How to Think About Travel
Where I come from, we’re in the midst of a cold winter. For most of us, this means frigid temperature, harsh wind chill, and some snow. With this being said, take a stroll through your Instagram or Facebook feeds. Chances are high that you find no sign of this. Rather than pictures of grey skies and office settings, you’ll instead end up with scenic beaches and exotic views with smiling faces.
The reality is that many of us here on Medium are privileged enough to travel, at least to some extent. Furthermore, those that do travel, they hit the road quite often. It’s deeper than avoiding an extra jacket and the hassle of shoveling your driveway. People everywhere harp on how the benefits and enjoyment of traveling.
Recently, this has me thinking.
Why do we travel? What’s the point anyway? How should we be thinking about travel? What should our mindset be as we go into our next trip? Over the course of this post, my aim is to further explore these questions and present any insights that I’ve found through my experience.
Before diving in further, let me first provide a little context. At the moment, I’m in the midst of a post-graduation backpacking trip across Europe (since that’s what you do, right?). I’m traveling alone for the majority of the 90-day trip while I work part-time building an online interview preparation course with the team at DataCamp. As I write this, I’m sitting at a café in Italy, about a month into my journey. You see where I’m coming from, now let's get into it.
I’ve realized that different people view travel very differently. This can likely be accounted to an over-reliance on anecdotal sources — something we’re all guilty of from time to time. I mean, can you blame us? How could the idea of travel not get warped with all the stories told by peers, updates from travel blogs, and pictures on social media?
First, let me paint a picture for you. You have a pretty typical daily routine, and you’re growing restless. Ready for change, you spontaneously book a trip somewhere new and exotic. This is awesome — for a little while. But, once you adjust to your new environment, culture, and updated routine, the same restless feelings awaits you.
This phenomenon is laid out beautifully in Travel Is No Cure for the Mind, an excellent visual essay on the topic. Furthermore, this essay is a modern adaption of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius on the topic of travel — so we’ve been dealing with this for a while.
“We tend to grossly overestimate the pleasure brought forth by new experiences and underestimate the power of finding meaning in current ones.” — More To That
Sure, travel can be a useful means to get away from the day-to-day grind that we all grow tired of. It can help avoid burnout and allow you to recharge your batteries. With that being said, it’s not a long-term solution to this problem and shouldn’t be treated as much. It’s also not just a thing to do when you are bored with your job. It’s much more than that.
Second, many younger travelers hit the road with the hope that they will ‘find themselves’. This also isn’t entirely off-base, but this notion that you should be looking for something, metaphorically or not, is quite dangerous. I highly recommend you check out What’s the Point of Traveling? to dive deeper on the topic.
“The point of traveling isn’t to find ourselves, and it’s also not to run away from our problems, but it’s to lose ourselves.” — Zat Rana
This quote offers a much more helpful way of thinking about things. Instead of constantly seeking answers and pushing yourself to uncover some hidden insight, you should go into travel with the proper mindset, and let things take care of themselves.
Yet another excellent source on this topic, I recommend author Ralph Potts and his novel, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, which goes into a lot of these concepts much more in-depth than I ever could in one post.
“Indeed, if travel is a process that helps you “find yourself,” it’s because it leaves you with nothing to hide behind — it yanks you out from the realm of rehearsed responses and dull comforts, and forces you into the present. Here, in the fleeting moment, you are left to improvise, to come to terms with your raw, true Self.” — Ralph Potts
Don’t get me wrong — travel can help you learn about yourself and discover things about yourself that you didn’t know prior. However, this is simply a side-effect of the circumstances that travel creates. It’s important to understand that it’s not a direct effect of travel itself.
A New Mindset
This brings us nicely to a more realistic and effective way to think about what travel is, what it does for us, and why we should partake in it. As Ralph mentioned in the previous quote, travel effectively strips you from your comfort zone and the conditioning that you know so well. This can be a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s medicine that we need from time to time.
Freedom from this conditioning, the ideas, and environments that predominantly shape us allow us to see things a bit differently than we normally would.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” — Saint Augustine
This often manifests itself through exposure to amazing new places, cultures, experiences, and more. Travel isn’t a way to escape your daily routine and it’s not a way to find yourself.
In simplest terms, travel alters how you see the world, even if only in the slightest. That’s more than enough, and it’s pretty amazing.
So, what does this mean in practice exactly? For me, I’ve found three daily practices that help me stay in the mindset described above. First, I do my best to avoid planning too much of my trip. Do your best to live in the moment and embrace openness to whatever comes your way. By going with the flow a bit more and stressing about your plans a bit less, you may realize that you notice a bit more.
Next, open your mind to new things and experiences. The way that I try to put this into practice is by defaulting to yes. Whenever I’m not sure or on the fence about something that makes me a bit uncomfortable, I do my best to say yes. When traveling, you're already out of your comfort zone to some extent, so take advantage of this by trying new things early and often on your trip.
Lastly, take the time to journal every day. This is a popular recommendation, but it’s for good reason. Journaling every day is an excellent way to keep an ongoing dialogue with your mind while traveling so you can better digest the huge amount of intake you’re experiencing on a daily basis.
With these ideas and practices by your side, I hope that you’ll have a fruitful experience on your next trip. Yet, remember that we are all wired a bit differently. In my experience, I’ve found that these tips work for me, but you may have to iterate on them and tweak them further before you get to a place where you’re comfortable — and that’s perfectly okay. Before I go, remember that travel isn’t the achievement, it’s the benefits and experiences that come with it that are special. I’ll see you out there.