shadow

Why do you travel?

I was recently stalking the archives of Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Workweek when I came across an interesting guest post written by Ryan Holiday in 2013 called ‘How to Travel: 21 Contrarian Rules,’ where he made a statement that travel, in and of itself, is not inherently valuable.

(For the record, this wasn’t the whole point of the article, which did contain some excellent – and some not-so-excellent – travel advice.)

Ignoring the slightly insufferable tone (which is somewhat par for the course from the ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator‘ author), there were a few lines in the post that really got me thinking. He accused travelers of using their explorations as a form of self-indulgent escapism.

Traveling for the sake of traveling is stupid…the purpose of travel, like all important experiences, is to improve yourself and your life. It’s just as likely–in some cases more likely–that you will do that closer to home and not further…Travel should not be an escape…So ask: Do you deserve this trip? Ask yourself that honestly. Am I actually in a place to get something out of this?”

Now, Ryan is a smart guy, I’ll give him that. To make his point, he uses the writings of esteemed philosophers like Seneca.

“They make one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle. As Lucretius says ‘Thus each man flees himself.’ But to what end if he does not escape himself? He pursues and dogs himself as his own most tedious companion. And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves.” – Seneca, On Tranquility of the Mind

In other words…wherever you go, there you are.

Is travel just a form of escapism?There’s some sage wisdom in this. You can’t run forever. There are some instances where you need to stay and fight; to face your problems head on in order to emerge victorious.

BUT…as Elizabeth Gilbert says…

“There are other times when, honestly, I think the very best thing you can do for yourself is to run like hell — as far away as you can possibly go. Because there are circumstances in which a change of scenery CAN change your mind. Putting an ocean between you and somebody you really need to stay away from CAN help you to move on healthily. Taking a running leap CAN, at times, give you a better chance of learning to fly.”

I’m all for the idea of creating a life you don’t need to escape from. But there are a few flaws to this over-simplified cliche.


 

Sometimes even those of us with the best intentions can find ourselves stuck in a situation we never saw coming.

You might start a new job or a new relationship or a new diet for all the right reasons. Your heart and mind are in the right place; you’re practicing mindfulness and self-awareness. But, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

When I first accepted my corporate marketing job, I was working late nights tending bar, and I am not a night owl. (This morning I woke up at 4:12 am, no alarm clock required.)

Although I enjoyed my job and the people I worked with, I couldn’t shake that lingering voice that kept reminding me I wasn’t ‘living up to my potential.’

I was offered a marketing position which promised to provide travel opportunities and gave me the salary boost I needed to finally make a dent in those pesky student loans. Not to mention that marketing strategy is something I have always had a keen interest in. My first – and second – interviews were conducted at a bar, over drinks. It seemed like a great fit.

Beer-&-nuts-at-bar

In the beginning, it was a good fit. I did a fair bit of traveling around the US, which taught me the fine art of zipping through airport security lines and packing 10 different outfits (including shoes) in a carry-on. I had the autonomy to get creative and develop certain skills which benefited both myself and the company. (Add that to the bonus perks of having my own office and finally being awake during the daylight hours and it seemed like a pretty sweet deal.)

And then, gradually, things changed. The company changed. My relationship changed. I changed.

As the business went through the growing pains of a merger not once, not twice, but three times in four years, I saw a grand total of FIVE bosses come and go. People around me were getting laid off left and right. I absorbed three peoples’ job responsibilities with no accompanying salary increase. Bonuses became a thing of the past. The branch I was working out of closed and I was asked to relocate in order to keep my position.

I would have rolled with the punches and been fine with all of this had it not been for my gradual loss of respect for the company and the way they conducted business. Too often I was asked to promote a shoddy product because the supplier wanted it gone as opposed to considering the needs of the customer. (“Push the fish, it’s starting to turn…”)

Underhanded deals became more and more common. The corporate culture evolved from “how can we best serve our customers?” to “how can we squeeze as much money as possible out of them in order to stay afloat?”

I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of things in life, but my integrity isn’t one of them.

However, by this point I was in deep. I had a company credit card, laptop, phone, and car allowance. I had an apartment with real, grown-up furniture. I almost had my car paid off. I knew I should be job hunting, but the thought alone was daunting. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

I grew restless and irritable. My old frenemy, depression, started to sneak in and make himself at home. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I felt trapped; stuck. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees, so to speak.

All of a sudden that life that I’d purposefully and intentionally created for myself to thrive in had become something else entirely.

I don’t know the exact statistics, but I’m pretty sure no one, in the history of the world, has ever set out on a venture saying, “I’m going to build a life for myself that SUCKS.”

Of COURSE we all want to create lives we “don’t need to escape from” but the fact is that life is not stagnant. It evolves. Sometimes things that you were once passionate about grow stale. Sometimes a relationship that started out so good dissolves into empty bickering or worse.

Sometimes you need to reevaluate in order to make some major changes, but you don’t even know where to start.

This is where travel comes in.

Traveling for the sake of traveling is NOT stupid. It can be the catalyst to implement real and lasting change in your life.

“Running away works.” – David Sedaris

We may not initially know why we travel. Some of us have wanderlust in our veins that can’t be explained beyond a deep desire to leave our comfort zones behind and embrace the wild unknown.

Asking yourself if you’re “in a place where you can get something out of a trip” is putting the cart before the horse. It’s like trying to push all of the darkness out of a room before you turn the light on.

I had no idea what I was doing when I got on that plane to Ireland. Part of me was wondering if I was crazy, and part of me was eerily certain I was about to change my life forever. And I did. I’m not the same person that I was when I left.

I didn’t have some big, lofty purpose when I set out to travel – I just wanted to get outside my own little world and see what was out there. The purpose revealed itself while I was traveling.


 

Just because you need to escape from a life doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad life.

What about the allegation that “[travel] should be part of your life, no better or no worse than the rest of your life?

Let’s take my best friend, E (we’ll stick with initials because I didn’t exactly ask her permission to write about her life). She’s married to a wonderful guy who treats her like gold. They have a gorgeous home and some adorable (albeit naughty) furbabies.

E is one of those rare people who has always known what she wanted to do with her life. In fact, I’m incredibly jealous of her unwavering love for her chosen career as a veterinary technician. (Contrary to popular belief, all vet techs do not want to be veterinarians any more than all nurses want to be doctors.)

Being a vet tech is an incredibly taxing job. I worked with her at the clinic for 4 1/2 years, and let me tell you, you don’t just get to play with kittens all day. You are a nurse, a babysitter, a pharmacist, a team leader, and counselor. Also, there are a LOT of bodily fluids to deal with.

Despite this, it’s also a damn rewarding job. You get to work with animals, often more closely than the doctors themselves do. You help people through the tough decisions they have to make on behalf of their beloved pets. You get to genuinely make a difference in the lives of both people and animals.

Dog-with-sad-face

However, a career as a vet tech doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to a life of constant and regular travel. It’s not really something you can do while moving from country to country every few months.

Travel, for E, is something that’s carefully planned and budgeted for. It IS something she looks forward to a few times a year as an ‘escape’ from her daily life. Why shouldn’t it be?

Even if you appreciate and find joy in your everyday routine, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to shake it up every now and then. Spending “weeks or months planning how to get away from your life” does not necessarily indicate a dissatisfaction with it.

Certainly there are plenty of people like the former me out there, who ARE living in a personal hell they’re dying to break free of, but let’s not assume that every location-dependent person is miserable.

So to the pragmatic stoics, the skeptics who consider travel to be a form of self-indulgent escapism, I say, “so what?”

Who are you to pass judgement on someone’s reasons for traveling?

Travel, for whatever reason you choose to do it, does have value in and of itself. For some people, just the act of getting on that plane can be a huge accomplishment.

If checking things off a bucket list gets people to get out and experience the world, then I say let ’em. Their life might be enriched in ways they never expected.

Of all the self-indulgences in the world (alcohol, gluttony, TV, video games, etc…) surely travel is the least likely to damage someone’s character.

On the contrary, Mr. Contrarian. It may even unintentionally do a bit of good.


 

If you are struggling to get unstuck and create a more meaningful life for yourself, I highly suggest you check out The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau.

Chris documents his goal of visiting every country on the planet by age 35 as well as sharing dozens of stories of other people’s quests. In my humble opinion as a fellow adventurer, this is a must-read.

Author

Mandie

Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

Related Posts

Comments

  1. RealGunners    

    Now you’re making me depressed. I can feel exactly the same way you did with all the things going on at work. I suppose all the big corporations operate the same way nowadays.

    1. Mandie    

      Sorry for making you feel depressed! I don’t think that ALL big companies are necessarily evil, but it certainly does seem to be an ongoing theme. What would you do if you were able to quit your job tomorrow?

      1. RealGunners    

        To be honest, I haven’t really given this too much of a thought. I suppose, in an ideal world, I would:
        1. Go home and spend some time with my parents,
        2. Find a secluded place preferably with beach to sit down, relax and complete my novella,
        3. And then get a one way ticket to Europe and backpack around the continent for at least 6 months.
        After that? Who knows…

  2. Katie @WorldWideVegetarian.com    

    I absolutely agree, travel for the sake of travel will teach you something. Even if you go to a place just to relax and enjoy, you will passively learn regardless. Just experiencing a different place, language, culture, and customs are the best, and fastest ways to learn about the world and about yourself and the world you live in. Travel has been my best teacher, even though learning as much as I have was not my initial travel intention.
    Keep up the good travels, and advice!
    Katie

    1. Mandie    

      Me too, Katie! Of all the things we indulge in, well…give me travel any day. A change of scenery can do wonders for someone, even if they’re not set out on some great mission of higher purpose.

  3. kelli    

    Hey Mandie
    I absolutely loved this post. I personally don’t agree with the sentiment that traveling for traveling sake is stupid-. I definitely agree it can be a great way to improve ourselves and gain clarity, etc… And as for deserving, we always deserve something we find good and enjoyable just for the sake of existing here–pursuing our happiness is the purpose of our life–that is my belief anyway.

    While I have no doubt some people use their traveling as a way to escape something they are not dealing with, that is certainly not the case for everyone. And if that is what is happening, who are we to judge how someone is navigating their journey? If they are hiding from something, it will eventually catch up and they’ll find a way to deal with it. I feel we are all where we are supposed to be on our own ‘path’ and for these people, this experience is part of it.

    I also think this is a widespread sentiment because long-term travel is not a norm, and does not follow the deeply ingrained idea of what constitutes ‘normal.’ For anyone that subscribes to that way of thinking, naturally they are going to look at people doing this as avoiding ‘real’ life, or delaying the ultimate ‘submission’ to how things are ‘supposed’ to be, rather than simply seeing it as a preference.

    Sometimes ‘escaping’ is just what people need to get out of a rut. When you think about it, most change is escaping in some form since it is often triggered by some unhappiness with our current situation. That has been my experience anyway.

    I really loved this post so much.

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks Kelli!

      It’s a little different from the sort of things I normally write, but I’ve been testing the waters on “letting my creativity flow where it wants to” a bit.

      I agree, that line about deserving it really nettled me. It’s a dangerous mindset to believe that we need to somehow get ourselves to a place where we ‘deserve’ happiness. I love your line “pursuing our happiness is the purpose of our life.” It’s sort of like my life mantra – the meaning of life is to create meaning. (Personally, I think that a meaningful existence and deep happiness often go hand in hand).

      Exactly – who are we to judge someone else’s journey? I get Ryan’s point – that we should create a life we don’t need to escape from, but who’s to say that escape won’t be the catalyst to start making those changes?

  4. Jaime Buckley    

    “Just because you need to escape from a life doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad life.”

    That’s what hit me.

    In fact, it’s what reminded me that when you really pursue your dreams and goals, chances are more likely than not to put you in tight spots and rough predicaments. There are points in my life that I needed a change in scenery, just so I could breathe! Forget the life-changing aspects…this was more about getting away from a situation, so I could gather enough strength to deal with it again.

    Get away to know why I was going through what I experienced day after day.

    Though I can have some respect for the views of Seneca, I tend to lean towards The Narrator:

    “It’s human nature to view life from our own reality.
    This causes serious problems when a rescue mission is being led by the senile or insane.”

    I appreciated your concise perspectives, Mandie and I agree with Kelli above. Sometimes ‘escaping’ is what people need to get out of a rut. Even if that’s nothing more than a few days to catch your breath and detox while formulating a plan to meet that challenge/rut swinging with both fists and gnashing teeth.

    …then again, it’s also a pleasant solution when unwanted relative decide to show up unannounced,

    I’m just saying….

    1. Mandie    

      Hey Jaime! 🙂

      Actually, you were also in my mind when I was writing this. I was thinking, “here’s a guy who works as hard as anyone I know, has TWELVE kids – speaking of, has #12 made an appearance yet? – loves what he does but no doubt gets burned out from time to time and needs to escape ‘reality’ for awhile.”

      But does that mean that your daily life is some sort of hell? Ummmm, no! I respect Ryan Holiday – he’s a hell of a smart guy even though he annoys the crap out of me – but I have to say his assumptions are dead wrong in this case.

      …I have eliminated the possibility of unannounced relatives, since no one besides my mother knows where I actually live at any given time. The beauty of a nomadic life. 🙂

      1. Jaime Buckley    

        Nope, no #12 yet.

        Kathi just now left with the tribe for an outing. I’ll sit here in the semi-solitude, hacking and sneezing…and finish writing my next book to make room for NaNoWriMo.

        You’re spot on about me needing to escape ‘reality’ for awhile. Unfortunately, with a baby due any moment I feel like I’m in the eye of the storm!

        …one wrong move buddy….and you’re TOAST!! Lol.

  5. Andy    

    Hey Mandie,

    “Asking yourself if you’re ‘in a place where you can get something out of a trip’ is putting the cart before the horse. It’s like trying to push all of the darkness out of a room before you turn the light on.”

    Exactly.

    I don’t understand the notion that travel for the sake of travel is stupid at all. We don’t know what we will learn before we do something. Life is a mystery and often takes us to places we least expect, which is one of the best things (that I love) about travel. Bask in the mystery. Travel for the sake of travel will at least throw someone who is lacking self growth/awareness into new situations, which are a great catalyst for change.

    I’ve personally never really resonated with Tolkein’s popular saying “all who wander are not lost”, but when thinking about it from this perspective, it makes sense.

    1. Mandie    

      Hey Andy, thanks for the comment. I agree – the mystery of how it will change us is one of the best parts of travel! Oh man, I LOVE that Tolkein quote – I have it on a post-it stuck to my computer screen. Haha

  6. Erika    

    I really enjoyed this post!

    I think that both your post and Ryan Holiday’s display how people have different values, goals, needs, etc. For him, he doesn’t do anything without the objective of “improvement.” But other people are motivated by different things and sometimes it’s just the INHERENT joy and pleasure that an act gives them — be it travel, dance, spending time with loved ones or otherwise. I think that growth is a lovely byproduct of traveling, but sometimes it can just be great to see something different because it’s different.

    Travel doesn’t have to be escapism and it doesn’t have to be a learning lesson, either. Just like with anything in life, our view and our interpretation is what defines it.

    I like some of the things that Ryan writes, but it is a pet peeve of mine when a person says that something is one way and that’s it. It may work for that person and even the circle of people that person is in, but we’re all so different and have individual needs and differences — and those differences are not wrong.

    Thanks for sharing this and sharing your opinion and viewpoint about it, Mandie!

    1. Mandie    

      Hey Erika, thanks for the great comment! I actually agree with Ryan that most things should be done in order to improve or better one’s self. I just don’t agree that using travel as an ‘escape’ won’t necessarily lead to inadvertent improvement. I liked some of the things he wrote, too, especially his line about how he doesn’t travel, he lives his life in a series of interesting places. Love that! I just don’t care for his judgmental attitude about people’s reasons for travel. 🙂

  7. Ryan Biddulph    

    Hi Mandie,

    That Ryan sounds like a blowhard 🙂 This Ryan is happy.

    The thing I’ve learned about unhappy people, is that they’re critical, because they’re unclear on their choices. In some ways, that Ryan guy is smart, but in other ways, his intelligence imprisons him. I’d rather not need to be right, or, I’d rather be FOR instead of AGAINST, and smile my way from Fiji to Bali.

    I’ll go with the St. Augustine quote: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

    That man got it, and if Ryan H traveled like Ryan B, wow he’d probably have a different viewpoint.

    But contrast makes the world fun, right? 😉

    Awesome post, and as for David Sedaris, he’s become my fave author. I finished 3 eBooks of his in Fiji, and he’s the most clever, funny, brilliant story teller I’ve ever read. Hands down.

    Escaping does work. I escaped a miserable life in NJ, of being poor, and angry, and it served me well. Sedaris inspires me to push my limits, to test boundaries and to publish more eBooks.

    I am on #8 now, #9, almost done.

    Make no mistake; escaping means changing scenery, but it doesn’t mean you actually will avoid your problems. They’ll catch up to you, no matter where you are in the world, because that’s the way it works.

    Face life head on, and travel, to learn how to face life head on, SO much more easily.

    I dug this post Mandie, really, really neat stuff. For me, traveling has been such a life-changing experience, that I advise it for anybody who wants to explore, even a little.

    Thanks!

    Tweeting from Fiji.

    Ryan

    1. Mandie    

      Hey Ryan, I love that. “I’d rather be FOR than AGAINST.” Amen. I’m just getting into David Sedaris (I know, where the hell have I been??) but I love him, too!!

      Escaping (not just avoiding your problems) really does work. Even if you have to escape a few times before one of them sticks. Who am I to judge someone else’s reasons for traveling?! As far as I’m concerned, it can’t possibly hurt someone to get out and see another part of the world.

  8. Kellie    

    I think we can find meaning in most experiences, a weekend break, a two week holiday or long term travelling. Or you can just get away, enjoy the break or simply take the time to recharge those batteries.

    My partner and I have been travelling for 11 months now and sure our main motivation was to escape our 9-5 life at home. We wanted to get out and see more of the world. I wasn’t searching for meaning, a life changing event or escaping myself. I have learnt loads about myself, about my priorities and things I wanted to achieve. We’ve also learnt about ourselves as a couple.

    I agree Travel for whatever reason you choose.

    I’m also reading The Happiness of Pursuit, half way though so no spoilers please.

    1. Mandie    

      Ha! Okay, no spoilers. Isn’t it a great book, though?? I think even if travel starts off as an escape it can become a catalyst for lasting change. If you escape far enough, you may never go back…sounds like you guys are having an awesome adventure!! I’m jealous because I’m not able to travel with my partner quite yet, but taking a year off to travel the world is definitely part of our future plans.

  9. Stephanie    

    Travel is definitely a form of escapism which is one reason I love it! There’s nothing like running away from one bad reality to another world. That said, even when life has been good, I’ve loved traveling just as much. I think some people either have a sense of wanderlust or they don’t. They’re curious about seeing what’s beyond their own backyard. That’s pretty much the definition of a wanderlust.

    1. Mandie    

      Exactly! I think that those of us who want to travel are going to do it whether life is bad or good at the moment, because it comes from a deeper sense of curiosity. 🙂

  10. Anna    

    Oh man, I completely agree. Who said travel can’t just be for fun? To see that city or monument you’ve always dreamed of seeing? Or to just lay on a beach for a week and unwind (yep, part of my upcoming plans include just sitting on a beach for a month because I want to, and not because I’m hoping to learn some huge lesson from it)? There’s nothing wrong with traveling for travel’s sake, or with wanting to escape for a little bit. Like you said, no matter what the person’s reason is for traveling, it’ll enrich you in some way.

    I’m so happy with my life now that I’m traveling (I escaped a job that I dreaded being at everyday), but there are moments too when I wonder what the hell I’m doing with it. I’m no closer to making any kind of other income and I haven’t discovered a hidden skill or anything that I can use. So I feel like I still haven’t had my huge life-altering moment of clarity yet about the new purpose of my life (all I know is that I WON’T go back to my old life, old job). But it’s okay for now. For now, I’m just enjoying travel for travel’s sake, seeing new places, experiencing new ways of life. It’s making me happy and that’s perfectly good enough!

    1. Mandie    

      Right?! Have fun laying on the beach – I’m totally jealous!! I think maybe you’re discovering more about yourself than you even realize. Like that you WON’T go backwards to a life that didn’t make you happy. You don’t have to have all the answers or know exactly HOW you’re going to get to where you want to be. You just have to be in a positive space and leave yourself open for amazing things to come your way. For the record, if you didn’t already know this, you are a very talented writer. 🙂

  11. Paper Boat Sailor    

    Mandie, you have spoken so wisely! Travel for the sake of travel is a purpose in itself, and stating that it is just a form of escapism like a universal fact is a rather narrow point of view–a simplistic cliche like you mentioned.
    Love that quote from E Gilbert. I have put many an ocean between me and my hometown-based troubles and come away with a better understanding of both and of the place I “escaped” to.

  12. Max Arthur    

    For me, no. I want to travel because I want to see the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge