. Some went as far as leading an international education program, or living and working in China for five years, or providing veterinary care to wildlife while hanging from a helicopter over the African Serengeti, or even scaling to Earth’s pinnacle point of Chomolungma; Mount Everest. It might even be the renegade spirit of one and their backpack taking them to Nicaragua to meet their counterpart doing the same. Point being, for all of the travelers (adventurers, explorers, etc.) there was a point that lit a spark and it has stayed lit for many years, taking each on bigger, deeper, and higher adventures.
“It’s a great feeling to be in a place you’ve never been before. It’s the adventure experience. I love to explore new places, people, and moments.” – Leah P.
Now, an adventure can be influenced by a lot of things. It’s the stimulation of new things; new people, new surroundings, new customs. It’s also not the extremes of jumping out of an airplane or cage diving with Great Whites. Those could be part but it’s much more than that. It could be the spiritual experience of spending time with a monk, having a beer with someone from Siberia, or simply sitting in a park watching people play a game you’ve never seen. These are examples that make up the bigger picture, that make up the quest or adventure. It comes in different forms to each person, whether it be something big or small.
“Going off the beaten path. That is what it is all about.” – Ben H.
There is also the high that comes from finding the new places and having to navigate it yourself and maybe while not knowing the native language. This is where most find that “off the beaten path” mentality kicking in. Many find their ecstasy here because it’s not scripted. A traveler is truly writing their own pages and experiencing that moment. The moments and experiences are unique to them. The depth of the road less traveled isn’t going to introduce you to the people collecting your money as a tourist, but rather people that may invite you into their home and give you the chance to hear their stories or create new stories together. An immersion of people separated by distance into shared moments is something truly special. The true cultural experience blossoms here.
“I travel to not be the same.” – Lisaann E.
Whether it be the addicting aspect of engaging with people, the food, the navigation, or the uncertainty of what’s next, the adventure is really the combination of everything coming together. That is the combination that feeds the high.
Give Me That Medicine
Travel has healing power. There is something to be said for having the ability to get away. To know there isn’t an agenda or routine in front of us can be fulfilling. Experiencing something out of the normal routine helps many of us recharge. Everyday life can be mentally draining. Whether it be driving the same route everyday, sitting behind a computer everyday, or training and going from competition to competition, it all wears us down. The monotonous of daily life drive us to find that medicine; the ability to relax. We may want to meditate in a temple in Nepal, sail the endless seas, or read a book on a beach. There are different ways to medicate through travel.
“When I have more time I like to travel to places where not many people are to relax.” – Max L.
Sometimes the fix is more complex and requires more than finding a specific place to isolate. It requires wandering. This is where we get in the car or on the plane and put only one thing in front of us, the horizon. Going with the flow, without a destination and letting the journey do the healing refreshes the soul. It also gives a indescribable freedom. This freedom medication often, in time, ignites a passion we simply can’t find by staying put. The travels find the answers.
The Global Connection
If you ask anyone who is a travel enthusiast it is guaranteed the thing they love, if not love the most, is meeting new people. When we meet people from different areas spanning the globe the world as we new it becomes smaller. With today’s technology it is easy to stay connected to the new friends encounter through our travels. Some of these people may have helped us on our journeys and some may have been part of the experience on our journeys.
“Travel has allowed me to make international friends and wonderful stories.” – Megan K.
It’s about making friends with some of the others representing six countries as you all pile into the back of a pick-up truck to cut sugar cane. It’s laughing with your sherpas as you scale a mountain. It’s learning German from Germans in Germany. It’s also chatting about world current events with a friend from the other side of the planet. These all are examples of our desire to create a connection with many types of people. International friendships help us learn from each other. However, the real yin and yang about travel are the stories we make together because they are rare and become precious to us, a true diamond in the rough.
“What I find most important and love most about being abroad is being able to open your mind and share time with people. The differences such as studies, your house, and your job are no longer important.” – Maria Jesus E.
Finding similarities with others is not hard when you travel. We want to understand each other. At the end of the day we are all far more alike than we are different across the globe. We are all at the core the same. Miles may separate us but our experiences bind us and that is the essence of friendship.
Why Do We Travel?
Here I am back at the question. Why do we travel? The answer isn’t simple. It could be the high we receive. It could be the new perspectives or growth. It could be the curiosity to educate ourselves or it could be the healing it provides. It may even be about the people we form relationships with. We each have our reasons and it may include all of them, it may not.
The fact that makes the answers so interesting is that as we come to better understand them we better understand ourselves and why we travel, but also let others see why we do it.
Then again, maybe it is as simple as this quote:
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
As The Allman Brothers say, “You were born a ramblin’ man.”
Special Note: The quotes found in this piece were from the many great individuals who gave their time to sum up their own input. I want to give a huge thanks to them! Thank you Randy, Doug, Lisaann, Ralph, Megan, Cait, Susan, Becky, Anna, Caitlin, Dave, Max, Denise, Benson, Leah, MJ, Amanda, Sarah, Ben, and Steph