Why we travel

I’m currently sitting in a train traveling northeast. It is a Sunday evening in November, the month when this part of the world is covered by a cold blanket of gloom. I lift my eyes and have a look at my fellow passengers.

People are traveling around the globe more than ever before. A lot of it can be derived to improved economies, increased living standards and the global information society. But all that is just providing a way to travel. The interesting question is why we choose to travel?

In fact, those hard-earned money could very well be spent on far better things than traveling. All that money could feed thousands of mouths instead of going into the pockets of international airlines and ugly hotel chains.

I suppose a fair bit of traveling can be attributed to a kind of rewarding luxury after spending a year at work, equal to buying stuff you desire but don’t really quite need. Another common reason is to better understand other cultures and learn more about the world. For me, the main reason for traveling is all about the latter.

However, I think there is something more to travel. The common wording “finding yourself” is a tired old cliché, but it may be quite accurate in the society of 2007. One of the most striking things about the modern man is the urge to move, both in terms of physical world and inner self. “Choose life, choose a job, choose a career” as Mark Renton put it in Trainspotting ten years ago.

I believe the availability of the information society is placing quite a weight on people’s shoulders. The onslaught of news channels and online mediums combine with the unyielding cell phones to make your brain constantly work in high gear. The important recreation phase of the day shrinks more and more. A temporary relief could be to move in a different direction for a while.

To many, it has become an obsession. Elliott Hester sold every possession and started to travel the world. In the epilogue of Adventures of a Continental Drifter, he considers for a second to stop traveling and settle for a normal life. He immediately recoils from the idea and makes a comparison to the movie Matrix. To settle down would be like staying in the Matrix forever, when the real world awaits undiscovered on the outside.

Bruce Chatwin is another example. He often claimed that humans were essentially nomads, driven by curiosity and restlessness to discover new places. The normal state was supposed to be movement and Chatwin himself tried to embody the words of Rimbaud, “ĽHomme aux semelles de vent” (man with soles of wind). During his later years he got rid of many possessions he had earlier collected in a frenzy around the world and hunted for stories instead of objects.

I think the answer to the question is too complex to describe in a few words, and there are probably just as many answers as there are people in the world. Why do you travel?

2 comments

  • avatar
    Theresa
    26 Nov, 2007

    I’m with Chatwin – it is a necessity. However, I do believe it’s rather a matter of frame of mind; Where means are lacking, travel is still possible, if only in time and imagination. But where no travel exists, be it of any kind, apathy seems inevitable.

  • avatar
    29 Nov, 2007

    You’re absolutely right – travelling is possible without spatial movement and that is the important part.

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