Travel stories are perhaps the oldest human narrative. Even our earliest known text—the Epic of Gilgamesh—contains the story of a journey. And I can easily imagine our prehistoric ancestors sitting around a campfire telling hunter’s tales of all they’d seen.
Why does travel fascinate us on such a deep level?
And why do so many of us do it?
Some of us travel as a vacation: to decompress from life’s stresses, to shut down and escape. To run away, whether from ourselves or our lives or the world we know.
And some of us travel to experience an exotic landscape: chasing a dream, perhaps a dream glimpsed in some glossy travel magazine.
The great explorers travelled to put a name and a map and a face to the unknown—and sometimes to gratify continent-sized egos. And modern day travellers are the same. Some are driven by intense curiosity about the world. And some travel to check off countries on a list.
Some of us travel to experience home with fresh eyes. To see those familiar streets and customs and landscape as though taking them in for the very first time. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country… .”
Some of us travel to exist fully in the Now, without a past or future. Time thickens on the road: years of experiences are crammed into a few weeks or months, while back home life plods along and nothing changes. Travel proves that a long life is not a question of years.
And some of us travel to challenge ourselves, or to transform. To redraw our own personal map. As Paul Theroux wrote in The Tao of Travel, “…to find a new self in a distant place.” We come back changed because travel exposes us to new ways of knowing and seeing. Few lessons at home are so vivid and so lasting.
Travel is also a state of mind, an inner experience. We spend hours hunched over an atlas, climbing contour lines in our minds. And we search out volumes of great travel writing to journey with the author when we can’t go ourselves.
When we’re not physically travelling, we’re reading about it.
Yeah, for some of us, travel is an obsession.