Yes, why do we travel? Is it an inner desire or longing that draws us to distant shores? Is it simply what we think we should do when our annual leave comes up? Or perhaps a combination of the two and we just need to let off some steam and relax? This question is very simple for some, and others maybe a little harder to put our fingers on. There will be a school of thought that goes something like “Travel? Why travel and spend money when I have everything I need right here!”. Personally, I have experienced all of these phases (yes, I was young and thrifty with no desire to travel at one time!).
I want you to reflect for a moment and ask yourself the question as well. Why travel? Why do I keep spending money to get on a plane, to deal with airports, get stuck in traffic, interrogated at immigration, lose my baggage, get price gouged for being a tourist, and put up with the sounds of 12 people sleeping in the same room. If the answer is not immediately clear, then perhaps there is something deeper at play that travel provides for you. I know for me, I love adventure. I love new surroundings and the thrill and challenges that that gives me. I used to be wary when going to new places, unsure how things worked, how I would get around, or whether it was worth the money to go to. As I exposed myself more and more to these challenges and situations, I grew to relish figuring these things out. If things come to me too easily on holiday I feel I haven’t put myself out there enough. I want to be able to look back on the good as well as the bad, because for better or worse, you can always laugh at what you’ve put yourself through (this may take some time depending on how bad you had it!). Without fail, you will have a story to tell and a lesson learned.
So, returning to the beginning, let’s assume you have a deep underlying desire to venture to distant lands. This is where I’m at right now. You can’t put your finger on it but there is an invisible pull that drags you through airports and across unsealed roads just so you can experience something new and exciting. I was once asked by my brother-in-law (note: raddest guy on the planet) if, when I travel somewhere new, do I do it for the “experience” of it or merely tick each place off the proverbial bucket list, take the Instagram photo and move on. I went to answer immediately, hesitated, then thought a little deeper about what I truly do when traveling abroad. I wanted to put my answer down as the “experience” option instinctively. Then I was honest with myself. In my experience, a lot of travelers like to share with others how they immerse themselves in every culture they come across and this by extension makes them a more worldly person that people not in the know just don’t “get.” They feel like this type of travel, whether they actually lived with the locals and ate grasshoppers or just tell people vaguely that they did, sets them apart and they are now a part of a special pedigree of traveler. We humans unconsciously like to group ourselves. We band together over shared experiences, beliefs and attitudes. We look on those outside of the group as being uninformed or ignorant of the knowledge that we possess. These are the travelers who are conspicuous by the lack of attention to washing their hair, have a diet that consists solely of peanut butter and bread, they find it important to take a guitar wherever they go and generally neglect to wear any sort of footwear regardless of their current setting. You know the people I’m talking about. I’ll admit, I did fit a couple of these categories at one time or another, mostly out of sheer budgeting and thriftiness. It is around the beach fire after they put down their ukulele after a rendition of Wonderwall that you’ll hear tales of the places they’ve traveled to that no one has ever heard of and one up each story teller of all the unique things they’ve seen and done physically as well as spiritually. You know the people I’m talking about.
So returning to my brother-in-law’s question, I thought on this for a little longer. I knew for sure that the previously described spiritual adventurer did not really apply to me. Sure, I have thoroughly enjoyed trekking through the Thai jungle and sleeping in local villages while digesting the local delicacies. I did this for the opportunity to see and do something I haven’t done before, regardless of the uniqueness or spiritual-ness attached to the endeavor. I now have a couple of funny stories to share and look back on, and was fortunate enough to make a couple of travel buddies on the way. However, it didn’t really resonate with me that I’d had an “experience.” I’d done something cool, ate something weird, took a bunch of photos and mentally did the “tick.” I definitely didn’t need to one up every story told around the camp fire and I would generally talk about the experience when it was solicited.
Does this by extension mean I only travel just to tick and flick while scanning for likes after I upload photos of my escapades? For me, no, not exactly either. I won’t lie and say there isn’t a certain thrill when a photo you upload gets mob likes from your friends and the public, or when you’re talking to friends back home and they can’t help but express their envy at all the cool things you’re getting up to. It’s difficult to not like that attention, it feels nice and it brings with a little self validation and pride. But because I’m being honest with myself, I know this is not a primary driver either. I’ve made an effort, conscious and unconscious, to take in all around me and enjoy things for what they are. I’m awed by the wonders of the world and have a full appreciation for the beauty of the natural and man made environment, but I prefer to see these things through my own eyes rather than the lens of my camera. You won’t see me travel all the way to the Grand Canyon, snap a couple of pictures, then get back in the car ready for the next photo shoot. That’s not to say I don’t love taking photos and capturing the beauty around us, it’s just that I will never be that guy with a GoPro on a selfie stick stomping all over Angkor Wat with my attention zeroed in on the camera. You know the people I’m talking about.
(This was the exception to the rule. Japan snow trip, circa 2013)
They’re the same breed that go to a music festival and with outstretched arms record EVERY SINGLE SET. Have you ever watched one of those videos? It is absolutely horrible. While this video chronicle of the day is being captured, the attention is focused solely through the lens and the magic and energy of the moment is diffused through the mobile apparatus. Ok ok, I may have had an axe to grind about these people at music festivals recording everything, but you get my point! Personally, I have one leg firmly planted on both sides of the fence. I like the experience, I like the photos, I like to tick things off, and I do my best to take everything in. It’s this happy medium that gives me the most fulfillment and keeps my travel bug absolutely ravenous.
To all those that travel just for the sake of it or use their annual leave for blowing off steam, that’s great also. Next time when you do cash in that annual leave or get on that next quick getaway, step out of your comfort zone a little. It doesn’t mean you have to swim with a Great White or climb Mount Everest, it could be as simple as striking up a conversation at a bar or taking the time to get to know another couple who are in the same tour group. It’s these little things, small individually, but much larger cumulatively, that add a depth to the personal experience we call life. Who knows, this could completely evolve how you think about travel and your reason why you do it. I’ve seen it in my friends. I’ve seen it in myself. The realization is exhilarating! If this sounds too much, too preachy, too overzealous, it probably is. I am so passionate about travel! So sit back on your beach lounge, drink your coconut and only hang out with your group of friends you traveled abroad with. You’ll have a good time no doubt and go back home relaxed and with a couple of stories of your holiday shenanigans. Everyone has different needs and wants and I respect that. However, if this can encourage you to make a few small changes to your travel ideology, the possibilities are endless and rewards uncountable.
I want to hear from you guys what you think is the ideal way to travel. Are you the solo adventurer at one with the spiritual world? Or are you the travel vlogger that records every movement and sound for the rest of us to enjoy? Perhaps you fall somewhere in the middle. I encourage you to take the time to find out, you might be be surprised.