When asked to list our interests – whether at the bottom of a CV or in a dating profile – we might mention reading, going for walks, playing a sport… and most of us will probably add, “I like to travel.” But what exactly does that mean? In the last few years I’ve come across countless bloggers who live for travel, solo travellers or couples who build their whole lives around moving from place to place, celebrating the joys of the nomadic life and pumping out articles about how you, too, can afford to live this kind of rootless existence. Now I’m no travel blogger, but travel has been a conspicuous part of the experiences that I’ve been sharing on this blog, and whenever I have time off between projects my natural impulse is to book a trip…
So why is that we travel? What is it about travelling that we find so appealing? If we dig a little deeper, we’ll probably find that there are all sorts of underlying forces creating that urge to pack our suitcase and head out of the door…
Travel as a holiday
In its most common, and simple, form, travel is something you do when you have time off work. You might go to your house in the south of France, lie on a beach in Barbados, or visit your family who live abroad. You may even choose to go to the same place each year, so you know exactly what you’re getting and you can focus on relaxing and enjoying yourself. This is time with your loved ones, time away from the office… a holiday, basically. A holiday is a wonderful thing and brings lots of benefits; but if “I like to travel” means “I like a holiday” then, yes, duh, we all do darling.
Travel as an escape
Taking the idea of a holiday or a break from work to the extreme gives you travel as an escape from the drudgery of your everyday life. Every week from Monday morning you’re counting down the days until the weekend, and all year long you’re counting down the weeks until your next holiday. If that’s you, then as the saying goes you need to find a life that you don’t want to escape from! A few days or weeks of holiday a year can never make up for the rest of the year that you live in soul-destroying wretchedness in a job you hate or in a relationship that makes you miserable. Enjoy your time away, by all means – just make sure you hand in that resignation letter or dump your cheating boyfriend when you get back.
Travel as a ‘tick the box’
Ah that most terrible of all sins, to travel simply to say that you’ve been there. These are the Americans who “do Europe” in a fortnight, tourists who barely leave the airport or the hotel, who want to see the Mona Lisa – tick! – and be done with it. They’ll do a bus tour so as to cover as much as they can in a day, they’ll see the main sights, they’ll take lots of photos. It’s crossing off destinations for the sake of it, without any attempt at getting to know the real heart of a place. These tourists – ouch, what an insult! – leave with a few selfies and souvenirs… oh and plenty of bragging rights, supported by all the photos filling up our Facebook newsfeeds. But, then, part of the joy of having an experience is being able to share it with your friends, isn’t it!?
“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”
– Elizabeth Drew
Travel as a cultural experience
There are also the more highbrow among the travellers, those who enjoy discovering different cultures, going to museums, learning languages. These are the travel snobs, the ones who would never dream of lying on a beach all day, feeling virtuous as they get up early to go to that great little exhibition. Cultural experiences, though, are much broader than that and it’s impossible not to live a richer life as a result of being exposed to different ways of living and seeing how small you are in the grand scheme of things.
“Travel broadens our perspectives. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colours.”
– Rick Steves
Travel as an exploration of the unknown
Travel can also be an adventure. It’s arriving in places you know little about, being open to whatever experience comes long, getting to know the locals you happen to meet. True adventurers – travellers, not tourists – don’t like to plan and tend to be looking for a more authentic experience, meaning staying with the locals, going to bars and restaurants away from the main touristy areas, spending more time there to really get to know a place. Another type of travel snob, looking down on those of us foolish enough to visit the standard tourist attractions, the restaurant rip-offs, paying full price at the market…
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”
– Dalai Lama
Travel for travel’s sake
And, finally, why not travel simply for travel’s sake? The idea of Wanderlust has become prevalent in the English language, along with another loanword from German, Fernweh – literally , ‘far-sicknesss’, as opposed to Heimweh or homesickness – and a great one from my own language, resfeber, which is Swedish for ‘travel fever’. The internet is full of travel bloggers who have packed up their bags and spend all year, every year, moving around from place to place with no permanent home.
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
– J. R. R. Tolkien
Personally, I think I travel for a mixture of all these reasons: for a break from sitting at a desk all day, for quality time with friends and family, to have new experiences and meet new people and, yes, to tick off amazing ‘bucket list’ sights like witnessing the Northern Lights (last month) and seeing the Grand Canyon (next month!). The world is vast and beautiful and I want to see as much as I can in the time that I’ve been given.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain
So what type of traveller are you? Let me know in the comments below!