best reasons to travel

by Juan on July 7, 2007

Barely a couple of weeks into my new job and I’m already finding myself immersed into fascinating research on why we travel. There are statistics by regions, demographics and other dimensions which are probably not too different from what is available out there. But so many numbers got us thinking about the soft side of the problem and the discussion became a revelation.

If you look around in your local newspaper or the web, most resources will try to sell you a destination as the ultimate objective of your trip. This makes sense since you are boarding a plane to go to a different place. In some cases they will try to sell you exclusive experiences based on a destination that is mostly unreachable by other people. The majority of travelers will settle for this pitch as they have been programmed to assume that their vacations are all about visiting all those places that people talk about. People will only pay for packaged experiences that have been tried many times in the exact same way.

First rule: explore local hangouts

There is another category of travelers that are investing more than their money and time into these experiences. They are allowing for that particular experience to affect them in more ways than most people would allow. Open to the possibility that being part of another culture, even if only for a short period of time, may have a catalytic power, these travelers are on a more meaningful journey.

I often tell of the healing power of traveling to places like France and Italy where the culture of slow is an integral part of their life style. Taking your time to have a proper lunch with the right bottle of wine accompanying a selection of tapas, carpaccio or another appetizer while carefully understanding the choices for the main course. Not that you can’t get that in other places, but it seems that they do it as part of their normal routine and it feels like the only way to have lunch. After a few weeks of this process and you start to realize that you’ve been missing out on the important things in life. You come back a different person, a better person, a more complete global citizen that has decoded important knowledge about life.

While this is a very mundane example, it is one that many people will recognize. The process of discovering yourself with each trip is a very personal one. Chances are that if you try to repeat the experience of some other person the effect on you will not be the same. At the same time there is the possibility that visiting different cultures and experiencing different places will awaken specific areas of your inner-self that you were not aware of. The beauty of this approach is that every travel experience, if calculated correctly has the potential to enhance your persona and lead to the shaping of yourself as a global citizen, well in tune with all your potential as discovered through your journey around the world.

The tourist that never leaves the beaten path is likely only exposed to an esterile experience that has been washed out of all its original power.

The best reason to travel is not to discover new places; it is to discover what you would become after being affected by your destination. Pick your destinations wisely.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Cayley July 8, 2007 at 4:27 pm

I love that line about the healing powers of France. Juan, you look like the right guy for the place and time. I wish you the best. I look all the things read here. Global culture, the ability to create a self organising system that is centred on “experience” vs. destination. I wish you the very best you have great folks to work with.

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juan July 8, 2007 at 6:18 pm

It’s easy to be passionate about such a cool enterprise.

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wanderer July 9, 2007 at 12:51 pm

I think travelling is best described in this quote from T.S. Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

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juan July 10, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Dear wanderer:

Great quote. I can imagine the next two lines of it going something like this:

“for we used to live here
but only now we can call it home”

There is a hint that this exploration may also be at a personal level and in fact I do believe that travel has that effect on people.

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wanderer July 11, 2007 at 11:51 am

it’s really the same thing in my mind…we define ourselves in terms of a collective identity opposed to some phantomatic form of the Other, be it an opposing culture or person, therefore meeting that Other and understanding it better fundamentalley changes ourselves…

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Waderlust January 8, 2009 at 3:53 pm

I think Pico Iyer best described why it is we travel.

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”

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Jeremy Bohall February 20, 2009 at 6:06 am

Well said! Mark Twain remarked that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness”. I think that sums it up well.

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gregorylent April 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm

“the desire to travel is just the desire to expand consciousness” .. maharishi mahesh yogi, 1972

cool, and now about the cultural pollution of consuming travel as a trendy lifestyle “experience” that expands nothing?

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juan April 7, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Gregory: I believe by cultural pollution you may refer to the old debate of globalization and its effect on cultures. Interestingly enough, that debate was a common theme in the early days of this blog, but as you can see the discourse as evolved into sharing a global culture. When we travel we blur the line that separates our culture from the one we visit. As long as we are careful not to fall into the usual tourist traps, that integration of cultures expands both ends, doesn’t it?

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gregorylent April 7, 2009 at 11:06 pm

globalization is what nature is/does and is fine, unavoidable, how reality is …

by pollution i am talking about tourist ghettos, and every ill that goes along with them, some of which are here, http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2008/12/29/seven-reasons-why-foreign-travel-is-unethical/

and a lot more .. ecosystems have more importance than we think, both natural and cultural ones…

big subject here …

enjoy, gregory lent

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Timothy Dean November 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Juan – we have a group of travelers on Facebook, called “Worlders – A Tribe of Wanderers.” I’m going to post a link to your excellent article. C’mon by and say hello (and feel invited to post links to travel-related work any time)…

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