“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
Anybody can become a better traveler.
Unfortunately, travel is regarded as a indulgence for the wealthy, often conducted in luxurious pursuit of comfort and ephemeral pleasure.
That luxury, however, comes at a great cost. The indulgences of foreign travel inhibit the insightful opportunities for personal growth that travel uniquely unlocks. Travel and vacation therefore are polar opposites.
Vacations serve as hedonistic escapes from the stresses of work, and the seemingly infinite tasks that cloud our free time. However, vacation doesn’t yield the intangibles of a life well lived — worldly wisdom, moving experiences, and the windy journey of discovering our authentic selves.
Instead, vacation is characterized by fine dining, ego-driven luxury, and long afternoons on beaches with fiction books and ice cold margaritas.
While both travel and vacation can be worthwhile initiatives, the longterm benefits of travel are far superior.
Travel inspires vivid inquiry into the innermost convictions we use to navigate the world.
Growing up in San Francisco, I watched tourists visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf, only to leave with a misguided understanding of what life in San Francisco is actually like. By avoiding uncomfortable local experiences, we miss opportunities for critical self-examination and personal growth.
This begs the question: how can we make our travels meaningful?
In the bumble and jumble of our fast paced lives, we live on autopilot with limited opportunity to reflect and consider the long-term consequences of our repeated actions. When we do pause, we wrap our minds with Netflix, never-ending Facebook feeds and Snapchat stories.
The lasting benefits of travel only emerge when we spend enough time in a single place to fully embrace it, simultaneously turning inwards in search of a better way to live. This is why we fall in love with the places we travel. Like our lovers, foreign lands represent richly permanent memories that shape who we become and remind us of our youthful naiveté.
Instead of running from unfamiliar experiences, we should immerse ourselves in foreign culture, embracing the fleeting discomfort that comes with taking worthwhile risks that initiate the cultivation of wisdom and make us whole.
This expansive acquisition of worldly knowledge is a slow, arduous process that feels stale in the moment, but sensational — and even life changing — in retrospect. At home, we attach ourselves to rigid routines and unquestioned worldviews. The art of travel galvanizes the continual reflection we unconsciously long for, but fail to achieve in our endlessly moving lives.
Travelers who seek meaning unearth it by welcoming unexpected challenges, living modestly, and embracing the loneliness that comes with doing so. These enlightening experiences prompt rebirth by awakening us to the parts of ourselves once hidden in our subconscious.
“Well-traveled” people aren’t the ones who have seen the most landmarks or have the most stamps in their passports. Rather, they earn their status with momentous experiences in foreign lands that foster introspection and personal growth.
Travelers in this ideal mindset rid themselves of the narrow tunnels of thinking that stem from the constant pursuit of safety and familiarity in all aspects of our home lives. Travelers trade the comfort and familiarity of home and countless possessions in search of meaningful experiences that foster self growth and understanding.
Inherent in the pursuit of meaningful travel is a commitment to embracing discomfort, living simply and focusing on the present moment. As Alan de Botton writes in The Art of Travel, “the pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
No matter where we are, travel lets us tap into the adventurous instincts that disappear in young adulthood’s quest for maturity and professionalism.
Travel makes us reconsider once absolute values via nuanced introspection that only becomes possible when we’ve physically and psychically escaped our daily routines. It’s less of a physical journey, and more of a mental one that doesn’t truly begin until we divorce ourselves from the assumptions that chain us to unquestioned habits and routines.
When done right, travelers think beyond superficial luxuries and arrive at once hidden truths that provide sacred insight into our intricate selves and the complex world we inhabit.
When done right, travel is both uniquely challenging and perpetually awakening. Our minds, once stretched by deliberate travel, never contract to their original dimensions, letting us live more meaningful lives.
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go. — Dr. Seuss