A few days ago reader "jd" had a great suggestion for a post: what's the point of traveling? Seeing that I'm at the end of a long series of trips, it's seems to me that it's a perfect time for a post like that. Like anything, people travel for a whole host of reasons ranging from relieving stress to escaping the law. I can't speak to all of those reasons, so I'll share my own.
I began really traveling due to panic, which may not have been the best reason to go. I had always thought of myself as the type of person who would travel the world, but at twenty-six, I had gone to only a handful of countries, and had never even been to Europe. Realizing that other people my age were traveling a lot, and I wasn't, I sold everything and left with my friend Todd.
That first trip lasted nine months and fundamentally changed how I thought of travel. I set out in search of adventure and the title of "person who travels", but I got a lot more out of it.
When you stay in your home country, it's easy to completely avoid thinking of life beyond its borders. The way things were in America, I figured, was pretty much the way they were everywhere. Typical vacation travel also reinforces this view, because it hides the grit of every destination and serves up a sanitized version that largely reflects the country from which the vacationers came. In the worst cases, only a small injection of caricatured culture makes its way through the walls of the resort.
Real travel exposes the traveler to the details of life that compose the atmosphere of that country. Through that experience, one can begin to understand what life is actually like for the residents. You learn not only how they think and act differently, but why.
To see life from these different perspectives is to see the world in three dimensions. A contrast is provided against how you've always thought about and done things, which gives you the opportunity to examine those things.
Apart from gaining a deeper subconscious understanding of how the world works, you also learn a lot about yourself through travel. Because you are constantly dealing with new situations that you've never dealt with before, you learn to rely on yourself. Almost everybody learns that they're more capable than they thought they were, and through that process learns that the rest of the world isn't as intimidating as it might seem.
The great thing about traveling is that if you're diligent about it, you can get all of those benefits while still being just about as productive as you were before. The gains come in the background as everyday routines are replaced with novel experiences. A trip to the supermarket takes the same amount of time, but reveals things about the country you're in, and isn't done on autopilot like back home.
These benefits of travel can be found in trips of any length, but are only really forced upon you during long trips. That's why when people begin traveling, I recommend spending a lot of time in each country. A night or two in a city and you can book a hotel, eat in "western style" restaurants, see a tourist site or two, and then head home. If you're somewhere for a month, on the other hand, you'll probably be forced to branch out.
Once you're a more seasoned traveler, you get better at gaining that same perspective during shorter trips. Longer trips still yield more depth, but your travel style will shift away from typical tourist traps and the emotional safety of experiences that mirror home.
Traveling is one of the single most powerful ways to build perspective, confidence, and self-reliance. It's also a lot of fun, and conducive to getting work done at the same time. Motivations will vary from person to person, but to me, those factors make up the point of traveling.
Photo is live scorpions on a stick, sold in Beijing. I'll admit that I didn't "live like the locals" enough to eat them.
Back in the US tomorrow, heading to D.C. to see my family for Thanksgiving!
Sometimes a preference can morph from being your best assessment of a particular situation into a fixture of who you are. When that happens, you're in a bad position to reevaluate and make a better decision, because your ego gets caught up in that decision. That happened to me when I decided that I preferred multi-month trips to shorter ones.
When I started traveling, my intention was to come back to the US as infrequently as possible. I hadn't done very extensive traveling, so my plan was meant to combat that. I'd stay in places for long periods of time, generally months, and really get to know them deeply.
This worked really well for me. I haven't been back in a few years, but Panama felt like a real home base. Tokyo did, too, and it still does today.
Now I travel much more frenetically. I'm sitting in Paris working on a blog post, but by tonight I'll be in Jordan. My last meal was in Brooklyn, New York. Over the next week I'll also travel to Cairo, Amsterdam, and Hong Kong.
Over the years everyone gets asked the same mundane questions revolving around what is your favorite book, movie, band, song, video game etc.. For most of the things stated I don't have concrete answers. I will definitely tell you one of my favorite movies is City of God and that Red Hot Chilli Peppers is one of my favorite bands, but depending on my mood, the context, and overall experience with movies or music, my opinion can change. But when it comes to books, my favorite is unchanging
The book I'm talking about is Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. Vagabonding is the book that has had the most effect on my outlook, thoughts, and values. First and foremost, Rolf Potts is humble, he doesn't brag or rub it in your face how much he's traveled or all the crazy adventures he has had. Rather he mentions them to inspire and evoke the same feelings he must have felt while living through it. what's amazing about Rolf Pott's advice is how it can be integrated into your everyday life easily and flawlessly. His advice on how to deal with culture shock, his views on working, and his mentality for dealing with the good and bad really hit home on how one should live their life all the time. But his strongest advice comes from two simple words. SLOW DOWN! (I'll probably write and article on this subject one of these days) these two words, implemented everyday will have a dramatic effect on your life. Too many people live their lives hectically and all over the place, in an unnecessary haste that actually brings about no significant improvements over doing things in a more simple manner.
Most of all the book really inspires you to travel. The way I think about it, this world is to huge and filled with too many adventures to be stuck in one place. Cultures, languages, food, perceptions, are so wide and varied that by staying at home or in one country you only "read one chapter" (as one of the quotes Rolf Potts uses in the book). Before I read this book my life mostly revolved around the concept of me growing up, getting a normal job, and then staying at home playing video games, watching TV, and doing exercise. Life just didn't seem that bad, and I have never been the type of person that likes to waste money haphazardly. This book had a profound effect on me. It made me think about what other possibilities lie out there that I wasn't taking advantage, how the small aspects of travel, the people, the environments, the awkward experiences, the combination of just being surrounded by a completely new place and leaving everything behind, would allow me to venture far past my comfort-zone and give me the power to create my own reality.
for those of you who haven't read this truly amazing book, I suggest you buy it NOW. If you have thought about traveling but never really found the motivation too this book will help you. And even if you never plan on travelling, the books premise, concepts and advice can easily be applied to a life anywhere.