Why Do We Travel?

I’m sitting here in city three of the four I had planned to visit on this two week tour of Europe. The night before leaving is always a bit of a sad affair for me, as part of me wants to stay, and part of me wants to be done with the purgatory of travel that is to occur the next day. Quite frankly, being sad and anxious is an arena in which I am quite uncomfortable.

But that’s not to say that it doesn’t come with some benefits. Introspection comes easier in this state, and it’s the perfect time to ask the deeper questions of life, looking at them in the different light that a new environment may provide. It’s from this that I ask the basic question “Why do I travel?”

But why do any of us travel? It’s a billion dollar industry after all, with many under-reported gray markets surrounding it. What, exactly, are we trying to accomplish by participating in this act?

As near as I can figure, there are three positions, two of which fall onto a continuum, and one which is simply a matter of circumstance. They are:

  1. We travel to get to something.
  2. We travel to get away from something.
  3. We travel at the whim of somebody else.

It’s somewhat easy to set aside those who identify with #3. Business travel falls into it, as do members of the military, as well as children who are at the mercy of the whims of their parents. While the reasons these folks travel are all different, at the core, they travel due to an outside influence.

For me, items #1 and 2 are where I’d like to focus, as the motivations here are internal. Additionally, both of these reasons are the far ends of a continuum, and different people fall at different points within it.

Where do I fit? I seem to fall in more of the “traveling to get to something” category, although I do not mind getting away from it all from time to time. But mostly, I go to get something from where I am going. Within me there’s a dilettante, a student, someone who needs a bit of information that only visiting an area first hand can impart. I can read about Dublin, Milwaukee, or Venice all I want, but until I experience these places first hand, the ideas about these places will always be within the abstract. And while I can play with the abstract, I work much better with first hand knowledge.

Sitting on this edge of the “continuum” makes me a bit of a seeker. When in an area, I have to try this food, or see this play, or visit this museum. There is information in all of these arenas that I want. This is at the heart of why I travel.

I have a much more difficult time “getting away from it all”. Places designed to make you forget your home life and simply relax? These places don’t appeal that much to me at all. Spending a week at a spa, or a cruise ship that has no stops? Those places are not attractive to me at all. Rationally, I know why they exist and why they are popular. Emotionally? They seem like an extended visit to the mall.

At some point I recognize that this is likely to change. Old age and routine may force me to recognize the value of getting away from it all in order to relax. Right now? Right now I’d prefer to find the next museum.