Everyday my Twitter stream is full of beautiful sunsets and inspirational quotes. Stories of life-changing moments and travel encounters that are so extreme they sound contrived. That’s fine, and I’m certainly guilty of that too, but that’s not what travel really is or even why travel is important. I started this site from the perspective of a normal, working professional and while my professions have changed, I try to still keep that mindset. My trips are never more than a week or two in length and I try to be realistic about what people can and cannot do. So I thought I’d further that and today offer up some more notable reasons why travel is important to everyone and not just that 20-something backpacker.
1. It’s supposed to be fun – I think that in the quest for meaningful experiences and promoting fake ‘undiscovered’ places, most travel outlets lose sight of the real reason why many folks travel, because it’s fun. The vast majority of the traveling public won’t go on a month-long cruise or trek along an ancient pilgrimage route. No, instead they’ll take a week (MAYBE two) and choose a destination on the presumption of having a good time. Those of us who work in travel may be too close to the subject, we may travel too much to realize the importance of a once or perhaps twice a year disconnect, since it’s something we so rarely do. Sure, travel is also about personal development and growth, but that’s not why my neighbor went down to the Caribbean last week. No, he went to go sit on a beach and enjoy his time out of the office and that aspect of unadulterated fun should never be forgotten.
2. Amazing education – All of that being said, no matter your style of trip education is always a key aspect and it is always important. Sure, there are some places where you learn more than others and what you learn isn’t always the same. Sometimes it’s literal, as in an educational trip but most times the education is a subtler one, one that happens on a very personal level. My friend who just went down to the Caribbean may not think he learned anything on his trip, but he did. While inadvertent, he learned about local cultures, foods and the general vibe of the islands. He probably learned something about himself too. It was his first time to the Caribbean and there was probably some trepidation involved. He learned more about what he can do and frankly what interests him when he travels. Education happens whenever you leave the house, you just need to open your mind and be prepared to learn.
3. Great for all ages – Most of the pretty pictures we see feature an idealized traveler, depending on the type of company doing the promotion. Action adventure companies have spry 20-somethings scaling mountain peaks, or whatever it is they do, while river cruise companies have the calmer, but not any less photogenic baby boomers enjoying a glass of wine or marveling at long lost art. Sure, these companies cater to their client base, but they’re also inadvertently alienating others. I told someone recently that my partner and I are going on a river cruise later this year and the reaction was shock. “But that’s only for old people!” No, no actually it’s not but that’s the image. The same goes for active trips. They’re not only for younger folks, travel is a great equalizer and anyone can travel anywhere and do anything – they just have to want it enough. So grab your spouse, your kids, your grandma – whoever! Just get out and go.
4. Healthy – Any number of studies show that travel lowers blood pressure, decreases stress and is generally a healthy activity; for most people. That’s how stressed out we are as a culture, we can’t relax unless we literally rip ourselves away from our home environments. That’s why I started off this list with the enjoyment factor because while travel can have its stressful moments, ultimately it’s about enjoying yourself. There are also more quickly realized benefits, like eating better and getting more exercise. You may not agree with the eating better part, but it’s true. From an American point of view, so many of our foods – even staples – are intensely processed or contain a dubious cocktail of chemicals that are probably hurting us more than we realize. Whenever I go to Europe I never shy away from great foods, and plenty of them. But I never gain weight and sometimes I lose it. Sure, part of that is thanks to physical activity but it’s also because for the most part I consume fresh, locally sourced foods. What is now a food trend at home is how most of the rest of the world eats and travel is a great way to realize its importance.
5. Helps in other aspects of life – From a practical point of view, the many skill sets involved with travel reverberate throughout the rest of one’s life. Saving for a big trip involves new budgeting skills, saving and prioritizing in different ways. You don’t always have to use that extra money for travel; you can use it for anything really. Travel also makes us more patient, due to the innumerable minor stresses involved. If you don’t become more patient you turn into a raving lunatic, so try to opt for the former. Related to patience is kindness. I think it’s impossible to meet new people, whether it’s in Albuquerque or Ulan Bator, and not develop a certain empathy for them and their lives. You’d be amazed how this trickles down through the rest of your life. And frankly travel makes you more interesting. Everyone needs a story to tell, make sure you have one.
6. So you don’t have a life of regrets – Ok, I find myself lapsing into metaphysical travel blogger mode, but I can’t help it. I’ve been through this, I’ve lived a life I wasn’t happy with and through great effort made changes so that I could be happy. I see countless others, many of them my friends, who don’t do this and walk through life with a sack full of regrets. “I wish I could”, “that would be nice,” and “it’s too hard,” are their go-to phrases and each one is a cop-out. I’m a firm believer in the fact that if you want anything in life, if you work hard enough you can make it happen. Most people don’t want to put in that work though. This doesn’t have to mean an epic, around the world quest for self-enlightenment. It’s as simple as visiting any new place, but visit it you must. The benefits are too many and the risks too great to ignore that siren call of travel.
Remember, ultimately the average vacation is not a quest to find inner peace. It’s a vacation and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean though that you won’t gain some of those pie in the sky, fluffy benefits, but it’s a balance, which is the real reason why travel is so important.