Why travel? Because we have to. Is travel self-indulgent? Absolutely. Well, maybe.
Travel, to paraphrase France Mayes, is a bit of a paradox. It is at once both self-indulgent and self-obliterating.
Although self-indulgence is governed by unrestrained appetite, travel isn’t simply about desire and it’s not entirely motivated by pleasure. Of course, we travel because we find joy and pleasure in it, but we travel because it is transcendent. That is, travel is at once both difficult and pleasurable.
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves” wrote Pico Iyer in his essay Why we Travel ”and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”
What is gained in travel that cannot be secured by staying home, reading books, and watching films? Kathryn and I believe that one of the most important aspects of travelling is a greater understanding of the place one calls home—and the understanding that surfaces in interactions with other people and cultures. This juxtaposition of beliefs and ideals elevates one’s awareness. And it’s this heightened awareness that provides one with greater insight into their place in the world.
Tanya Shaffer (author of Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa) writes:
“I’m so intrigued by other cultures—when I’m traveling away from home I get more insight into my own life and culture as well, just by contrast, and by that alertness of mind that sort of comes to me like a drug when I’m out of the country. I find that the freedom of anonymity tends to propel me into interesting situations.”
Hence, travelers are both outward looking—aware of the country to which they are foreign, their place in the space of crowds, the reactions of local residents—and inward looking, forever seeking that place where they are able to connect to something bigger than themselves. At any moment, they are one and the other. Travel, indeed, is a bit of a contradiction.
Why do you travel? To get away, to explore, to feel alive? Feel free to let us know in the comment stream below. At the same time, the New York Times has a great set of pictures and stories about why people are motivated to travel.