What’s the Point of Travel?


There are hours of the night when we reach our lowest ebb. Dark hours when doubts creep in. We question ourselves. And everything is up for grabs — even our most deeply held beliefs.

I wrote the following words in Spain last summer. I was sitting on a bench in a deserted Barcelona airport concourse at 3am, struggling to stay awake.

These are the worries I confided to my notebook:

I find myself getting bored with the road. Or perhaps I’m questioning once again the validity of a life philosophy based on travel.

Maybe I’m just getting bored with traveling Europe? Maybe a change of scene is the thing? To drop into a completely new region, country or culture?

But sometimes I think I might just be happier dropping into a book. It’s harder to leave the comfort of my routine. I like my palazzo with its many rooms, and a pleasant place to read.

Maybe renting longer term in some of these cities is the thing? I’m tired of the drudgery of travel. The endless waiting. And I fucking hate flying economy class.

But I’m still extremely curious. There are so many places I want to see. Certain names still light a spark: Budapest. Berlin. Vienna. They have weight in my imagination.

But if not travel, then what? I definitely can’t imagine myself going back to Canada. What would it be but more of the cold frozen sameness I’ve experienced all my life? And what would I write about if not travel?

Perhaps that’s the crux. I’ve based my entire philosophy on it. Created my image and brand around it. And so much of my self-identity too.

But maybe I’m meant to write memoirs, both funny and insightful, preserving these stories that I feel are so important? And perhaps those travel books are just memoirs of a later phase?

I would write a book about Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang next — about what came after Vagabond Dreams. And I would write a book about Malta — an island book in the spirit of Durrell. And a book on certain memories of my childhood. About the woods around Hangman’s Bridge. About my grade 10 year with my friend Rob Wilson. About the things we did and dreamed of doing.

I feel these many layers of memoir piled up inside me, waiting to come out. Maybe I don’t need trips to create a subject or a period? Maybe I should be creating the past instead?

That’s what I wrote in my journal from Andalusia last summer.

It was a time of self-doubt. A low ebb brought on by a period of discomfort. Moaning from the darkness in the midst of a privileged life. Hey, it happens to all of us every now and then.

But then the plane touches down, and curiosity takes over…

Of course I had an incredible experience in Spain last summer. It gave me new insights into myself. New ideas and new goals. And a new conception of how I’d like to live. And of course I didn’t want to go home.

A friend asked me if I travel and do exotic things as a way of rebelling against the small town life I grew up in. Or as a way of hiding an inner mediocrity from myself.

I think in the beginning I did leave for those reasons — it was like the next shell I put on after martial arts. The next way to feel special or different, in a sense. To be recognized as something cool and original.

But that was a very long time ago. And I don’t feel that way anymore.

I’m definitely chasing the exotic much less than I did 10 years ago. It’s been a long time since I set out on a trip for those reasons. I’m sincerely curious about the world and about history and how people live — about our larger story as humans. I always have been, since I was old enough to hold a book.

And these days I just feel an expansive sense of freedom. I don’t feel “localized” or Canadian, or that I’m from a small town close to Ottawa and I’m just living here in temporary foreign dislocation.

I feel like I can fit in anywhere.

And I feel especially comfortable in certain cities or landscapes of Europe. I like that I can spend my time in different places depending on what I need at that moment.

I’ve spent a lot of time bumping up against the frustrations I feel with life in Malta. Those things that leave me wanting to pick up my pack and go in search of a place that’s more closely aligned with my inner self.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I genuinely like living here. Sure, there are cultural differences I’ll never understand, or accept. But I still like living here, and even more, I like living in Europe.

So it doesn’t look like travel is finished with me just yet.

Something about Europe and the general outlook of the people here seems to resonate with me. And I feel at home in a way I never did back in Canada.

What about you?

Do you ever struggle with your doubts and frustrations during those long 3am airport nights? And have you found your ideal place? Or are you still searching for it?

I’d love to hear your story. Please share it with me in the comments below.


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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Hi Ryan, it seem you are where your meant to be,
    I think as far as the self drought, were all the same, but like all emotions I refuse to let it dictate my actions.
    I’m 42 this year and have a 4 year old girl so I don’t have the opportunity to travel to far but I do live vicariously through your stories and of other adventure travelers. My biggest regret is that I didn’t do more traveling when I didn’t have House payments car payments and all that goes with it.
    For now I try to find small adventures where I can and share as many with my daughter.


    • Hey Scott, thanks for dropping a line 🙂 Life for me has always been a series of journeys. Some inner, some outer – and most a combination of both. I think it’s really important to question our earlier paths and beliefs, as well as to share the adventures of the next phase. In my experience, a leap into greater depth is always preceded by a time of inner turmoil. That stuff can be hard to talk about, and difficult to acknowledge. But I want to be as accountable as possible to you guys, and to share the struggles as well as the adventures as openly and honestly as possible. Especially when it makes me uncomfortable. I think we can all learn from each other that way. And we can take the collective knowledge we’re building and create amazing lives with it. Glad you’re here sharing the road.

    • Thanks Craig! Yeah, I’m feeling drawn to the continent more and more these days. It may be time to change base soon. And thanks for the link, I will check that out.

  • Hi Ryan,

    The cliché goes that travel broadens the mind. What you might want to recall during those pensive 3am moments is that your travel is broadening the minds of countless scores of people who, because of their different life choices, will never have the opportunity to experience the places you do. You don’t have to be a world number 1 best seller to make a difference … just have a following of like-minded people who really enjoy what you write, who live vicariously through you and who silently share your pleasures – and equally your frustrations. So, when you’re feeling low and you write that you fucking hate travelling economy class … there will be a dozen or more readers saying ‘Right on, Ryan. It really sucks!” (Personally, I’d rather be in a bum-numbing canoe on a fast moving river than in a narrow foam seat bouncing around in the turbulence).

    Consider too that ageing is a process of evolution, and as we all live differently, we all evolve uniquely. How could someone whose life experiences have been so broad expect to settle back into a life so narrow? From my own perspective, since arriving in Malta many people have asked me “don’t you miss Australia?” A few people understand my reply. Australia’s still there (as is Canada) – it hasn’t disappeared. I’m still in the world – so if Australia should loom large in my mind, I’ll be there. Right now, my home base is Malta, and like you, I’m loving being here. For a lucky few, our mindsets have evolved to the point that the world is our home, like a big house with many rooms, and the room I’m in right now is Malta. If I feel the need to be somewhere else, then I’ll go there. I can be comfortable with that perspective, and I can understand why for the vast majority of people, that will be hard to fully comprehend. Most people prefer to put down deeper roots, and I respect that.

    As for travel, as I get older I travel less frequently, but for longer periods. I stay longer and soak up more. The pace is slower but the experience is richer and the insights are deeper. It’s my way of adapting my lifestyle to my age, I guess. I can accept that as part of my own evolution. Where I’ll end up is just a matter or where I’ll be when the time comes – who knows. Be kind to yourself, Ryan. Your philosophy and your brand are still valid and valuable.


    • Hi Phil,

      Thank you for your post, and for sharing your wisdom and reflections. Much appreciated. “A big house with many rooms” is an excellent way to put it. That sums up my feeling as well. I feel myself being drawn towards a period where I’ll spend my “base” time moving between a few locations that inspire my work. Punctuated by more adventurous journeys that challenge my limits and push me outside my usual introverted view. And as you wrote, I expect that to change over time as my needs and my pace of travel changes too. But I’ve got a book to write first, before I set too much of that more nomadic plan in motion 🙂

      And thanks for your kind words as well. I’m grateful for my faithful following of readers. I remember those years when I couldn’t afford to travel, and I sought an outlet for those dreams in the great travel literature I found at the public library. I hope my work will inspire someone else in the same way that those authors inspired me — paying it forward in a sense. I also want to be as honest as possible, to share the doubts and confusion and low points as well as the fun stuff. And to capture how that feels in the moment. Just another part of any journey, and an important one too because those are the questions that spark growth and change. It’s given me some solid ideas to work into my next book.


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