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June 5, 2017

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The Reason Why I Travel

What exactly do I want from travel?
Why am I doing it?
What do I hope to achieve?
Why do I spend so much money on it and make so many sacrifices for it?
What am I really getting in exchange?

The first time I was asked these types of question, I was arriving home from Rome. But the person asking me to defend my choices wasn’t a skeptical friend or a concerned family member. These were questions I asked myself – and I continued asking myself for many years.

Because, honestly, I didn’t know how to answer.

This had been my third international trip. And it had become, suddenly, unexpectedly, very expensive and stressful. I was coming home broke, sleep deprived after spending several nights homeless, and possibly in trouble at work because I was getting in three days later than planned.

My first few international trips had all been very difficult, in fact.

There was no sugarcoating it. Travel had not been gentle with me. Instead, it had ripped the rose-colored glasses from my face and stomped them to bits almost immediately upon introduction.

It was always, always, always inconvenient. And here I was after my third trip overseas, asking myself: why do you do this to yourself? What are you getting from it?

I knew I wasn’t “finished” traveling – but at this point in my life, I did believe I would be finished one day (maybe after stepping a foot into each continent) and I was looking forward to the relief of that day. Maybe then I could focus on my safer, cheaper, easier hobbies – like reading, writing, or yoga.

So I spent an entire transatlantic plane ride pondering these hard questions. I didn’t find any answers that day.

But maybe now I have a few answers to share.

One note that, of course, I believe travel can teach you many things and make you a better person. I have written about this before – but if I’m being honest, although I appreciate that aspect of travel, it’s not really what drives my need to do it. These are the (kind of quirky) motivations behind my desire to explore the world, but I feel certain other travelers have completely different lists. (And I’d love to see them!)

I’m greedy for every sight, every experience, and every story.

Ever had FOMO? I have something like that – but instead of a preoccupation with what my friends are doing without me, I’m obsessed with what the whole world is doing without me. If I think too much about this, I feel genuine anxiety about how much I will inevitably miss out on. I want to see everything. I want to be everywhere. I want to try it all, understand it all, be in it all.

I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush of new places.

I am not an adrenaline junkie at all. I hate roller coasters. I was terrified out of my mind when I tried cliff diving. Although Simon will probably attempt to get me to go skydiving one day, I cannot imagine ever being able to jump out of a plane. The one adrenaline rush that I’m addicted to? The feeling of being surrounded by nothing familiar and having no idea what’s going to happen next. I think I actually need this feeling regularly. Healthy or not, it’s an unfightable addiction.

I want to be invincible, and I want to prove it.

Clearly, travel does not always lead to the most peaceful situations. But now I find myself a bit disappointed when a trip goes smoothly 100 percent of the time. I want to be challenged. I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be thrown into an impossible situation and then come out the other side unscathed. Not because I have superhuman bravery – I actually think I’m an annoyingly fearful person – because I want to repeatedly show myself that I can be scared but still push forward and do whatever I want. I will allow myself to be scared, but I will not allow myself to think for a second that fear should hold me back. I want to be free of all those limits, and travel has been the best way to keep giving myself this lesson.

Nothing tastes sweeter to me than feeling rootless and free.

Only a rare handful of people have understood this peculiarity of my personality. Rather than seek out security, I am resistant to it. Nothing sounds worse to me than rooting down. Freedom is one of my most powerful motivators, and flying halfway across the world at least stretches out those roots, if it doesn’t break them completely. I feel the most at peace when I look at my small collection of possessions (everything I own can now fit in my two carry-ons!) and think about how quickly and easily I could go anywhere in the world. By having no home, I can have any home. I am building my life everywhere and nowhere.

I strangely relish the feeling of loneliness.

A common question for long-term travelers is “don’t you get lonely?” Of course we do. I was also lonely sometimes at home in my “real” life. There is no path that makes you immune to loneliness – no matter how large your family or social circle. But loneliness on the road is different. I can sit in a coffee shop surrounded by foreign words, not another other English speaker in sight, and I’ll feel completely, thoroughly alone – and I enjoy it. I love it. In these moments, my time is only mine. My thoughts are now for me and no one else. It sounds silly and cheesy, but this is how I can become my own best friend. This is how I learn that I love my own company and that I can find everything I need in myself, in the simplest of ways, no matter where I am or who I am with.

I want things that can’t be taken away from me.

Every time I step outside of the airport in a new country, I feel the greatest surge of satisfaction. Something has been added to my life that will never leave me. No matter what I’ve sacrificed to get to a new place, no matter how much I’ve spent, or what goes wrong, or whether I’ll love it or hate it or grow bored with it by the next day, I will have always been here. Becoming attached to material items makes me nervous – I don’t want too many things that I could lose or damage, but the experiences I have traveling are priceless because they are a sure thing. Mine forever. Untouchable.

I would love to hear your reasons for traveling. Can anyone relate to my thoughts? Anyone have their own motivations to share? Comment below!