Why do we travel?
Is it to learn? Is it to see new things? Is it to eat something different? Is it to get out of our comfort zone?
For most people, it’s a little of all of the above. Travel is that thing that we do because we’re intrigued by the things that are different from our everyday. Be it in a small-town diner in the state next door or in a treehouse hostel in the rainforest of a country on the other side of the world, we travel because it opens our eyes. Travel is far from mundane.
Over the years, travel has changed. We no longer spend weeks on a boat to get to Europe, we no longer put stickers on our leather suitcases and we rarely even take the time to send a postcard (there’s an app for that, which can do it for you). The modern world has changed not only how we travel — airplanes, high speed trains, online bookings — but how we relate our travel to those around us. Gone are the days of handwritten letters with foreign stamps. Nowadays you’re just an Instagram snap away from sharing your adventures with the world.
But are we better for it?
Instead of sitting and enjoying the meal, soaking in the sights and smells and recounting them in a letter or in our journal later in the evening when we have a minute to put pen to paper, we can take a picture. Hell, we can take 10, just in case the first 9 didn’t turn out. We can document, share and engage 24 hours a day. As long as there’s an internet connection, we can email, we can iMessage, we can chat. Parents can get daily updates from their 20-something backpacking through Southeast Asia and significant others can FaceTime so as not to get too bummed during a seven-day trip apart.
We’re connected like never before. But while we’re connected to the outside world, we’re disconnected from the present.CNN Senior Travel Producer James Durston recently mused on his own addiction to travel photography, positing that in our frantic efforts to capture a moment, we miss the actual moment entirely.
I was diving in Thailand, when a whale shark emerged from the gloom. I snapped away at the beast with my underwater apparatus for the few minutes of air I had left, then returned topside to high-five and celebrate this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I scrolled through the 100-odd pictures I had, I realized: they were all I had. My memories are framed by the 2×2-inch blurry screen of my camera. Not once did I look up to see the fish with my own eyes.
The same can be said for planning. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and it’s hard to imagine the days before we could book online, find a good deal and piece together an itinerary of cool spots that we have culled together from tips from all of our favorite travel blogs. And yet do all of these planning tools stop us from the potential for serendipity? When was the last time you arrived in a village with no place to stay, no map and didn’t check your smartphone for a recommendation? 1991? We’ve managed to completely eliminate the sense of wonder that travel is all about in the first place.
Tools should be tools, not crutches that keep us from asking questions, making body gestures when we don’t speak the language and venturing down an unknown path, physically and metaphorically. If we’re to travel well, we have to dare a little.
Pack your bags. Don’t compile and Excel sheet of information. Go on your gut instinct. Don’t send an email home everyday. Let your travels take they where they take you. Fall into the experience and embrace it for what it is, not what you think it should be, or what you’d like to curate it to be with a certain photo filter.
Travel for travel’s sake and enjoy the ride.