The world fills steadily with travel blogs, and my blood pressure—I find—rises alongside.
I don’t invest time in browsing through “Top 10 Kiwi Destinations” or “Best Ways to Make Friends in Hostels” or “250 Ways That Travel Changes You”; partly because, being a snob, I don’t tend to like the things that the social people like.
Partly because I often disagree with the principles of these posts:
“By seeing and learning about these things you’ll learn to understand the value of everything in life and you’ll get more grateful for it.”
“Travel is transformational. It changes who you are to your very core. Out there on the road, without any baggage, you encounter life in a way that’s not always possible when you are working all the time.”
“If you can handle traveling in foreign countries or living in a new place, you can do anything.”
You read that. You jump for joy, because, hey, you’d really like to change. How? Dunno. You’re just discontent. With what? Dunno. You’re just discontent. Dopamine! Possibility!
You cancel your flight to go see your family in lieu of LEAPING for adventure, for world travel. You’re going to go be changed. It’s guaranteed, you’ve read the blogs; travel changes you.
You’ve these goals for growth—become better at making friends, more confident in who you are, at ease with living lightly—and that pairs nicely with the image of reckless abandon of wild living, of traveling with nothing more than a change of clothes and a toothbrush. How absolutely freeing! How positively brilliant!
Then what happens?
You get there. And you realize it’s just as real here as it is where you’ve left. The dreamland fantasy you imagined is still a dreamland fantasy, all tucked up there in your noggin. That you’re still shy around other people. Still insecure. Still longing for more stuff.
I do this.
I pop to a place (like Emporia) and the feelings of discontent appear. Ahh, I’m not free here! It will all be so much better when I can go away, go explore, go release my reckless abandon!
I pop to a place (like Indonesia) and feel moments of discontent. Ahh! It will all be much, much better when I can leave and go somewhere else. They don’t understand me here. I don’t belong here. This is not my idea of freedom. Elsewhere will be better!
I pop to another place (like New Zealand). Life improves: but I feel moments of discontent. In different areas. It’s not perfect. Ahh, it will all be much, much better when I can leave and go somewhere else! Be completely on my own, not answering to anyone!
I often chalk that discontentedness to “part of being a young adult”; but what a cop-out.
As Seneca wrote, in Letters from a Stoic, truer than any travel blog I will ever read:
“What good does it do you to go overseas, to move from city to city? If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place, but to be a different person… Take my word for it, the trip doesn’t exist that can set you belong the reach of cravings, fits of temper, or fears.”
We don’t become fit because they’ve installed a public track at the local high school. Just going to Westpoint makes no one a brilliant military strategist.
“But!” I hear, “when you meet people from other countries and you hear their stories, that’s empathy! You don’t come back the same person after those sorts of encounters.”
I agree; you meet people who live differently. As Aldous Huxley said, “To travel is to discover that everyone was wrong about other countries.”
But how many, when they come back home and see their routines and their own way of life, don’t just snuggle back into the comfortable, routine way of going about their business?
I am not the same person as when I left Kansas, so long ago before Austria. But that’s not because I’ve traveled. It’s because, through the space and stillness, I’m confronting myself. It’s not “travel” that changes a man; it’s getting quiet.
Getting real. Reconciling. Reinventing.
“Travel won’t make a better or saner man of you. For this we must spend time in study and in writings of wise men. To learn the truths that we have emerged from their research and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered. This is the way to liberate the spirit that still needs to be rescued from its miserable state of slavery.”
Which, if you think of it: is GREAT news. Because anyone can do that from anywhere, at any time.
I’m very, very, very pro-travel. My message is not to never travel. To just spend days at the library, reading, and studying others’ accounts of the world. We do need to carry on the search ourselves for the answers.
But man, the let-down that comes from thinking travel will change us. It’s false: something crafted for the easy neurotransmitter flow.
Travel won’t change you.
You will change you.
You do the work. Find the space, the stillness.
Peace and blessings,