Travel is a cure-all for any problem life might throw at you.
That’s rubbish, of course. But the positive effects of travel are well-documented, including its ability to broaden our perspective, strengthen our relationships, help us appreciate home and increase the number of experiences we encounter. Because of this, some people are tempted to idealize, over-commercialize or overstate the benefits of changing geographies. This is a mistake. Let’s set the record straight.
We’ve gone over this already, but it bears repeating. When funds, time or energy levels are low but you still want to go places, consider planning your next trip, reading or taking in a movie, disorienting yourself at home or even creating art. There’s no doubt that crossing physical boundaries can accelerate our enjoyment of life. But mental travel can be just as effective.
Some people travel to stay in constant motion or run from their problems. This is classic avoidance behavior. While standing next to 1,000-year-old building or hiking the great outdoors is cool and all, doing so probably won’t result in epiphany or personal enlightenment. It might—especially if we’ve already journeyed most of the mental way. But the lowly of heart sometimes inject more meaning, power and hope on travel than it’s likely capable of.
That emptiness you feel inside? You can’t fill it with travel. You can certainly distract yourself with it, which can be good for your short-term health. Maybe even get a gap year out of it. But measuring your life by the number of trips taken will always leave you feeling unsatisfied. Miles traveled will never mask your personal insecurities. Lasting joy is a work in progress that’s usually rooted at home.
I’ve met globe trekkers that seemingly squandered much of their time overseas and learned very little from the accumulated culture they were exposed to. And I’ve met sophisticated, tolerant and sympathetic people who’ve rarely (if ever) left home. In other words, ignorance can still be well-traveled. While I’m a big advocate for using travel as a mental and physiological enabler, the work of overcoming ignorance still falls on us. Intelligence is never automatic.
I’m humbled by, grateful for and in awe of the many places I’ve visited and intend to visit in the coming lifetime. The more I travel, the more I’m convinced that Earth and its inhabitants are the coolest things in the observable universe. But this gift (or “intergalactic luck,” if you will) can never compensate for negligence at home. As awesome as it is, traveling does not grant a free pass from taking care of our financial, personal or familial duties. For a life well lived, nailing it both at home and abroad is the goal.
Photo: Moyan Brenn, CC-BY
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.