Inexorably, when you explain your plans to travel, especially if you’re going for longer than a week-long vacation, you face one question: “why?” While the need to travel varies from person to person, I’m of the belief that travel is an essential part of the human experience.
The Anecdotal Subjective
Anecdotally speaking, I travel to understand. I have the gift/curse of curiosity, and it’s for this reason that most people who know me think I know far too much about nothing. “You’re the master of the inane,” they say, or “you’re an encyclopedia of useless knowledge.” While one or both sentiments may be true, I firmly believe that knowledge and understanding are intrinsically important things, possessing their own challenges and rewards.
As defined by the good folks at Merriam-Webster, travel is the act of moving from one place to another, but I would say that travel is the act of moving from one place to another for the purpose of understanding the world. It is this definition that drives Words from the Road, not to mention the ongoing campaign over on Indiegogo.
Travel’s Value Extends Beyond the Individual
That being said, travel isn’t, can’t be, about the individual any longer. Every single day brings with it another story of cultural misunderstanding. The United States is running a war on terror, which, frankly, too often translates to a war on Arabs and Muslims who have the misfortune of being tied to a few bad apples — that’s speaking relatively. The Ukraine is balanced on a knife’s edge, uncertain whether or not the powers in Russia will decide they have the right to run their own country. Generally, the citizenry forms its opinions of other people across the world based on the perceptions and actions of their governments. That’s why, for example, such a large percentage of Americans have developed especially strong xenophobia in the last decade.
Therein lies the importance of travel on the grand scale: as we travel and interact with one another, we see the world the way it is for real people. It means seeing the real world, not the world those organizations with financial, social, and imperial designs shape for us.
Perhaps Aldous Huxley put it best:
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”