There are lots of reasons people travel and those reasons can change over time. The motivations can also change according to how much time they have, or how much money they have. People who can enjoy slow travel may have very different motivations than those on a quick resort vacation in the pool chair.
I’ve been pondering my own motivations because I’m participating in a program with my travel insurance partner, Allianz, who I have my AllTrips annual policy through. They’ve been asking people to fill in the blank of #ITravelBecause on social media and it will be a part of contests they are running.
This is a fun one to fill in, but kind of complicated since travel is also my job. What I get paid to do is write about travel and destinations. Sometimes I’m writing the kind of long-form narrative travel stories that win awards, sometimes hotel reviews, and on here mostly advice.
I travel because I love it though, which is why I found a way to make it my occupation. If I won millions in the lottery tomorrow and never had to write a single word about this subject ever again, I’d travel more, not less. So clearly I’m still doing it because of something deeper than making a buck.
If you don’t know much about me, I came late to this pursuit. I took off on my first big international jaunt when I was 30, setting out on a trip around the world for a year. Before that, like a good citizen, I got a good job, worked my way up over eight years, bought a house, bought a car, and all that. Once I circled the globe that first time, however, I knew I wasn’t going to let it go. My now-wife and I made two more trips around the world before having a kid. Eventually I put out my first book, started this blog, and found a way to turn my part-time writing gig into a full-time job.
After doing this for 25 years now, people—mostly friends and relatives who don’t travel much—crinkle their brow and ask me puzzling questions. “Don’t you get tired of it?” “Don’t you miss home when you’re gone more than a week?” “Can you really make a living just traveling around?” “How can you afford to travel so much?” And my favorite, “Don’t you get bored after a while?”
Work routines and cubicles are boring. The big blue marble, full of endless possibilities, is not.
I travel because…ruts are for wagon wheels
Routines, ruts, and pattern loops make you old before your time. Sure, I understand the power of habit and the value of a good work space. But most people are tied down to such a rigid set of routines and rituals that they might as well be wearing a house arrest ankle bracelet. Work, commute, eat, TV, sleep, commute, repeat. Most Americans follow this pattern 51 weeks a year to have one week to themselves.
I get more done at my home office than I do on the road, but life is about more than work. I don’t want every week to be the same because then I’m half-dead. I want to learn new things, meet interesting new people, and get different perspectives. In other words, experience the opposite of a rut.
I travel because…my brain needs a change of scenery
Have you ever noticed how much your mood changes when you fly from a cold and gray city to a green place with warm air and sunshine? In my home base of Guanajuato last week I met a couple visiting from Minnesota. They rebuffed my suggestion to move into the shade while we were talking. “We’ve been looking at only gray and white for months now,” they said.
It’s not just an escape from the cold that can make you feel better though. Studies have shown that our brain synapses actually work better when we get a change of scenery on a regular basis. We’re far more creative even after a walk in the park or a hike up a nearby hill. When we’re exposed to foreign cultures and different architecture, the effect is even more profound.
Staying in one place and driving the same route every day makes your brain atrophy. Giving it something new and interesting to look at on a regular basis is like feeding it a big green smoothie of nutrients.
If you aren’t convinced the other benefits of travel are real, heed this one because it’s backed up by science.
I travel because…it helps me see real humanity
I’m convinced that the reason most politicians are so utterly clueless about the rest of the world’s desires and struggles is that they never move outside their insulated bubble. If they travel it’s on “fact-finding” trips and quick summit visits that are carefully orchestrated and always rushed. They are surrounded by people who look like them and think like them. They get filtered reports from fawning staffers and only talk to people who are lobbying them or deciding whether to vote for them.
It has been noted by many that travelers tend to be a rather left-of-center bunch. The reason you don’t run into many social conservatives with dogmatic, stubborn views among frequent travelers is because it’s hard for a frequent traveler to be closed-minded. That generally only works over time if they’re managing to keep themselves inside a bubble abroad. (Always staying at international business chain hotels, watching the same news channel as at home, and arranging private drivers, for instance.)
When traveling in ways that put us in contact with locals, our perceptions are challenged on a daily basis and we experience a huge range of backgrounds and economic situations as we move around. We see the scary commonalities among religious fanatics the world over and how their rigid viewpoint can produce far more evil than good. We see how hard it is to counteract greed. We see how government can do great good, or how corruption can rot its core.
We see places where people are generally happy, whether paying high taxes (Denmark) or low (Costa Rica). Then we can compare that to the general mood (and health care) of our supposedly great home country, where a much larger percentage of the population is depressed. We get a well-rounded, nuanced view of the world instead of black or white half-truths.
I travel because…experiences are worth more than objects
For three years I lived out of a backpack and seemed to get by just fine. So how come, a few years later, I had a whole house full of stuff? There are tens of thousands of travelers moving around the globe right now with one bag. So why do so many suburbanites have attics and garages that are packed to capacity?
Some of those possessions can bring real joy, but many of them are just taking up space. Physical space and psychic space. As many have found, shedding possessions before a move can be really gratifying. It feels like losing 20 pounds and being able to climb stairs easier.
I get some travel opportunities for free because of my job, but even putting that aside, my family has probably spent enough on travel the past two decades to buy a few nice BMWs for cash. I’m glad I spent the money on travel and not possessions though, because I’ve got memories no shopoholic workaholic will find time and money to have.
I don’t have that long of a “bucket list” because I’ve gone most of the places I dreamed of going 25 years ago. When I think of good times with my daughter, I can remember things we did in the jungles of Costa Rica, in the mountains of Canada, in the wilds of Belize, in the malls of Bangkok, and the old city of Hanoi. When I look at photos of my wife and I together, the backgrounds are in exotic spots on five continents. We’ll always have those memories. When we’re on our deathbed, are we really going to care what kind of car we drove around?
If you’re not one of those people who says, “I wish I could travel more” (but doesn’t really mean it), you probably nodded along with some of these.
So what about you, why do you travel?
Post it on the comments or on social media with the hashtag: #ITravelBecause.
This post is sponsored by Al Centro Media partner Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and I have received financial compensation. I also use them as my travel insurance provider. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.