Travel Isn’t About the Places or Even the People

Wadi Rum, Jordan

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.

Beach Shacks St Kitts

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)

Tel Aviv Beach Sunset

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?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

8 Responses

  1. Laura

    No eye rolling here.

    This selfish aspect of travel is specifically why many travelers (not me, yet) combine work with play and use their gifts and talents as volunteers in the midst of experiencing a new place.

    Reply
  2. Brian Searl

    Travel is selfish for many people. I would pose this question though: When people like you or I travel for business (Landlopers or Insider Perks respectively) are we not removing some of the selfishness from our own travels by providing value to others who may visit in the future? Does a photograph, video, blog post or other equivalent posted during a trip which might not feature our preferred itinerary remove some of that inherent selfishness?

    You could certainly argue that some people only write to selfishly benefit from the trips they partake in but in the end they still (usually if promises are kept) serve to benefit others which by definition cannot make them selfish. Indeed even though we may benefit the most by actually taking the trip (whereas others live through our posts, videos etc.) we still often don’t see the destination the way we would see it without the business aspect. By giving ourselves over to either a pre-determined itinerary set by a CVB or an itinerary of places we think our readers or viewers would enjoy that also removes selfishness.

    Your post is solid and has a very good foundation and basis but assumes one plans only for himself or herself. Another example might be planning a trip to Disney for your kids and not you. Taking pictures with a princess or eating breakfast with Cinderella instead of riding the nausea inducing roller coasters you yearn for.

    While some do travel for selfish reasons and there are certainly more benefits to those who do travel anywhere, I would argue that there are other things that can offset most if not all of that selfishness.

    Reply
  3. Sonja

    I didn’t know you’ve only been blogging for 2 years – your blog is very successful. I don’t think this post is corny or over the top. It’s all very true and worth consideration. Is it selfish to desire and search for a meaningful life? I don’t think so. People just find meaning in different ways. I travel to share experiences with others – my family, my husband, and especially my kids. I also travel to educate my kids. Hopefully they will one day do the same for others.

    Reply
  4. ryoawesome

    I was about to roll my eyes, until I read the whole post. Travel not being about the places nor the people? What was that about?!? Isn’t that why we wanted to travel? To see a different place and to meet other people? Sure that probably is the motivation behind the ticket reservations and packing but, I do agree that underneath it all, travel is all about the traveler. It does not matter where or how you travel, what matters is what you get out of it. That is the real motivation, what you will enjoy, what you will like, what you will experience be it on a mountain or beach with Asians or Europeans, etc.

    Reply
  5. Andi

    Travel is definitely selfish and it is okay, in fact “owning” that fact makes it more than okay. Being inauthenticate by trying to come up with a ton of other reasons why a person travels is so lame! Loved the post!

    Reply
  6. Conrad

    Yes, you are selfish. And so am I. And you, yes I mean you, fellow traveler or ‘I read so many travel blogs I am already part of it’ backpacker, or yeah, just you.

    But then again who cares. Are you doing harm? Intentionally? Guess not eh? Well maybe when you are pissed off by some hawker or drunken wannabe hippie orbiting in the realm of self importance, but guess what, that’s just normal behaviour.

    So selfish may not be the right word to describe the feeling of, well, lets call it ‘feeling part of the lucky ones’. Cool. Nothing to feel guilty about. I just envy you. Oh you… selfish bast***d traveler!
    🙂

    Reply
  7. Tom

    It’s selfish but there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re the only person who fully experiences your own life, so you should do whatever you like to make it as fulfilling for yourself as possible!

    Reply
  8. kakky

    Traveling is extremely selfish if it becomes an escape for people who can’t find fulfillment in their quote unquote ‘regular’ lives. Obviously it would depend on the traveler, but as a family member of two siblings who started traveling early (and not with their own hard earned money), I have been on the receiving end of having to pick up the pieces that they constantly leave behind (we have a family with a lot of sickness/ mental disorders) that need stability. What frustrates me is that the form of traveling they do is superficial, meaning they go to random places constantly, without putting down solid roots enough to give back to the areas in any way. Then they have the nerve to tell the more homegrown people who have fought for the roots in their hometown (our area has dealt with some serious unbalance in terms of politics,environmental, and social problems: two words- the tarsands) how much they have saved/learn/grown/seen etc and how much more enlightened they are, but still fail to apply these benefits to the outside world other then to be extremely hard to relate to and somewhat immature (life skills anybody?) . Maybe I just have had a bad experience, but I think traveling is privilege like any other and should be handled with a lot of maturity and only done once somebody has had to feel the burn of circumstance enough to have enough empathy to not just take advantage of ‘the must see’ places.

    Reply

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