Why We Travel (Parts 12 & 35)

If travel’s supposed to be about self-discovery, should professional travelers and writers dictate how everyone needs to do it? As if there’s a pressing need for the travel movement, and only one way to get there.

Recently in the New York Times, Ilan Stevens and Joshua Ellison — a lit professor and editor — gauged the differences between “meaningful, fruitful travel” and “mere tourism.” They called the piece “Reclaiming Travel,” harkening back to pre-modern pilgrimages, and wrote “we must bring back the idea of travel as a search.” Similarly, as nice as Pico Iyer’s 2009 World Hum essay on “Why We Travel” is — and I love how he dispels the traveler/tourism debate — he writes we travel to first lose ourselves, then find ourselves.

Really?

I didn’t set out to travel for any lofty reasons at all. I just wanted to see stuff. And I had a bug that another Oklahoma summer couldn’t satisfy. So instead of saving for a nice car, I bought a Eurail pass. Then I thought everyone should do the same. But after living abroad, and five years of updating Lonely Planet guidebooks, I eventually gave up trying to make everyone back home see “travel” the same way I did. I saw travel as a life quest. But for some, it’s just partying with Jeff at the lake.

And, I finally learned, that’s perfectly fine. (As long as no one was hurt by it.)

Travel is not a science. It’s not a course, or competition. It’s supposed to be fun, above all. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. All the philosophical justifications — that it broadens the mind, lets you find yourself and see your home etc — certainly ring true to me. But only retrospectively. When I started I just had the urge. And I’m glad I wasn’t judged as mistakes and revelations came along the way.

Don’t forget professional travelers are paid money to think and write about travel, offering both time and cause for exploration than any two-weeks-vacation-a-year traveler can afford. The best we travel writes can do is offer stepping stones. Show how much IS possible in travel, not by somber testaments but by example. That’s tips gleaned from our own mistakes (here’s my 44), glowing descriptions of places, even bus schedule times (I can’t tell you how inspired I was early on, plotting out imaginary trips simply using Lonely Planet’s bus schedule info.)

Offer some stepping stones travelers can choose to use, then get out of their way and let them plot their own paths.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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