By Michael Bennett, Ed.D.
Ask most people why they travel and you'll get a handful of typical responses: For work or for school; to visit family and friends around the world; to escape, relax, get away, and/or rejuvenate; and for some, to find themselves once again.
On a recent trip to South Tyrol -- Italy's northernmost province and a gem of a region highlighted by the towering peaks of the Dolomites, delicate and delicious wines, and an incredible amalgam of Austrian and Italian foods that leaves your mouth watering and your belly full -- I was talking to a friend about the real reasons we travel. Not the false pretenses and canned responses most people give, but the underlying reasons we pack our bags, hop on a plane, train, or automobile, and get out of Dodge.
You see, to me, all of the things listed above speak to what we do when we travel: We work. We educate ourselves. We relax on the beach with a good book and a margarita. But they don't really address why we travel.
I believe that, when we boil it down, the real reason we travel is to foster a sense of Connection. More specifically, the real reasons we travel tend to be about 3 forms or types of connection:
Done the right way, travel allows us to disconnect from things that are adding unnecessary stress to our lives. It provides opportunities for us to disconnect from technology for a few days (easier said than done for most of us). Nowadays, most of us -- me included -- have a hard enough time not checking emails every 10 minutes or so let alone every day. But when we are traveling, the experiences we have tend to have a way of putting us at ease, forcing us (in a very good way) to pay attention to and focus on where we are, and inviting us to be in the here and now instead of tethered to our devices.
Travel also helps disconnect us from stress and the people and situations in our lives that are keeping us up at night and making us cranky during the day: Colleagues, classmates, even family members and friends -- Sometimes we simply need a break from all of them in order to gain fresh perspectives and come back re-energized and re-engaged.
Finally, travel can be a powerful way for us to disconnect from ourselves. I have found that many times, who we are being in life -- how we are acting, what we are doing, etc. -- is not in integrity with who we really are. We are playing certain roles, taking on responsibilities, and wearing masks that hide who we really are. Travel allows us to let go of those things so that we can focus on being our authentic self.
Secondly, travel is all about connecting with new people, places, and ideas. Once we have disconnected from technology, work, people, etc., we can begin immersing ourselves in learning new things, exploring new cultures, meeting new people, and developing new ideas from all of our travels.
Travel is both transformative and additive: When done well, it allows us to shift our existing perspectives of self, others, and the world as we explore new places and experience new cultures, people, and ways of life. It invites us to push our mental and emotional comfort zones, embrace new ideas, and reconsider mindsets and viewpoints that haven't been challenged in far too long.
Equally important, travel is also additive: We gain new insights and perspectives into who we are, how things work outside of our culture, and what that means for our life. We learn new ideas from traveling, meet new people who become life-long friends, explore new places and histories and cultures, and create new memories from our adventures.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, travel allows us the opportunity to reconnect with the people and places that are most important to us, including ourselves. Oftentimes, this means spending time with friends or family that we haven't seen for awhile. Visiting family and friends over the Holidays or just for fun throughout the year is a great way to rekindle friendships and reconnect with those that mean the most to us.
Similarly, coming back to a specific place that holds a special meaning allows us to reconnect with key moments in our past. Doing so allows us the opportunity not only to reminisce about our past experiences, but inspires us to think about all that has happened since then, and fosters a sense of appreciation, understanding, and awareness that may have otherwise escaped us.
Lastly, travel can create the space and time we need to reconnect with ourselves. With technology, work, relationships, etc., it's easy for us to lose sight of who we are, what we want, and where we are going. Through travel, we have opportunities and time to be alone with ourselves and our thoughts so that we can reflect on who we truly are, where we've been, where we are now, and where we are going. In essence, travel gives us the chance to begin to write the next chapter in our life.
Pico Iyer wrote a classic article entitled Why We Travel in which he says that we 'Travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.'
I could not agree more.
And in order to do so, we need to remember to take the time to disconnect from technology and stressful situations, connect with new ideas, people, and places, and reconnect with those that mean the most to us, including ourselves!