Why do you travel? Perhaps that’s not the easiest question to answer. Some people would say they travel to relax or to experience something new. But these things can be done from the comfort of our own homes. So why do we really feel the urge to travel?
Being grounded during the current COVID-19 crisis is forcing us to evaluate why we really want to leave home in the first place.
If we stop to think about it, we travel because something we need is not available where we currently are. Historically that meant traveling to find fresh pastures, food supplies, hunting grounds, or goods to trade. Today, don’t need to travel across the seas to taste the spices of the Orient. But we might travel to find something within our subconscious mind that is not available in familiar surroundings. Our internal exotic spices if you will.
But are we traveling because it’s a habit that we don’t really think about. Travel is often marketed as the ‘obvious solution’. Whether that’s Spring Break or a school assignment on ‘where I went this summer’ we are programmed to believe that a year without a vacation is an oddity to be avoided. We travel out of habit, we travel without asking ‘why?’ It’s time to think more carefully. Thought in travel? Now there’s a thought.
My theory about our impulse to travel is that we have an inner drive towards growth and self-development. When this is blocked, we get unhappy. Self-development means the rounding out and development of our natures, the exploration of our potential. The desire to travel is a part of this inner drive to develop and improve ourselves.
This gets disguised when we are drawn towards specific experiences for seemingly benign reasons. But by digging deeper, we can realize that we idealize relaxing on a beach because we are stressed. We yearn to hike a mountain trail because we are tired of taking the street through the same city every day. We dream of joining a Mardi Gras parade because we want connection with vibrancy and community.
So, in this time of reflection, how can we make the most of the opportunity to plan our future travels?
The first question should be why, rather than where. Because travel is so freely available at a moment’s notice, we tend to skip through our reason for travel. The end result is we’re NOT focused on our motives and desired outcomes and often end up feeling rather blah and disappointed. We haven’t learned anything tangible or made any lasting changes to make us a better person.
The bulk of travel that puts the ‘where’ ahead of the ‘why’ follows a predictable blueprint, a blueprint that hasn’t much changed since the days of the Grand Tour. In the 17th and 18th centuries, aristocratic young men were sent with their tutors to travel around Europe and further their education by studying the work of the greats including Greek sculpture and Roman architecture.
We continue to travel in this vein without thinking about it because travel guides still follow the same structure and pattern. These are the places we are supposed to go and things we need to see in order to be a good and worthy traveler. We visit the Louvre, tour the Pantheon and ride the London Eye. We do all these things automatically because they’re what you’re meant to do when visiting Paris, Rome, and London.
But how do any of these things make us a better person? And if we wouldn’t visit an art gallery or museum in our hometown, why would we suddenly enjoy doing it on our travels? Why is it better to see London from far above when you could be walking the streets, tasting the street food, and looking in awe at the historical buildings?
Similarly, just because your friend or neighbor found a specific location wonderful doesn’t mean that it will bring you the same pleasure. You may have similar tastes, but you have very different needs, wants, and desires.
Once you’ve pinpointed the reason you need to travel, you may realize that the need to travel across the ocean has dissipated. If you are traveling to fix an issue, ensure that it’s a lasting fix, rather than slapping a band-aid on a bigger issue.
When we travel again, having had time to think about how much we miss traveling and exploring, will we do anything differently? Will we make better use of our time by ensuring that our travels have a defined goal in mind? Perhaps the pleasure we derive from travel depends more on our outlook, rather than the destination itself, and the best way to make the most of our adventures is learning how to re-appreciate our everyday lives.
To travel is to live.
—Hans Christian Andersen