In all the hustle and bustle that comes with deciding where you want to go, how you’ll save the money, and how to get there, it’s easy to forget the most important question about travelling:
Why do you want to travel?
Sure, you can go have a grand old time on the road without ever considering why you’re doing it. But a slightly smarter person than me once said:
The life unexamined is not worth living.
Who am I to argue with that?
Examining why you want to travel is more than just fertiliser for your soul, though. Your why will help define your trip and will motivate you when things get tough. It will be your nourishment at times, the thing that keeps you going, keeps you motivated, and gives you a reason to go on.
When we took off on our cycle tour, my why was easy:
I need to get out of the corporate rat-race before it kills me!
There was nothing wrong with my job or the people I was working with; I know I was lucky to have such a great position among an amazingly talented team. But I just couldn’t stay surrounded by people whose goals and values were so different from mine. Their focus was on climbing the corporate ladder (by any means possible) to earn more money, more power, more stuff – and more time at the office.
The more I began to understand that, the more depressing it was to get up and go to work. It felt like I either had to get out or I would lose myself completely.
And yet, there were plenty of times during those first weeks on the road when the wind was battering us backwards, the hills were kicking our asses, or the cold and rain was seeping deep inside me that I wanted to scream.
What the hell am I doing here?
On those days, all I had to do was think about whatever pointless meeting I would have been sitting through right at that moment. I pictured the bluster and bullshit flying across the boardroom table and suddenly riding up a giant hill in a headwind in the rain seemed like the most wonderful opportunity in the world.
Your why is a powerful weapon against failure. It will keep you battling along your path when everything (including Mother Nature herself) seems to be conspiring to get you off it.
If you’re not sure about your why, maybe one of these four will strike a chord.
Why Travel 1: You Want to Escape
Many long-term travellers (who rabidly insist that they are NOT running away from anything) will shoot me for this one. I think most of us, when we’re sitting at home dreaming of an adventure trip or even a two-week vacation, are really dreaming about escape.
When Stephen and I left London to explore the Middle East way back in 2006, it was definitely to escape. I wanted to get as far away from the crappy weather, the unreliable trains, and the soul-sucking London culture as I could.
(Side note: London and its people are lovely. It was just me that was miserable.)
Almost everyone’s life is filled with stressful things and stressful people. Traffic, that idiot boss, an irritating neighbour, bills, car maintenance, house maintenance… it all piles up.
The idea of just sweeping all of it under the carpet and running away is a powerful one – so powerful that it can completely change our lives.
There’s no shame in travelling to escape; the shame is in staying trapped in a life you hate.
For escapist travellers, the best places to travel are deserted islands, quiet beaches, or isolated mountain tops. We suggest the south coast of Cambodia, the Finnish Archipelago, or Nusa Penida off the coast of Bali.
Why Travel 2: You’re Just Bored
Normal life – the one your parents wanted you to lead – can be pretty dull. Actually, it can be mind-numbingly, bone-achingly, coma-inducingly boring.
Without a stream of opportunities to challenge me – emotionally, physically, and intellectually – I get bored and depressed. I see my life stretching out before me like that strip of blank highway at the end of Terminator. Oh, the horror!
In 1997, when Stephen and I left Vancouver to travel Europe, it was out of sheer boredom; we were employed, secure, and happy in Vancouver.
What a yawn!
Boredom is a perfectly wonderful reason to up stakes and see the world. If every day of your life seems like Groundhog Day and you can barely be bothered to drag yourself out of bed, travel is a powerful way to turn the whole world on its head.
It’s usually no more expensive (or even less expensive) to travel than it is to stay put. And it’s far cheaper than a therapist.
For travellers who need an antidote to boredom, the best places to travel are thriving, buzzing cities and cultural destinations. There’s no way to be bored on the streets of Beijing, Bangkok, or Budapest.
Why Travel 3: The Green-Eyed Monster
Your neighbour just came home from two weeks in Hawaii, your sister is teaching English in South America, and every day you read about exciting adventures on other people’s travel blogs. Yup, you’ve got it bad.
It’s travel envy!
Our bicycle adventure ended almost one year ago (can it really be that long?!?) and I am itching to get moving again. So, right now, I am a green-eyed monster for all the cool things my friends and favourite bloggers are up to.
Dale and Franca are heading off to Romania, Justin Plus Lauren just got back from a romantic trip to Italy, and Ivanna and Gianni are in Portugal. Jazza and Lesha are about to buy horses to ride across Mongolia for God’s sake! Who could not be jealous of that?
Sometimes the desire to travel spawns from that worst whiny part of yourself that just can’t stand the thought that someone else is having more fun than you are.
If you have a bad case of FOMO, own it!
Jealous travellers, try to ignore your desire to one-up your friends and instead choose your own adventure. Still, if you go sailing on the Adriatic, trekking in Patagonia, or kayaking along the Amazon, colour us wickedly jealous!
Why Travel 4: To Answer a Primal Call
The need to travel is hard-wired into all of us. Our instincts prompt us to spread out and find new territories when the one we’re in gets too crowded or our resources are getting low.
People have been making incredible journeys as long as there have been people. We spread out across the globe from our birthplace in Africa and now we can be found in even the most inhospitable corners of the world. Like England.
My favourite tale of ancient adventure travel is about the explorers who decided to leave their home in the Marquesas Islands sometime in the first century CE and to canoe to Hawaii, 4,000 km away. Though the date may be inaccurate and the story totally made-up, it still captures my imagination.
How long did that take? How did they survive? How did they find it without GPS? How many people died trying before the first people actually made it? What travel credit card did they use?
My point is, you come by your wanderlust honestly and denying it is to deny your very blood. Also, bonus point, you don’t need all the fancy gear you think you do to have a successful adventure.
For people who just need to travel, the world is your oyster. Go anywhere. Go everywhere. Once you start, you’ll probably never want to stop. You have been warned.
A final tip on finding your why
When you’re defining your why, be honest with yourself – you never have to tell anyone else the real reason you travel. You can be just like all those full-time travellers out there who claim they travel to develop their soul, acquire enlightenment, and make the world a better place. Your secret selfish reason is safe with you.
What’s the reason that’s actually lighting a fire under your butt? What’s pushing you out the door? Figure this out and use it to motivate everything you do between now and the time you step on that plane. It will even carry you through to the finish line, wherever that may be.
What makes you want to travel? Is it one of the above, all of the above, or is it a dirty little secret you’ll never tell?