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Why we travel?

“I just wanted to get away from it all… Away from the people I was stationed with, away from all the questions, and away from the headlines.”

An article in The Guardian from 2010 could tell that we “broaden our mind by travelling”.Meeting new cultures, consisting of new people and new traditions – local as well as fellow travellers’ – will make the traveller smarter, more open-minded and more creative. The quote above is not from that article!

The quote came from a former Israeli soldier in his early twenties, which I met doing my dive master training in Honduras. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the answer, because I’d gotten one synonymous to it the day before, by an American who’d just gotten back from Afghanistan.

So which one is it? The mind-broadening experience, or just simple running away from the problems at home? Why do some of us leave our homes for months and months at the time?

The ex-soldiers travelled to places with loads of alcohol, lots of drugs, and a colossal lack of real world phenomena’s, such as co-workers, responsibilities, and seriousness. They were clearly running away.

Not that I blame them… And you don’t have to be a grenade-shock suffering soldier for running either. The World is filled with people like them and there are plenty of problems to run away from. Someone had a bad brake-up and decided to go travel. Another lost a job, and a third had problems with low self-esteem back home. A hostel manager I met said that most of his guests where running from something.

I’ll be the first to admit that I too am using these long trips to leave the same old, same old of eternal recurrence of daily life in the too well-known comfort zone called home. Running isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But most problems will,however, either creep down into you backpack and with you on your travels or wait for you to return home. So running away from your problems doesn’t really work.

It might sound like a cliché, but throwing yourself out there, into the unknown will make you grow as a person. Suddenly you have to trust strangers, eat whatever’s available, jump on a bus and hope for the best. And when your plan fails you have to improvise, rearrange and cope… It matures you. Sometimes the hard way,but what doesn’t seriously injure you will force you to learn about yourself, and open your eyes for new experiences impossible to gain at home. Or at least it should do.

For travelling to do its magic it must feel right – not just good, but right. Good is lying on the beach with a drink, drowning your sorrows or sitting in a nice comfy bus, while a young pretty guide tells you about what’s outside the window. One’s curiosity must be boiling over when travelling, by the share prospect of going somewhere new and unexplored – at least to you. A few set backs on the road must make you bounce back even more vigorous than before! The art of travelling must be done with a psychological surplus, not a shortage. Otherwise it will fail you miserably.

So the Guardian piece had a point. I have this: you need to plan your running away carefully. Not from problems, but from daily life towards the unknown and surprising.

Travelling for seven months – with only two sets of (dirty) clothes; crammed into overcrowded minibuses; unable to afford anything on the menu (places with menus are too expensive); and not able to stir up half a conversation in a compatible language for weeks at a time – is never worth it just for some nice scenery.

So if you,just like me, are looking for the parts of life that isn’t just focussed on the next semester or the next pay check and can’t be experienced back home in the nice familiar settings: Live a little. Go. Discover!


"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." (Bill Bryson, from The Best American Travel Writing 2000)

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