What is travel?
Ask this question to 50 different people, and you’ll likely get 50 different answers. The dictionary can’t even make up its mind; definitions include: “to go,” “to journey,” “to move in a given direction.” All of these certainly seem vaguely like travel. But, I’d hazard to say that travel is much more than just movement.
“To journey” would perhaps hone in on my definition of travel. It implies moving or going away from one place and ending in another, with some kind of meaningful experience in between. This is definitely the essence of travel. But travel is not that clear-cut.
There is not just one kind of journey. There are the sorts of journeys that have set itineraries and destinations — like a cruise, or guided tour, where the traveler is simply along for the ride. And then there are the sorts of journeys that lack a roadmap, or perhaps consist only loosely of destinations and plans. These sorts of journeys can change at any point along the road; they can adapt, and often force the traveler to adapt along with them.
It is this second type of journey that many consider to be “real travel” — travel that changes who you are and how you view the world. Yes, perhaps this second type of travel does open itself up to more opportunities for self-reflection and self-discovery, but, when it comes down to it, a journey — of any sort — can still be considered travel. Which brings me to my second question:
Why do we travel?
It all starts out with an urge to be somewhere that we’re not. And it’s often after we arrive in that somewhere (or when we return from it) that other reasons to travel arise.
We travel for various reasons, but I think it’s interesting to note that vacations are often referred to as “getaways.” Most often, we travel to get away from something — be it a bad job, a relationship, a stereotype, or just a nagging sense of wanderlust. Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we are traveling to escape. But even just a short vacation to the beach or an unfamiliar city can serve as an escape — an escape from work, stress and responsibilities that we are weighed down with at home.
Through this escape, a traveler often loosens up, allowing for exploration, discovery, and learning. We immerse ourselves in new cultures, try new foods, get ourselves into uncomfortable situations, and discover things about ourselves that we may find surprising. It is easy to get high off the sense of anonymity that can be experienced while on the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5-day cruise or a year-long round-the-world trip — if nobody knows you, you often feel free to break out of your shell.
This freedom of anonymity and ability to challenge and re-invent ourselves through travel often leads to self-discovery. Many travelers will acknowledge that they travel to “find” things — perhaps a sense of purpose; answers to life’s questions; or just the essence of who they are. Often, we return from a journey better able to pinpoint our strengths and (perhaps more importantly) recognize our weaknesses.
And, in discovering a new sense of self, we as travelers often feel compelled to continue exploring other cultures in order to gain better understandings of them, too. We want to see more, hear more, and delve into the heart of a place or people — we eventually aim for full immersion. We want to understand where we fit in.