In reading a recent blog, the author raised the question, “Why do we travel?” For many, a possible knee-jerk response sounds something like, “to see new sights”, “to visit family/friends” and the myriad other reasons may fall into the “trying new food” and “sightseeing” categories. Right, so we do that. We pack our bags (or singular, bag, for those who are packing-savvy), we board a plane/ride a bus/drive a car and we go. Once we arrive, we go about our business following through with the reason in which we chose our destination and then we go home. Put that way it doesn’t conjure up the glamorous daydreams so many of us imagine sitting in our office cubicle or ruminating on during the 90 minute total, home – work – home, commute. What is it, about the world, about traveling, that inspires us? That leaves us lost in thought, looking for something, on an island, in a city that is anywhere else but where we currently stand?
The New York Times even has a section entitled, “Why We Travel” that features readers’ photo submissions and a caption accompanying each image. Thousands of photographs are catalogued by country and in clicking through them, one’s reasons to travel vary from seeing architecture in Bruges to family in the Netherlands and thus restoring one’s curiosity for the world to hiking in Peru. The reasons can number to infinity and all our experiences will differ though a common thread may be apparent. Why we travel is just one question asked when planning a trip, and rarely do we seek answers from ourselves in such a formal way – we typically answer the question before thinking about what it’s supplying an answer to. “I’m going to see my brother,” “I want to go camping,” and “I love Italian food,” etc. are typical answers to often unannounced questions, questions that extend beyond the why’s. Of course our cousin Anna may love Italian food…but what is it about going to Catania, Italy that satiates her love of Italian food that Pete’s Downtown Italian Restaurant, a neighborhood delight, will not do? Is it something beyond the food…? And what is it about camping/hiking on the AT that a weekend excursion to a nearby park won’t fulfill? Is it something beyond the actual camping/place…?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer.
In arriving back to NYC, for the first time in a LONG time have I felt I’ve found a home. For the first time have I stopped looking at Kayak.com flights every week and known that in a year from now, I can nearly say that Brooklyn will still be…home. It’s not to say I don’t long for a trip to Iceland, or a reunion in Ireland…to revisit students on the Thai-Burma border or to explore an unfamiliar community in Bogota…no, those desires exist but it is to say that travel can occur within – in your heart, in your mind…and just around the corner in the community next door. While fleeting trips and unplanned adventures abroad offer an unknown excitement, going with a purpose and a plan are important. I am a firm believer that living and experiencing a culture within a country firsthand offers an unequivocal experience. Travel can take place spiritually, sometimes not too far away, especially when funds run dry and other priorities take precedence – again, it’s life and we all have responsibilities.
So, in the meantime, for those that love to travel, that yearn to do social good and who want to be active in seeing positive change take place, it can happen near as well as afar. It can happen next door or indoors. Wherever you go, for whatever reason you travel, go…and go with mindfulness, go with respect, go with a curiosity and a purpose. Take a step forward, challenging yourself to do & try as never before…and you’ll find:
“The best journey doesn’t end, because it preserves within itself the promise of a new beginning for the next.”
[Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, p.106]