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Have you ever found yourself having to explain to family or friends why you want to travel to a certain destination? Or maybe just why you want to travel at all? Would they understand why you might want to go to a watering hole in the Gobi Desert Mongolia to see how people manage in such a hostile environment? That's where I was in the photo at the top of this page.
You may think, like me, that everyone wants to travel beyond the borders of their home country – at least for a vacation of a couple of weeks. If so, you can imagine my shock when I meet Americans who have no desire to visit other countries.
As a tour director, I traveled a lot – 18 years to be precise with 15 of those years on tours outside of the U.S. Yes, I’m American. I’ve seen a lot of the world and think that the United States has some of the best vacation destinations in the world. You can have just about anything you want – beaches, mountains, hiking, rafting, cities, and on and on.
Not everyone feels the need to visit other countries. When people ask you why you want to just that, do you feel that saying “Just because I want to” isn’t adequate? Maybe being asked why you want to travel has prompted you to find an answer that friends and family can truly understand.
Or maybe this article will get you thinking about answers to that question. I’d love to hear your reasons for traveling. Just leave a comment below.
I’ve often found myself in that situation – needing or wanting to explain my wanderlust to friends or family who just don’t get it. Of course, in the end “Just because I want to” is really a good enough response.
But I often saw people walk away from me shaking their heads. They just didn’t understand. How could I explain it better? And since travel has been a large part of my life for many years, I’ve considered my answer to “Why Travel?” a lot over the years.
At first, I found myself giving the usual cliché answers:
But I soon realized that those were just convenient excuses. Living a more adventurous life might have been the reason I started traveling, but I soon realized that something more important happened when I traveled. It wasn’t the reason I started traveling, but it made travel so meaningful to me that I continued.
Travel gave me the opportunity to see myself more clearly. While in a foreign environment, my behavior didn't blend in with how locals were acting. So I could see bits of myself that had generally blended in when I was around other Americans. As a result, I learned more about myself and could see parts of myself that I didn’t particularly like.
You might think this sounds strange at first, but think about it. Once I was away from my daily routine and roles and away from the expectations of family and friends, my actions and reactions stood out like a sore thumb.
When I responded to a situation in the way that I had throughout my life but was an unusual response in the foreign country I was visiting, my actions stood out to me. In the past, even though I had been a bit of an unusual person, my actions were so similar to what others were doing that I was still hidden even in my efforts to be different.
I had sometimes wondered whether I was acting a certain way because I wanted to or simply because I had been taught/programmed that behavior. So, I guess that I already had the urge to figure myself out, but it was travel that made it not just possible, but necessary – and actually easier than it would have been at ‘home.’
I loved that travel made it possible for me to compare and contrast myself against another culture. In fact, in contrast to what might have been expected in a different culture, my actions sometimes seemed downright ludicrous. So, I changed them.
In the end, I chose to live overseas and seeing myself more clearly happened more regularly – sometimes daily. In the process of all this, I’ve come closer to the person that I want to be. Still have a long way to go, but that’s to be expected.
Would I have been able to do the same if I’d continued to live where I grew up? Maybe. I’ll never know for sure. But I’m happy with the way it’s worked out so far.