On a recent flight to Saint Somewhere (which I can no longer recall), I was struck by the following question: Why do humans travel? Better yet, why do I travel?
Obviously there are obligatory reasons such as work or family commitments. “I don’t travel for purely cosmic reasons much anymore,” admits my travel editor Alex Crevar. “Work and the desire to discover have become one.”
When given the choice, then, why do many of us travel voluntarily?
For starters, I believe our subconscious is acutely aware of the many benefits that recreational travel affords, both personal and cultural. In short, travel broadens our worldview and increases our emotional health.
But it also speaks to other deep-rooted needs about who we are. After researching the question in greater detail this past week, here are five of the biggest reasons why we travel.
We Are Curious
Humans are the most curiosity-driven species in the observable universe. Hell, we even built a specialized go-kart just to drive on the moon shortly after landing on it. In fact, all of us seem to stubbornly prescribe to an old Chinese proverb: “Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.”
We Abhor Monotony
For many of us, change is the biggest motivation for travel. We have a need for novel scenery, routine, weather or even people. “I generally travel out of pure restlessness,” says Annie Black, social media manager at Paste. “I don’t like being in the same place for long periods of time, so I often disappear to experience something new. Sometimes change is all you need to refocus your ambitions.”
We Are Creators
“Humans—there’s something about them,” once quipped Remy, a fictional chef rat from my favorite Pixar movie. “They don’t just survive,” he added. “They discover; they create!” It’s true. When we’re not curiously probing our environment or escaping the mundane, we are creating. And travel is one of the greatest facilitators of creation, if only because it forces us to observe other ways of creating things.
We Are Students
Many of us—especially our young—are sponges for knowledge and self-mastery. “The macro reason for why I travel is the same for why I write,” says Hilary Saunders, a music editor with Paste. “I’m trying to understand the world we live in.” In a micro sense, however, Saunders says she travels “to find the place in this world that feels most like home.” We learn from the world’s best to make our own nests even better.
We Recharge Offline
Matt Brennan, TV editor at Paste, says his excuse for travel has changed at each stage of his life. “In my twenties it was pure wanderlust,” he says. “Later I sought solitude—an excuse to be alone. Then I stopped traveling altogether, for want of money.” Now with a family trip to Portugal on the horizon: “What I want most is to disconnect, turn off my computer, set aside social media, ignore the latest TV series, and get away—really and truly—if only for a week.”
As I’ve said before, travel can be overrated and is in no way a cure-all for life’s toughest ills. But when given a chance, travel is remarkable for just how much it’s capable of fixing.
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him @blakesnow