Asking ‘Why Travel’ is where the Journey Begins

Many people travel without ever asking for the reason why they make a journey. That’s right, why should you wonder when travel is what everybody does during his or her holidays and that selfie in front of tourist attraction ‘Must-see-in-this-lifetime’ is worth social status and likes on Facebook.

‘Why?’ is both the most avoided and most important question we can ever ask at the same time. Let’s go with the latter and seek out that why question. Navimundo’s first post naturally has to deal with Why to Travel in the first place if this is going to be a website about travel. Moreover, let’s take the liberty to assume for the argument’s sake that hauling your body to the pool of an all-inclusive resort in summer holidays does not necessarily constitute an act of traveling.

Asking Why Creates Motivation and Purpose

‘Why am I here’ is the first question Neo asks the Architect in the movie ‘Matrix Reloaded‘ and then concludes from the Architect’s answers – ‘Choice. The problem is choice’. It is our choices that links our experience into cause and effect. If we choose, there is a cause for an effect. The choice is the reason for the resulting outcome. The choice we make is our ‘why’ for a certain effect. If the ‘why’ is intrinsically motivated and conscious, chances are we are living a self-determined life towards a deeper understanding of our existence.

In fact, ‘Why?’ is the mother of all questions, perhaps even the only question there is. ‘Why’ is the purpose, ‘why’ is the motivation and the vantage point for human potential and imagination. All right, let’s not get carried away as yet and concur that ‘why’ is the question we have to answer to move on indeed.

Travel is Big Business and Huge on the Internet

Let’s start by looking at what is out there on the Internet. Why is going on a journey significant?

A search for the keyword ‘why travel’ on Yahoo (there are still other Search Engines than Google) returns a mindboggling  1,130,000,000 results at the time of writing.

The main related keyword phrases here include ‘why travel the world,’ ‘why travel is important,’ ‘reasons to travel,’ ‘benefits of travel,’ ‘why to travel abroad,’ and ‘why people travel.’

However, claiming to be the first one to write on the topic is like looking for an undiscovered beach on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

When perusing search results, they will reveal that the majority of online articles list a multitude of reasons and benefits of taking a trip. ‘Listmania’ is prominent because people love lists. Lists are the way we consciously or unconsciously organize the complex world around us. Lists often relate mostly to trivial things though. Amazon morphed its Listmania feature into Wishlists of products some five years ago. Give a list a number, and it commands authority: ‘Five Reasons Why Travel Is Good For Your Mental Health,’ and ’10 Reasons Why Travel is Important’, ’25 of the best reasons to travel’ ’40 Reasons to Travel now’, among many others.

Lists Are Illustrative but May Miss the Root Cause

I am going to use AirTreks highly-ranked article ’17 Reasons Why Travel is Good for You’ here to illustrate a list: Travel…

1. Is easier than you think. 2. Opens your eyes. 3. Helps you learn who you are. 4. Creates meaningful relationships. 5. Develops skills you didn’t know you had. 6. Enables you to learn new languages. 7. Means adventure. 8. Gives you perspective. 9. Helps you move forward. 10.  Is education. 11. Challenges you. 12. Shakes things up. 13. Proves that dreams do come true. 14. Gives you cool stories. 15. Is food for thought. 16. Gives you a sense of accomplishment. Also, you have to love the last reason: 17. Traveling for the hell of it.

All these are very valid reasons to travel and illustrate the many beneficial aspects of taking a journey. Let alone; travel may be an entertaining way to pass your lifetime.

What this very encompassing list of reasons lacks, however, is trying to link all the various aspects of travel back to one root course constituted by the human condition.

Not every Trip is Made Equal

Paul Fussel distinguishes between three travel types in ‘Abroad’: Explorers, travelers, and tourists. Modern travelers don’t need to explore anymore, as planet earth is already entirely mapped out. What remains is asking questions and confronting oneself when traveling in a foreign environment, something a tourist might never get to as the trip is merely a social status trophy.

Making a trip once in a while or embarking on that regular holiday during your time off from work can be positive. What I am after in this article though is understanding travel as a way of life. When moving around becomes an inherent desire and purpose in itself. Journeying as the inner yearning of what you do.

Travel is Food for Thought and a Literature Darling

Thinkers and writers the world over for long have explored travel as both a subject and a metaphor.

‘A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving’ wrote Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC in the Tao Te Ching, highlighting the importance of the journey over arriving at a destination. Detaching the daily practice of perceiving life as travel from achieving a particular goal or location.

Michel de Montaigne writes in 1580 during the French Renaissance in his famed Essais that ‘One must always have one’s boots on and be ready to go,’ deliberating over the notion that life is a constant journey without true rest. The bonmot often credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson that ‘Life is a journey, not a destination’ aptly encapsulates the entwined connotations of life and travel.

No Trip Can Take You Away From Yourself

Taking a trip to get away from your current dreaded environment and perhaps job must eventually remain an illusion as there is no way to escape from yourself. Travel accelerates and intensifies the confrontation with oneself. Physical travel many times may not be particularly pleasant. Alain De Botton points this is out in his unorthodox 2002 guide to traveling ‘The Art of Travel’: Overcrowded planes, noisy hotel rooms, partying people who release their work-related stress, shabby buses, diarrhea. ‘Travel is only glamorous in retrospect’ wrote Paul Theroux. There is a long list of annoyances on the road why your travel dreams might remain just that. The practical displeasure of moving around do discourage some to travel altogether.

Not Every Journey is Pleasant

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant is renown for never leaving his hometown of Koenigsberg. Kant was concerned about his deteriorating health and therefore followed an extremely systematic lifestyle with daily routines planned down to the minute to maximize his work time. Going on a journey would only disrupt timing and pose a potential health hazard.

Similarly, Emerson questions the necessity of travel in his 1841 essay ‘Self-Reliance’ due to human nature: ‘The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still’.

Both, Kant and Emerson would agree that voyaging can be a distraction when we focus on a particular task. That physical travel takes time and may lack comfort is a given and ultimately a question of travel style, but cannot itself discard the desire to travel.

Also, the effects of travel are impossible to convey when we don’t undergo the experience ourselves. Likewise are the results impossible to anticipate before we set off and internalize the psychological healing impact of changing our perspective, surrender to the power of nature and touch the presence of something spiritual or divine when observing stunning landscapes.

Travel is at the very Heart of the Human Condition

Veteran travel writer Paul Theroux delights his readers in the 2011’The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road’ with a wonderful plethora of scribblings, musings, incidental observations, and poetic wanderings of why ‘travel’ is ‘transformation.’ Wishing to travel seems characteristically human to Theroux. ‘The desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown, to bear witness to the consequences, tragic or comic, of people possessed by the narcissism of minor differences’.

To move and to travel is to truly live as if we cannot think change and growth without the covering of distance.

Mastering an Adventurous Journey is Human Growth

Novelist Patrick Rothfuss lets the philosopher Teccam say in ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’: ‘No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name.
Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection’. Calling travel a yardstick and condition for bravery and wisdom is reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?. Well, ‘The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.’

The original myth of the modern Western canon is the epic poem of the Odyssey. Odysseus of Ithaca embarks unto a 10-year journey of adventures that transform him into a prudent individual. This transformational process is at the core of the hero’s journey, a standard template in narratology and comparative mythology. The hero ventures out, and after overcoming a life-threatening decisive crises returns home a transformed, changed, more-evolved person.

Become an Outsider to Learn

In his 2007 ‘Theory of Travel – The Poetics of Geography’, the French Philosopher Michel Onfrey, says in this small philosophical study on travel and travelers that ‘Going away, following close on shepherds’ heels, is testing out a kind of an extremely pagan pantheism and finding out the traces of ancient gods […]. The choice of the whole planet for one’s journey is a condemnation of everything that closes and enslaves: Labour, Family, Country, such are the most visible constraints […].

Asocial, unsociable, beyond redemption, the nomad knows nothing on clocks and he works according to the sun or the stars, he educates himself by looking at constellations and the run of the day star, he has no clock, but an animal eye trained to recognize dawns, auroras, storms, sunny spells, twilights, comets, and stellar flickering, he knows how to read the clouds and decipher their promises, he interprets winds and knows their habits.’

Onfrey sees the position of the outsider as the one who can more easily understand the fabric of reality. The norms of the social world do not bind the stranger. Quite alone, the traveler will have to make use of his faculties to understand the world around him.

Theroux describes the original drive to journey as a natural human urge. Rothfuss’ Teccam and Dylan see travel as the passing of challenges, as a condition for human growth. In Onfray, the traveler submits to the open space where insights beckon.

Resting Can only be Temporary

In Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’, when Almitra is about to leave the people of Orphalese he says: ‘We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps, we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered’. The wanderer here has to travel as a consequence of his wisdom. A consciousness that has become aware of his separation of matter can roam freely. Free travel, not being bound by space, here is the fruition of a developed human mind.

Earlier on, when Almitra speaks of houses to the people of Orphalese, he says ‘But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed. Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast’. Even for people who have settled down in families and have built their home, moving on is on the horizon. As if a sedentary lifestyle is not agreeable with human nature. We need to keep going. Explore new frontiers and states of mind by traveling.

Travel is a Blueprint for Human Growth and Evolution

There are many reasons why we follow our wanderlust. Applying a reductionist view, we can say that all sense lies in the very nature of being human. Because we are bound in time and space, it is the only thing we can do in this life. Sometimes we venture far, and then we move around the corner. Life is a journey. If we don’t travel physically, our minds still change and grow. Being human is evolving. If we stop changing we quite literally die.

Why Travel? Because it is what we do, how we grow. Moreover, when we grow, we change. The most apparent change is one of locale, improve our environment.

The word ‘travel’ has its etymological origin in ‘travail,’ French for ‘labor, toil.’ When the word originated in about 14000, going on a journey was a hardship. This illustrates that growth comes at a price, resounding Nietzsche’s assertion that we need to suffer to evolve.

Why travel is then much more than a simple question. Why travel leads us to the peripatetic nature of life. Being on a journey may well be the expression of the underlying human condition to grow, change and evolve.