The question Why Travel? has been asked and answered for as long as we humans have inhabited this beautiful orb we find ourselves on.
Since wandering out of the cradle of civilization, through the voyages of the Discoveries, to the American pioneers who crossed the new world in search of their hopes and dreams, a new beginning, and a better life, we've challenged ourselves to find the answer.
From philosophers and writers, to vagabonds and poets, the reasons to travel ring out across the ages:
Lao Tzu...Voltaire...Descartes; Napolean Bonaparte...Herman Melville...Aldous Huxley; Freya Stark...Mark Twain...Pat Conroy*.
These and untold others have put forth inspired views to answer the question, Why Travel?
Each gave their personal nod of understanding for the reasons why and the pleasures of embarking on an overseas journey. At least, as they saw it.
But are the benefits of traveling abroad today, the same as they were in each of their lifetimes?
So I repeat: Why travel?
Answers in common clichés abound: to broaden our perspective; to understand other cultures; to humanize other peoples; to learn; to grow; to experience.
But I think there’s something more to the reasons we travel.
An indescribable something that changes deep inside us, when we live for a while in a world that exists outside our own.
Is it knowledge? Awareness? Fulfillment?
Is it reflection? Gratitude? A sense of self?
Each of these result from traveling the world [or the small parts we're fortunate enough to visit] and impact our lives.
But perhaps the real reason to travel is the understanding we come to feel in our gut about our place in the world and our relationship to it.
If you’ve read my About Us page, you know I attempt to compare the knowledge and awareness gained from overseas travel to the same light bulb emotions you experience after becoming a parent for the first time.
That thing you didn’t know or even suspect before it happened. But once the experience was yours, the veil of secrecy lifted, and you knew.
So again I ask...Why travel?
I suspect the reasons to and the benefits of travel will continue to be pondered, questioned, discussed, and challenged for as long as we humans maintain our quest to explore and marvel at this blue dot we call home.
But perhaps the truest reason for traveling beyond our personal world is because it takes what we are - who we are as a person - and multiplies it exponentially.
Travel seeks out, enlarges, and embellishes who we are and what we think.
It opens our eyes, our mind, and our heart to what's new and different.
Travel teaches and explains. It honors and humbles.
It puts a face on the world and make us more of ourselves.
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people laugh, cry, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. - Maya Angelou
For those who seek to define an answer to our question, Why travel?, a prevalent thread presumes that to understand the meaning and benefits of travel, we must first open our minds to the larger world.
Travel gives us this chance, first hand, to see how the world and the people in it are interconnected.
When we view the world from our own home window, it’s normal to see only the differences between ourselves and the global community.
Television, books, movies, the internet...each allow us a bird’s-eye view of different life-styles, foods, architecture, and environments.
But there remains a barrier of cultural Plexiglass that distorts our view and reduces us to mere spectators of what we see. Rather than participants.
Travel removes this barrier. It opens our mental viewfinder to optimum capacity.
It allows us to see into the lives of others and that part of the world they inhabit.
And what we often find is people living, working, eating, and playing much as we do - only in different surroundings.
Foreign travel is time travel.
But instead of H.G. Wells’ science fiction time machine, we board an airplane [H.G. would marvel at the similarity] and within hours find ourselves in feudal France, medieval Britain, or face to face with the bar-barity and beauty of ancient Rome.
We can experience in a matter of moments, centuries of history, life, and culture.
Yet in the same day, we can dine on avant garde cuisine and sleep in modern Five Star luxury.
And while I hope your travels forgo the latter and keep you closer to the ground, it’s impossible not to be moved when walking the same streets, in the same cities, with descendents of the same people, who've walked there for millennia.
How can you not feel a sense of awe, beauty, respect, and appreciation for the history that surrounds you?
So again, the question: Why travel?
Some might say to complete our education.
Travel as education is a time-honored method of opening our minds to the new and unfamiliar. To things unknown.
Travel allows us to absorb knowledge from our immediate surroundings and understand the part environment has played - and continues to play - in the lives of the people who live there.
Travel broadens our understanding of history. It’s one thing to read of King Henry VIII, his tumultuous love affairs, his numerous wives, his manic existence.
It’s another thing entirely to stand where Anne Boleyn lost her head – her brother, too – and understand how much of England’s [and the world’s] history came to be in that very place.
History comes alive when we travel. Preconceptions are dispelled.
When we travel, we are the foreigner. The stranger. We're a guest in someone else’s home.
Rather than imagine how things seem to be - what we thought they were - all of a sudden we see them as they truly are.
We realize that what we once accepted as a collective truth, was conceived and created by the small world we live in.
And that reality is very much different.
One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares, and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy. - Sir Richard Burton
Travel changes you. It makes you smarter, more tolerant, more patient, more respectful. It teaches you self reliance.
Not the kind of travel that's enclosed in a bus, with pre-arranged stops, chain hotels, and McDonald’s for lunch.
But travel that awakens you in the morning to the sound of a shower down the hall.
To the communal breakfast in the small B & B where you slept overnight.
To that indecipherable train schedule you can't read, but will hopefully get you to your next destination.
Travel makes you more obser-vant. More aware of your sur-roundings.
It teaches you to read a map, drive on the 'wrong side' of the road, discover [quite by acci-dent] the local graveyard with markers so very old there's no longer anything to read.
Travel shows you how to adapt. To make the most of an oppor-tunity.
To ask for help when you need it. To eat something you hoped the menu said was chicken, but in fact turns out to be raw beef.
Travel changes your opinions. It opens your mind to new experiences. It causes you to do things you’d never try in your own home town.
It forces you out of your comfort zone.
And soon you discover your comfort zone was holding you back.
To gain the skills you thought you had - but which were rusty with neglect.
Travel coerces you to practice decision making, problem solving, and to develop a plan. It compels you to have a goal, create a schedule, and be organized.
Travel forces you to communicate at a disadvantage.
But it also finds a welcoming smile, when you speak just a few words of the native tongue.
Travel teaches you to interact with strangers and fellow travelers on a level usually reserved for the best of friends. It creates new relationships.
It makes you appreciate what you came so far to see. And even more appreciative of where you came from: your friends, your family, your life.
Travel challenges you to understand more, tolerate more, do more. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the person you are. And who you want to be.
With all these things, could travel therapy be the end result of your new-found independence and maturity? Could travel education be the hallmark of your overseas experience?
Yet travel is noble in and of itself. For its own sake.
It allows you an honest focus of your newfound opinions and rewards you with a different way of seeing things.
Like discussing a well-written book, it makes you a more interesting person.
So, one more time I ask...Why travel?
To develop independence? To satiate curiosity? To enjoy freedom? To gain confidence?
The answer is all of the above.
We travel because we can.
And to date, no one has come up with a worthy substitute.
*Sadly, we report, that Pat Conroy passed away in early March, 2016. For anyone who knows and loves the South, particularly the low country of South Carolina, Mr. Conroy was a voice in the wilderness, writing of the cultural idiosyncracies and imperfections of that all too beautiful area.
We will miss his perfectly written prose and wish his tortured soul 'God Speed' to a place of more peaceful happiness.