This is something a pair of Swedish travelers asked us when they picked us up hitch-hiking in Germany. And it surprised me how difficult a question it was to answer. I stammered for a few moments before realizing I didn’t know what to say…
So it’s a question I’ve been thinking of ever since. Why do we travel?
It seemed easier to think of how not to answer that question.
For instance, I would not answer by saying “Why not?” There would be plenty of reasons not to travel. Community, stability, etc. A sense of community is not impossible as you travel, but it becomes a foggy and elusive thing, like the imaginary friend I invented as a child, then frustrated myself with when it never took visible shape and never felt real. I dare say stability too is nearly impossible while traveling, and sometimes a bed feels like so much work to establish. Then, a few nights later the work of finding a bed starts over, like rebuilding a sand-castle between high tides. Not to mention, there are incredibly valuable things about stationary life. While living a stationary life I can invest in a community, write and play music, feel connected to the lives of my friends, run races, participate in art exhibits. There are endless opportunities in stationary life, and it is undeniably beautiful.
I also wouldn’t answer by saying “For fun.” We have made travel a big enough part of our lifestyle by now that we have made it clear it matters more than a simple break from routine or vacation. No one would believe us if we said we travel just for fun because no one gives up the convenience and stability of home, possessions, community, etc “just for fun.” By pursuing travel despite the challenges, we have made the statement that it matters for some deeper reason than fun.
I wouldn’t answer by saying “For missions.” We are not missionaries. At least…not more than we were in Va. Not more than you or the next person or the next person over. We are not less so either. Regardless of where we are we will always wrestle with the important questions of how to respond to poverty and inequality. Though… we wrestle with that question whether in Cambodia staring at the face of a begging child or in VA pondering whose hands manufactured the clothing we wear. This world’s needs are so perplexing that they will always be in the back of my mind, influencing my actions and reactions. And yet, the more I see poverty and unmet needs, the less I seem to know how to fix it. It’s like the mountain in the distance. From far away, I almost think it looks climbable. But the closer I get, the more I notice the sheer cliffs and the rough terrain. Likewise, the mission of meeting needs and bettering the lives of the poor and broken-hearted looks less and less like a simple path and more and more like a complex series of struggles. We will always wrestle with how to make the world a better place. But that is not why we travel because we would wrestle with it anywhere, just as all of you do in your own lives.
So… why then?
While it’s still a question I turn over and over in my head, I do have a few ideas I might as well share with you all, knowing that vulnerability is a chance to grow in wisdom.
Why do we travel?
1.) Because sometimes I feel that travel is the best way for me personally to combat the “us/them” mentality carefully woven into every part of media, news, politics, and the daily Western life. In America there is a very strong collective voice advertising the idea that we are a separate entity. That we are something other than pieces of a great big humanity. There are categories and boxes for everyone, even within the box we’ve made for ourselves. We have national identities, political identities, familial identities, religious identities, sexual identities, academic identities, generational identities… The boxes get smaller and smaller and our attention becomes more and more tightly wound around ourselves and those like us. This is a strong temptation- to focus more and more inwardly. Travel allows us to focus on the biggest most forgotten box. We are all part of this incredible human existence. We are all part of the same baffling attempt to understand life. Yes. It is more comfortable to be around the people who have grown up in the same contexts we’ve seen, but our reality is very small when confined to what we and those like us have seen and experienced.
With travel, I am forcing my focus onto this bigger box every day.
But I am under no illusion that travel is the only way to shift our focus to the bigger box. In fact, it is as simple as spending time with someone different than ourselves. You can do this anywhere.
2.) I am truly fascinated by people. I can’t get enough. I love listening to people and how or why they make the decisions they do. I would travel the world simply to have more and more conversations with more and more kinds of people.
3.) We have an unimaginably beautiful planet in our keeping. And that beauty stimulates the same parts of me that spirituality does and so in some sense, beauty feels like a connection to God. It feels like a glimpse of the world God has in mind or a glimpse of God’s character. Beauty calls out to the part of me that senses the existence of something greater. Like glimpsing the reflection of the kingdom of God. It leaves the uninspired, cynical parts of me totally speechless.
4.) The novelty of each new place we see feels like an adventure. To see something I don’t understand at all feels incredibly exciting to me.
5.) Travel has become a job Drew and I can both enjoy. Perhaps if we both found careers that make us both feel fulfilled back in Va, maybe we would stop traveling. But we have an uncommon combination of skills and ideals. For instance, Drew is an entrepreneur at heart. The more he cultivates that interest, the more it makes sense as something he was just made to pursue….and the harder it is for him to imagine doing anything else. And I have always wanted a job I could partner with Drew for. Something we could work at together. Travel is one of the things we are both excited and passionate about and it’s also something that started working. We’ve had so many different business ideas over the three years we’ve been married, and the travel website is the idea that’s seen the most success. And we both love it. That is something special.
Whatever you’re doing, it is a beautiful adventure too. The things I’ve written about here are just thoughts on my own lifestyle, but I have never thought of travel as the only way. You can see beauty and diversity and adventure in all kinds of lifestyles. You do not need to travel to get these things, but it’s the way I access them.
When I used to work at the child development center we would put a box in the room and wait to see what the children would do with it. Some of them climbed inside and others beat their hands against the surface like a drum. Another child liked to push it across the room. Each child found interest in using the box a different way.
It’s the same with the daily lives we carve out for ourselves. There is no best way to play with a box just as there is no best way to experience diversity and beauty. I have chosen the travel life while others may look for beauty in the smiles of their children and may look for adventure in the pursuit of a new interest.
These are simply my reasons for traveling.
Why do you do the things you love?