I started this blog two years ago because my true passion in life is travel, and more than anything I want to share that with others. Because it’s my favorite pastime, I also find myself reading countless travel web sites from people around the world, eagerly devouring tips and relishing in their travel experiences. Once in a while a writer will pontificate, as I am oft wont to do, about the true meaning of travel and what is it really all about. Usually I dismiss these ponderings as indulgences of the frequent traveler, but I myself have been pontificating about the true inherent value of travel. I have come to the conclusion that more than anything else, it is all about the individual travelers themselves.
Modern civilization affords us certain luxuries unthinkable just a century ago. The ability to quickly, easily and enjoyably travel the world is chief among these special perks of the modern era. If I want, I could be in Tokyo tomorrow afternoon. I know we’re all jaded and spoiled, so stop and think about that fact for a moment. Tokyo is 6,700 miles from Washington, DC. In 1912, it would’ve taken me weeks to reach Japan through a variety of conveyances. Now, I can hop on one plane and be there in time for dinner tomorrow. That is freaking amazing.
Logically, modern man has taken advantage of our new-found super power to travel the world with ease, opening up experiences and locales that have never seen a visitor, or at least not very many. I’m always curious why someone chooses one destination over another. What made Jimmy pick Cancun over Miami, or Sally to spend a week in Barcelona instead of Nice? Some would say it’s the specific sights and activities in the region, which is a fair point. I mean, the mere existence of travel guides would seem to indicate that sightseeing is indeed the primary pastime of tourists. Other travelers with a few countries under their belt usually add another reason; to meet new people and learn about a new culture. Another great point actually, international and transcultural interactions are not only important, they’re vital and almost always yield benefits to both parties. Would I have enjoyed Jordan as much had it not been for the warm hospitality of the Jordanians? No, probably not. But I don’t think people make travel decisions necessarily on how nice a country’s citizens may or not be. If that were the case, there are parts of the world that would never see another tourist again. No, there’s something else there.
The answer lies behind the primary motivation for travel – to enjoy oneself. Vacation is meant to be fun, sometimes relaxing and always a memorable experience. Travel, almost without exception, is one of the most selfish things we as humans can do, but in a good way. (This is where you have to bear with me)
People who say they travel to relax are selfish. People who say they travel to see famous sights are selfish. People who say they travel to interact with other cultures are usually lying, but they’re also selfish. No matter how you cut it, travel is inherently selfish because we are the primary recipients of anything positive from the experience. But that’s not only ok, it’s great and should be encouraged.
Travel is all about us because it changes us in one way or another. Most times travel is an educational, enlightening process, whether we intend it to be or not and whether or not we realize it. Travel snobs may tilt their nose at someone who just wants to go sit on a beach in Mexico for a week. But why? They’re getting as much out of the experience as someone trekking through the Andes gets, but in different ways. Both are experiencing trips that give them pleasure and even the beach bathing tourist will learn about the location and grow as a person, whether they realize it or even like it. They have no choice. No matter what we do, travel always changes us, always makes us better people and always has lessons to teach. The trick is to realize all this and to capitalize on it.
I can hear a lot of virtual eye rolling, and that’s fine. I imagine some people will try to say that they only volunteer when they travel or they only patronize eco-friendly establishments. That’s fine, but it’s still selfish and the primary recipient of anything good from your individual actions will always be yourself. Instead of dismissing this or rejecting it, embracing it will actually enable you to not only enjoy your experience more, but also to help more people as you travel.
Maybe this is a little too philosophical and I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say that travel is indeed life changing, life affirming, an action that provides great benefits to people around the world, but which is also selfish. Sometimes in life in order to help other people, we need to first help ourselves.
What do you think? Is travel selfish and is that ok?