While discussing an article-exchange for our respective blogs, Dave and I recognized a commonality between us: We both have experience with epic, somewhat-insane travel adventures.
Mr. Gladow, as documented in his first book, spent every weekend of an entire college football season on the road with the legendary Mrs. Gladow, hitting up football game after football game, just for the hell of it. Meanwhile, I’m currently in the midst of a four-year trip around the world without flying, much for the same reason.
Actually, I tell a lie. A massive part of the travel appeal for me is the opportunity for self-growth, self-discovery, self-etc. They say that when you return home after an epic journey, nothing seems the same. But everything back home usually is the same. The only thing different is you, because travel changes you. And the more intense and prolonged your journey, the greater the change.
But here’s a question (two, actually): Is it necessary to have a mission for your travels? Does it make the journey any more fulfilling if you have a destination in mind?
My first thought in response relates to Viktor Frankl, who many decades ago argued that life is inherently meaningless, yet much more enjoyable and fulfilling once we assign some meaning to it.
I think the same can be said about travel. It’s nice to have some overarching theme to tie your adventure altogether. You feel like you’re doing something big, worthwhile, noteworthy, unforgettable. Even those torturous overnight bus rides to Kathmandu become somewhat charming when framed in the context of the larger journey.
I believe it’s those type of travel adventures that provide the greatest opportunities for self-growth. You can’t help but flex your character muscles as you battle to overcome the challenges that inevitably appear en route. You get stretched to your limits and beyond, never quite returning to your original dimensions.
All that said, I won’t pretend there’s no growth to be gained from travel of the whimsical variety. Setting out to go with the flow has its benefits, too. You learn to let go, to trust that everything will be okay even without a map or an itinerary or an advance booking. For most people though, I suspect this type of travel gets old fast. Once you grow comfortable with the constant uncertainty, there’s nothing much to it.
I believe this is a key part of why people set themselves big travel goals: To get their fix of meaning, of purpose, of identity. Right now I’m the Irish guy circumnavigating the globe without flying. Chris Guillebeau is the non-conformist trying to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday. Steve Kamb is the fitness nerd busting out burpees and jumping jacks from Atlanta to Wanaka. You can bet that we and every epic-journey-undertaking soul like us learn a lot about ourselves and others along the way.
Strolling through the streets of Mumbai one afternoon a few weeks back, I bumped into an Argentinian family living out of a 1928 Graham-Paige vintage car. Originally the parents had set out from home on a mission to drive to Alaska. Finding themselves feeling more alive than ever along the way, they were quite sad upon reaching their destination. So they just kept going, continent by continent, mission by mission. Twelve years and four kids later, they’re still going strong, and know themselves better than most families ever will.
So, the next time you think about taking a trip somewhere, consider how you might make it more than just a holiday. I’m not saying you have to turn your whole life into a prolonged travel adventure, but you might find that assigning a bigger purpose to your excursions makes them all the more rewarding.
And if not, you can always turn around and go home
Niall Doherty writes twice weekly at Disrupting the Rabblement, a blog about thinking for yourself, living your dreams, and pissing off zombies. He’s currently in the midst of a four-year trip around the world without flying, and was last seen hitting on a Jehovah’s Witness outside a falafel shop in Kathmandu.