The curiosity continues.
I took a look through the archives of this blog and saw that I addressed this question somewhat when we first started writing about our travels in 2013. Some of the reasons I cited then we’re the opportunity to gain new experiences and perspectives, to learn about new foods, to practice speaking a different language and to gain exposure to different cultures and customs. That’s all fine, and those are some of the things you can accomplish on your travels, but WHY those are valuable and worth traveling for remains a question to be pondered. Here are some more thoughts.
There is something of a difference between travel and vacation. Travel implies some kind of purpose to the trip and it can be business travel or personal travel. The purpose of the vacation is to relax in a different place than your home environment. It is not necessarily to see anything or do anything in particular but to simply get away from the normal of life, wherever and whatever that might be.
How are travel and tourism related? Tourism has a very low opinion amongst people we’ve met who consider themselves “travelers”. When they think of tourism they think of your groups, tour buses, people shuttling on and off to snap a few photos of something they’re supposed to think is amazing or wonderful and then move on. There isn’t much thinking going on and the point of the exercise is maybe to get it all over with quickly so one can hurry home and show others what you saw.
Tourism also has the connotation of a logistical exercise, and involves efficiency of time. Most tourists have a short itinerary, cram too many locations, stops, transfers, etc. Into their plans and are always rushing about to be on schedule. The traveler has more of an attitude of a Flaneur, he has time to follow his fancy wherever it may lead and however long it might take to get there or accomplish it’s satisfaction. He might set out to travel for a few weeks but end up travelling for a few months.
To wit: several days ago the weather was poor and we decided the best use of our time would be to sit in a tea house across the street from our apartment and read books for several hours. We could do this at home and in fact we generally don’t (go to a tea or coffee house to read that is). This egregious use of time would be unheard of for a tourist. But for us on this travel, it was one of the more wonderful things we’ve done so far and was fully worth the time invested.
Wrapped up deeply in the idea of traveling is the notion of learning. And it is not just learning about a place or the people, it is about learning about yourself in a different way than you might if you had stayed home.
Thinking about why were traveling this time and what we hope to learn, I think one explicit question we had was “Could we imagine ourselves living in and being happy in one of these cities?” With several reservations the answer so far is yes, in fact we spent some time scheming about how we might do this in each place although we have no immediate plans and haven’t decided to cancel our flights home to stay.
Another thing were exploring is, “what’s really important to us in life? What do we feel we need more of? And less?”
Spending time “aimlessly” reading seems like something I want more of; my experience at Ozone left me confident I don’t yearn to be able to drink in the best bars in the world.
Yesterday we spent the afternoon with another of the Wolf’s friends from school, another Hong Kong native. He, too, enjoys traveling and we learned about his recent experiences and approach to travel. There were many similarities in terms of places to visit, the opportunity to learn new languages, the desire to explore a lifestyle in another place.
We also discussed routine– is it valuable to have a routine to return to, can travel fit into it, and could travel BE the routine? We all inhabit a privileged position where we have the freedom, personal and financial, to even consider such alternatives for ourselves. We also have the opportunity to think critically about our economic choices and the value of adopting a routine that involves “staring at a cubicle” for the rest of our working lives.
I thought the Wolf’s friend made a good point that I plan to dwell on further which is that, most people can not do what we are considering doing but would like to be able to do so. If you have the freedom to consider alternatives, why wouldn’t you do so? Why would you just automatically do what everyone else is doing with less freedom without thinking it through and exploring your options?
So maybe the meta answer to the question “why do we travel?” Is that travel is a means of exploring the optionality of personal freedom with the goal of finding an optimal pattern of existence for one’s remaining life.