Why travel?

By Caitlin Kelly

Travel Guides
Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

It’s fascinating, and sad, to me that so many people are reluctant, even fearful of leaving their home — whether their familiar surroundings of city/town/farm or the greater adventure of exploring their county/state/province, country or continent.

One of the most popular posts I’ve written, which gets views almost daily, is this one, with 12 tips for women traveling alone.

And this one, with ten things you’ll learn by traveling by yourself.

Why is the notion of “travel” so unappealing to some people?

I think because it really includes a raft of expectations, fears and assumptions, like:

Travel is dangerous

It can be. So can staying at home, never trying or experiencing anything new!

There are multiple forms of danger to consider, mitigate or avoid.

These include physical (is that boat safe?); emotional (what if someone shouts at me on the street?); political (is there an advisory against travel to that place right now?); criminal (if an object is that financially valuable, leave it at home or insure it.)

The worst crimes I’ve suffered — break-in and assault (Toronto); break-in and burglary (Montreal); fraud (New York) and auto theft (New York) all happened at home. Too ironic. (Well, we did lose everything from the trunk of our rental car at the Pont du Gard in France. That was nasty.)

Yet I’ve been alone, young and female in places like Istanbul and Bangkok, with no incident.

Travel is lonely

Only if you want it to be! The single best way to meet fun, cool fellow adventurers — even within your own state or province — is to take a tour (walking, bus, boat, bike, horseback) or stay at a hostel.

Travel poster for rail service from Paris to R...
Travel poster for rail service from Paris to Rome via Lyon, 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel is too difficult

That depends on you, really. If you have multiple, tiny, exhausted children and/or are ill or in pain, travel can really be a nightmare. But even the stupidest annoyances can sometimes be re-framed as an adventure when they happen to you in Sicily or Singapore.

Travel means speaking to strangers

Of course it does! What that really means is making an effort — to be kind, to look people in the eye and hold their gaze, (when culturally appropriate) and greet them. If you have ever visited France, you learn within days that every time you enter and leave a shop, you say “Bonjour, monsieur/dame!, Au revoir, Monsieur/dame!”

People are often delighted, if you try to speak their language and show pleasure in their world, to help. But you won’t know until you try.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...
Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel means trusting in the unfamiliar

That can be frightening if you’ve so far had little experience beyond your own culture.

American “news” of foreign countries is usually only that of political unrest, war, fires, floods, crashes, famines, tornadoes, hurricanes or lurid crimes involving Americans.

It’s crazy, inaccurate and bigoted. If all non-Americans ever heard about the U.S. was as grim and depressing, I doubt that millions would flock to New York or Miami or L.A. or the Grand Canyon, as they do every year.

If you’re hoping to visit a place totally unfamiliar to you, do some homework! Read the local press and/or listen to local radio (on the web.)

Visit a tourist bureau, consulate or embassy to find out more. Find some people who are from that place and ask them for their advice, insights and recommendations. Read travel blogs and magazines for insight.

Morocco and Spain (NASA, International Space S...
Morocco and Spain (NASA, International Space Station, 12/31/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

Travel means relying on systems and organizations you don’t know to be safe or reliable

Given the recent tragedy of the train crash and derailment in Spain, this is a biggie.

I will admit to a few white-knuckled moments when on planes in Venezuela and Peru, for example. Do as much homework as you can so you are making the wisest choices possible.

Ironically, cruise ships, which people choose for being predictably fun, are proving to be fairly dangerous environments; many passengers are unaware of the crime rate aboard these ships and how very difficult it is to get redress or action if you or someone you know is a victim.

English: Travel Air 3000
English: Travel Air 3000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel for any length of time is too expensive

That depends on you, your taste, your family’s tastes and where you go. As anyone who’s been to Asia or India knows, you can live on $50 a day or less.

In New York or L.A. or Paris or Montreal, you can spend that on a few cocktails or lunch.


Travel means if I get sick I will not find a doctor or (safe, effective) treatment

Not necessarily.

I’ve been ill in France, Holland, Turkey and Canada, and had excellent care in all of those places. It’s pretty clear that any rural or isolated area is going to make this more difficult, although I was able to find a terrific, well-staffed clinic at the Grand Canyon for an exam and a tetanus shot.

If you’re heading into an area known for certain illnesses (malaria, cholera, plague), be sure to get the necessary inoculations and pack a small medical kit for emergencies.

Travel away from my work means I will never find another job

That depends on a range of factors. What sort of work do you do? How well-developed or in-demand are your skills? How strong is your network of contacts?

Travel means I will lose all my freelance clients

Not if you use social media, the Internet and are willing to do enough to keep your hand in.


My magic carpet!

Travel will alienate me from my friends, family, sweetie and pet(s)

This is actually a real fear and one that I’ve lived. People who choose to venture out, repeatedly and further each time, into the wider world — during college, for vacation, for months or years, doing NGO or non-profit or volunteer work — are a different breed from those whose pulse races at the latest TV line-up, not a fresh new passport or plane ticket.

Thanks to social media, you can stay in touch. Those who get it will really appreciate your decision.

Besides, check out these 20 amazing words and phrases that have no equivalent in English, from Buzzfeed — like voorpret, fernweh and depaysement,

Why do you travel?

What fears have you found groundless — and which are worth paying attention to?

29 thoughts on “Why travel?

  1. I actually don’t like to travel. Things have a way of taking on a quality of sameness no matter how exotic or foreign the locale–from monuments to restaurants. I suppose it feels a little like anonymous sex to me. I also don’t like the inconvenience of booking buses and trains and hotels, hunting down a place to eat when I’m tired, or negotiating prices when I don’t have a clue. It all feels an awful lot like work to me. I do however, like to go to far away places and stay there for extended periods. I approach every travel experience as if I intend to settle down in that place–whether I end up staying there for a 4 days or 4 months. What I want is a long, bittersweet affair. And that is usually what I get.

    1. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324635904578639772969446026.html?mod=ITP_review_0

      You’ll enjoy this piece from today’s WSJ….about the joy of staying put.

      I agree that travel can indeed be really tiring and overwhelming, and that’s not fun at all. I also really like to settle in somewhere, so the shortest time I am OK being somewhere is usually 4-6 days. I also tend to go places where someone speaks one of my three languages. I am very eager to visit Japan but also quite nervous of how little English is spoken there, by all accounts.

  2. rimjimsharma

    travelling does actually help you to learn new stuff. i like travelling too and have never been hesitant to venture out too far from home.

  3. I’m all for staying an experiencing a place for a long time…but not permanently! I like to know there’s another track waiting for my feet to walk on somewhere! I hate things to stay the same. ADD, probably. I also like to venture away from the usual. In Mexico I booked a tour to go zip lining with a friend, he went and I backed out literally at the last second because I saw a village surrounding us that seemed so much more interesting. I met children who led me into their mud hut, we did not understand each other but I did understand that they were showing off their home. They had turkey, pigs, and a little pet puppy running around the dirt floor. I was so humbled seeing how gracious they were to invite me in, and how different our worlds really were.

  4. Having been travelling for just over 6 months, i will say travel was a desperation leap to find out if there was more to the life that I understood (and was deeply dissatisfied by). It has had its share of challenges – the loneliness, uncertainty, some element of danger, illness (don’t even go there) – but this is the first time in my 30 something years I’ve actually felt like I was living, rather than existing.

    Presently plotting all ways to make this last. I seriously never want to go back to a settled existence…. at least, not in the near future. Too much discover. Being a kid again is exhilarating.

    PS, postcard coming your way. Hope it actually gets to you this time!

    1. The longest time I did alone on the road — at 22 — was four months. I loved it, but was ready for it to end. I know that after about 6 weeks out, the “real world” with all its routines, begins to disappear and going “home” really loses its pull. You get into a rhythm as travel has its own set of demands. You also meet a whole new community of amazing people and that’s a huge revelation.

      Have fun!!

  5. I had the experience to live 3 months in Vancouver and 3 months in Montreal, and travelled also to Seattle and to New York. It is midway between travel like a tourist and move definitely in a country. What I learnt during these 6 months:
    – I met people I would never met in France, staying in my neighborhood or with my job
    – I lived in a other culture, even if Canadian culture is not quite different of the French culture 🙂
    – I learned how to live with few money, pay attention to my expenses, and finally realized what was important or not in life (for example, visit New York was, for me, very important )
    – I saw beautiful landscapes, I would never saw in France, because we have a diversity of landscapes but they are not as grandiose as in American continent.
    – And most of all, this experience will stay forever in my mind, and that has no price!

    1. So glad you had some serious time to get to know my native country — three months is a great length of time to do that. And Vancouver and Montreal are so different!

      I remember counting my money every day when on the road so carefully — every dollar saved means more travel time!

  6. one of the benefits i have as a teacher is summers {mostly} off, & i’ve always longed to take advantage of it for travel, but admittedly i’ve feared traveling alone. though, your article today is encouraging me! // & thank you for sharing the buzzfeed article / i have a fascination with words that don’t have english translations! “duende” is my all-time favorite.

    1. Travel alone is one of my absolutely favorite activities. While many women fear it (and it’s probably more dangerous in parts of the U.S. than other countries), it’s so fun to do exactly what you want when you want for as long as you want! I can easily spend entire days flea-marketing and antiquing but few people want to do as much of it as I do. I also love settling into a small town or area and making a local diner or coffee shop my hangout for the week — I’ve done that in Key West and L.A.

    1. I go a little stir-crazy if I cannot flee North American culture/thinking on a regular basis. But I do love the American Southwest — it is very exotic to me, and a great escape and change of scene in every way.

  7. I used to travel to see, just see. I discovered that I enjoyed not understanding anything anyone said, not knowing how to communicate, then taking it one word at a time like I was a baby all over again.

  8. I lived for two years by myself from age 22-24 in South Korea and I traveled by myself on all of my vacations to Bali, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia. Before each trip I skyped with my best friend, whom lived back in Canada, and spilled all of my fears about going again by myself. After that I felt better and I also armed myself with plenty of research about the country I was going to, like taxi scams, and then I felt better equipped to travel by myself. Research was my key to curing travel anxieties.

    1. So great! What adventures you’ve had.

      You were so clever to do both — reassure yourself with a good friend but also to do all that preliminary research. Once you’re well aware of the potential dangers or challenges, you are much more able to travel worry-free. It’s the being taken by surprise that’s so nasty — we had all our belongings snatched from our rental car on my first honeymoon. We found out (too late) there were many such thefts in the area from rental cars…:-(

  9. I have only travelled internationally twice, being in Australia everything is just that little bit further away! Which does make it more expensive. Both my trips have been to visit friends living overseas (Dubai and Mexico) and I did the actual travelling solo. I do like to take advantage of the amazing things we have in Australia and try to see as much of my own country as I can as well. It’s embarrassing when tourists to Australia have seen more than I have!

    1. Australia — as you know — is enormous and there is a lot to see! So that makes sense to me. I grew up in (huge) Canada and saw a fair bit of it before moving to the U.S. but have not yet seen much of the north/Arctic or the Maritimes.

  10. I used to say I worked to travel but we’ve been homebound due to the remodel for the past year and am looking forward a return to the “will work for travel” motto. Third world countries, Europe, Australia, I don’t care; it’s an adventure. If everyone traveled, we’d have less hate in the world…

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