The Most Powerful Reasons to Travel

Picture a cheetah bounding behind a terrified wildebeest, or the lights of Hong Kong harbor sparkling like stars in Never-Never Land. Become a treasure-house, filled with images of the Sistine Chapel, Inca stonework, and China's Li River flowing like liquid jade between black karst peaks. Travel is your opportunity to think of beginnings and endings, to challenge inhibitions, and to experience true joy. St. Augustine observed that, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." Nevertheless, many people inhibit themselves from traveling, possibly because they haven't really considered all the rewards that await. Let's take a look at those rewards.PERSPECTIVEFreed from the cocoon of a familiar place, the traveler learns how people live in the rest of the world and what they care about. After you've been there, you "own" London, or Bangkok, or Jerusalem. You know the streets, people, issues, and emotions. Television coverage of tanks parked in Beijing's Tienanmen Square as helmeted soldiers beat skinny students to the pavement affects the person who's been there in a way that people who haven't simply cannot appreciate. Travelers develop a deeper understanding of the strivings of billions of humans, of lives filled with achievement and pleasure as well as lives filled from dawn to dusk with hard work, disease, and hopelessness. When you've walked among deformed children, malnutrition becomes more than just a word. When you've seen animals in Tierra del Fuego deformed by gross tumors caused by unfiltered ultra-violet in the sun's rays, holes in the earth's ozone layer have a reality not present in political bickering. As you learn about the religions, politics, customs, and attitudes of very different cultures, you understand your own better. You realize how much of what you accept as true reflects the values of the neighborhood and the country in which you grew up. Do you remember the fable of the five blind men and the elephant? One blind man puts his arms around the elephant's sturdy front leg and says the animal resembles a tree. Another grasps the trunk and insists that the elephant is like a snake. A third runs his hand along the great flank and declares that "An elephant is very like a wall." None of them got it right. In other words, it's hard to have an accurate perspective on life when one's experience is limited to a single culture.BEAUTY Travel exposes you to the greatest beauty that man and nature can devise: music, landscapes, and sunsets; the architectural brilliance of cathedrals and palaces; the breathtaking majesty of the Himalayas and the redwood forests. When the expressions of the artists of a dozen cultures have enriched your mind, you appreciate the immense breadth of beauty.SPECIAL PLACES Some people are compelled to travel by the lure of a specific place. It may be Kathmandu, a cavern, or a carnival; any image reinforced until it has become a command. Millions of us long to return to our particular "old country" to see how our ancestors lived.SPECIAL INTERESTS Travel gratifies specific interests such as sailing to Madagascar to search for rare orchids, trekking along Peru's Tambopata River in search of nearly extinct birds, diving among fantastic tropical fish at the Great Barrier Reef. Whether it's art, wine, food, architecture, Siberian tigers, better weather, or some other interest, it's out there waiting for you.PERSONAL GROWTH When you're on the road, there's no phone ringing and no lawn to be mowed. There's plenty of time for contemplation, even solitude. Personal growth may take years to be recognized, or it may become evident with dramatic suddenness.PEOPLE The longest-lasting travel memories are of people. As we travel, we luxuriate in trading life stories, speaking our minds, breaking free from the roles into which we may have drifted at home. Staying in touch with friends made on the road, local people as well as other travelers, becomes one of life's deepest pleasures.ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT, AND PERSONAL CHALLENGES Some personal challenges stretch physical capabilities and awaken what someone called the "adrenaline angel." Surely, some of the finest moments of our lives are those when we're stretched the most.COMPETENCE, CONFIDENCE, AND SELF-ESTEEM Getting yourself to distant places, successfully solving problems as you go, increases feelings of personal competence, confidence, and self-esteem.NEW PRIORITIES Travel is an ideal time for setting new priorities, deciding how to allocate your time when you return.RENEWED ENERGY With all that exercise, daily mental stimulation, constant variety, and excitement, you return full of plans, eager to get into action.CURIOSITY Travel serves that insatiable curiosity about the other side of the mountain. In the big picture, the earth is no more than a tiny mass, not really the center of anything. At the very least, we should understand it as well as we can.BUSINESS Knowledge of the world can be a major asset in business. Western nations will continue to increase their trade with the three billion people who live in the less-developed world. On a resume, visits to less-traveled places imply independence, confidence, energy, and intellectual curiosity.ROMANCE More than a few people hit the road with romance on their minds. They hear about the allure of men or women in foreign lands and decide to see for themselves. Some relationships pass with the sunset, some are vivid for years, and a few last a lifetime.FIRST HAND INFORMATION Rather than depending on what's reported, you become able to interpret and respond to international events on your own. Relations among nations are affected by how well people in different cultures know one another as individuals rather than as stereotypes.AWAKENED EMOTIONS Travel evokes emotions. Positive emotions, such as excitement and awe, are easy to anticipate. But there are others. You'll sometimes be in the midst of people whose living conditions are wretched. Not quaint, or merely lower than those of Western societies, but wretched. After seeing people as individual human beings rather than electronic images on a screen, you may find yourself emotionally kidnapped, compelled by compassion to do something to improve their conditions. It doesn't happen to all travelers, but it could happen to you.ESCAPE Some people travel not to get to someplace as much as to get away from some place. From beaches to bar stools, people talk about travel as an escape -- from a weak economy, a lost job, an unhappy relationship, or the daily treadmill. Some travelers are recent graduates waiting for a new job to start. Others, looking ahead to careers and family, feel it might be now or never for travel. Some, dissatisfied, tired of responsibility, or newly retired, may hope that travel will stimulate changes in their lives.FUN Many people finally figure out that they deserve a treat. They've worked hard and want to reward themselves. Travel is definitely fun. Freedom. In the end, travel is freedom. Freedom from the weight of possessions and from ruts; freedom to be the person you think of yourself as being.Evan Connell said something to the effect that "Some people do not travel the way most of us travel. Not only do they sometimes choose odd vehicles, they take dangerous and unusual trips for incomprehensible reasons." If you understand the reasons for which you want to travel, that's good. If not, "incomprehensible reasons" will do fine.

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