Note: In the vast majority of posts on this blog, I give recaps of trips taken and practical travel advice. But this post is going to be different. Having recently hit the milestones of visiting both 50 countries and all seven continents, I have decided now is an appropriate time to discuss the “why”.
The short answer is that I travel because I enjoy it. I like the feeling of discovery and get a thrill by being on the move. The urge to discover has been innate in me for my entire life.
Just months after taking my first steps, my parents took me on a hike where I sat in a backpack on my dad’s back. Somewhere in the middle of the trail, my dad put me down to take a water break and I bolted off- walking nearly a half-mile uphill. I was determined to reach the end of the trail and refused to turn back. It was only after my parents faked abandoning me that I allowed them to carry me back down to the car.
I believe that learning about other places helps me understand my world and the world better, which therefore gives my life meaning. Going to a new place creates an opportunity to learn in ways that books, articles, lectures and Netflix documentaries can never show.
It is important to mention this: traveling does not have to be expensive, exotic or distant. It can be as simple as taking the bus to a new part of town. It is not the destination that makes something traveling; rather it is the mindset and the expectations. While I have been to many far-away places, those experiences do not make any more of a traveler/adventurer than a local urban-explorer.
Travel can produce indescribable photo-worthy glamorous moments, but the truth is life is never as picture-perfect. Social media woefully ignores the boredom, the struggles, and the human interactions (good and bad) in favor of eye candy. No true traveler takes a trip “for the gram” and nobody’s life is as glamorous as it seems on social media – not even travel influencers.
While the never-ending quest for discovery and knowledge drives me to travel, I truly believe that traveling has made me a better person. Here are some ways how:
- Travel is a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth. Street smarts, communication skills, bargaining skills, figuring out who to trust, and resilience are all things cannot be learned in a classroom. Rather, they are learned in the real world. Due to the many uncertainties of traveling, these skills are tested often.
- Travel makes me less afraid and more accepting of others. Humans are naturally afraid of the unknown. Unfortunately, a lot of people, corporations, and institutions (such as governments and media outlets) make money or gain power by stoking this fear. The result is that we are afraid of people in other countries, from other countries, and from different backgrounds. Travel counteracts those myths by showing you the truth firsthand. While not everyone is good, I have found that generally people are good, honest, and helpful despite our differences. This even applies to countries with governments considered “evil”.
- Travel allows me to be my true self. While away, I have to figure out how to occupy my time and spend my money on my own without the influences of family or friends. This is a good way to figure out what I really value. While I try to live my life in Los Angeles with the same mentality as I do when traveling, it is impossible to completely ignore the work and social pressures.
- Travel makes me patient. The rest of the world doesn’t function exactly like the United States. And the rest of the United States doesn’t function exactly like Los Angeles. People may not be able to perfectly communicate in English (or my dialect of English). Certain goods or services that I want may not exist. Certain assumptions about punctuality, meal etiquette, or service might not hold true. While aggravating at times, I have eventually realized that arguing or getting upset over these differences is an exercise in futility. The best solution is to simply accept and embrace these differences.
- Travel creates humility. The vast majority of the world is less fortunate than me. It is very easy to forget about all those people when in everyday social circles. Breaking out of those circles makes me appreciate how lucky I really am. This can be extrapolated to our society and government. As an Angeleno, I am fortunately to live in a city where people from all over the world can be accepted and can succeed without judgement. As an American, I am very fortunate to live in a country where people can freely express their opinions/ideas and can live in a society that has relatively little corruption. I am also fortunate to live in an economically stable society where the banking system functions, where inflation is low, and the currency has real value. Without having traveled outside the boundaries of my community, I would not have as clear an understanding of how life could have been drastically different had I been born under different circumstances.
At the most basic level, my life’s goal is to seek understanding of this impossibly-large puzzle of landscapes, cultures, knowledge and matter we call the Universe. Through travel, I am able to examine tiny pieces of that puzzle and see how they fit together. Connecting pieces and increasing my knowledge base by visiting new places puts me closer to that goal of complete understanding. Even though I will never completely solve the puzzle as there are an infinite number of places, ideas, and stories in the Universe, the endless pursuit of the impossible gives me great satisfaction and ultimately gives my life purpose.