Why we travel – A session of introspection!

Traveling costs a fortune, has no long term returns, and leaves you exhausted at the end of the ordeal. Why would any sane person travel? Why won’t one simply save the money, buy a few policies and get rich instead? Why not spend the few days off of work in the peace and tranquility of your home? Relax and recharge before you have to saddle up for that new business project that will give you your next big break!

When someone asks this question, almost always with a tone of incomprehensibility and often with a hint of disbelief mixed in, a good approach is to simply quote a Thoreau or a Frost, thus emphasizing not just your profound knowledge in literature, but also making it look like you know what you’re talking about. However, the fact remains that most travelers don’t share a common agenda for traveling. Some travel to chase their dreams, some to run away from their past, while some, like me, just wander around with no real purpose, may be even hoping to find theirs at the end somehow.

When I was asked by a fellow photographer, one I’ve grown to respect over the years, to maintain a travelogue, I decided to put it at the end of my to-do list with no specific deadline in sight. Every time I had the urge to write something down, I started questioning my qualifications as a writer. Surely, the world wouldn’t miss yet another average travel story by yet another wannabe traveler without a unique story to tell. Surely, the world wouldn’t miss my substandard grammar or my dreadful writing skills. So why write?

The biggest roadblock, for me, was to understand whether my stories are worth telling, or more importantly worth listening to. So, I made myself carry a pen and a notebook every time I traveled somewhere, and forced myself to write down my epiphanies as and when they occurred. After a month’s work of writing down more stupid things than I thought I was capable of, I realized I was going in circles. I was trying to find an answer without having a question, a paradox! So I changed my writing style, from writing random words of enlightenment from time to time, I started writing down questions as and when they occurred to me. Questions that, if answered, might just help me realize what it is that I seek through my adventures. Questions, that took me more than a year to answer.

Off all the questions I had in my mind, I felt these two were paramount:

1. Why do travelers travel?
2. Is traveling only about being a non-conformist or is there something more to it?

Do remember that these aren’t questions meant for the readers, but simply my chain of thoughts as I try to analyze our urge to travel and explore. Now that we have cleared that, let’s address the first question.

So, why do we travel? As I’ve already mentioned, everyone has their reasons, but every single one of them seem to have one thing in common – the insatiable desire for new experiences. What kind of experiences, you ask?
Doesn’t matter, trying out a new cuisine can be just as thrilling as sky diving from 10000 feet. Meeting a fellow traveler who makes you realize how little you know about life, can be just as big a revelation as the first time you dive under the ocean. Experiences vary, as do people and their tastes, but to understand that we are hungry for new experiences is to understand the essence of traveling.

Moving on to the second question, why would anyone want to suffer the discomfort of traveling? It costs a fortune, with no long term returns. Is it just about being a non-conformist or is there something more to it?

The answer to that is cleverly hidden in the concept of value. It costs a fortune, true! But it has some of the best long term returns that you can think of, provided you value those returns.
Travelers travel to experience new things in the present, and to gain incredible friends and memories in the future, as long term returns. This is not something that I’ve just made up, ask anyone who dreams to be a full time traveler, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Frequent travelers seem to make friends with each other faster than any other kind I’ve ever encountered. There’s no pre-friendship politics, no favour exchange necessary, and most importantly the judgment of one’s character is postponed till one actually gets to know another. They value the long term returns of memories and friends a lot more than the petty interest accumulated in the savings account.

Sure, it can be about being a non-conformist for many, but that’s a big part of the thrill. To conform is to do what everyone else is doing, and that’s a morbid thought. Sure, it costs a fortune, but if your value system aligns with the returns that traveling provides, every penny spent is worth it. It is only once you learn to appreciate this value system, you realize that traveling is the only expense that makes one richer. I doubt anyone, when faced with imminent death, would be upset that they didn’t work and save enough money.

To conclude this rather long (and probably pointless) article, I’d quote one of my favorites:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of
arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid
in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out,and loudly proclaiming --

“Wow! What a Ride!”
— Hunter S. Thompson

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