The title of the below article (which is from last month’s National Geographic) hit me hard. After a year of being locked down, and not able to travel, my answer to the question “Are we born to wander?” is an unequivocal yes.
I have written several LIFEies about the benefits of travel over the years. Today, I want to add some thoughts that hit me while reading the Eric Weiner’s article.
—YES, I need to travel to see new places do new things.
— I agree that it is not natural for us to be this sedentary.
—I agree the last year has been rough.
On the other hand, I have really experienced some incredible moments this year, in my backpacking trips and the time spent with my family and team.
—Get outside…all the time. Any time. For extended time. Be with nature…..a lot.
—Try new things…all the time.
Rule # 4 from my book The Fantastic Life: All of Life is Connected
This year, many of us have discovered how the many pieces of our life are connected. This discovery has not always been prompted by good things, but it’s a good reminder that making small, positive changes in one area can have far-reaching effects.
Are We Born to Wander?
By Eric Weiner
Welcome to the pandemic of disappointments. Canceled trips, or ones never planned lest they be canceled. Family reunions, study-abroad years, lazy beach vacations. Poof. Gone. Obliterated by a tiny virus and the long list of countries where United States passports are not welcome.
It is not natural for us to be this sedentary. Travel is in our genes .For most of the time our species has existed, “we’ve lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers moving about in small bands of 150 or fewer people,” writes Christopher Ryan in Civilized to Death. This nomadic life was no accident. It was useful. “Moving to a neighboring band is always an option to avoid brewing conflict or just for a change in social scenery,” says Ryan. Robert Louis Stevenson put it more succinctly: “The great affair is to move.”
HOPE LIES IN THE VERY NATURE OF TRAVEL. TRAVEL ENTAILS WISHFUL THINKING. IT DEMANDS A LEAP OF FAITH, AND OF IMAGINATION, TO BOARD A PLANE FOR SOME FARAWAY LAND.
What if we can’t move, though? What if we’re unable to hunt or gather? What ‘s a traveler to do? There are many ways to answer that question. “Despair,” though, is not one of them.
We are an adaptive species. We can tolerate brief periods of forced sedentariness. A dash of self-delusion helps. We’re not grounded, we tell ourselves. We’re merely between trips, like the unemployed salesman between opportunities. We pass the days thumbing through old travel journals and Instagram feeds. We gaze at souvenirs. All this helps. For a while.
The travel industry is hurting, and so are travelers. “I dwelled so much on my disappointment that it almost physically hurt,” Paris-based journalist Joelle Diderich told me, after having to cancel five trips last spring alone. My friend James Hopkins is a Buddhist living in Kathmandu, Nepal. You’d think he’d thrive during the lockdown, a sort of mandatory meditation retreat. For a while he did. But during a recent Skype call, James looked haggard and dejected. He was growing restless, he confessed, and longed “for the old 10-countries-ayear schedule.” Nothing seemed to help, he told me. “No matter how many candles I lit, or how much incense I burned, and in spite of living in one of the most sacred places in South Asia, I just couldn’t change my habits.”
When we ended our call, I felt relieved, my grumpiness validated. It’s not me; it’s the pandemic. But I also worried. If a Buddhist in Kathmandu is going nuts, what hope do the rest of us stilled souls have? I think hope lies in the very nature of travel. Travel entails wishful thinking. It demands a leap of faith, and of imagination, to board a plane for some faraway land, hoping, wishing, for a taste of the ineffable. Travel is one of the few activities we engage in not knowing the outcome and reveling in that uncertainty. Nothing is more forgettable than the trip that goes exactly as planned.
TRAVEL IS NOT A RATIONAL ACTIVITY. It makes no sense to squeeze yourself into an alleged seat only to be hurled at frightening speed to a distant place where you don’t speak the language or know the customs. All at great expense. If we stopped to do the cost-benefit analysis, we’d never go anywhere. Yet we do.
That’s one reason why I’m bullish on travel’s future. In fact, I’d argue travel is an essential industry, an essential activity. It’s not essential the way hospitals and grocery stores are essential. Travel is essential the way books and hugs are essential. Food for the soul. Right now, we’re between courses, savoring where we’ve been, anticipating where we’ll go. Maybe it’s Zanzibar and maybe it’s the ca1npground down the road that you’ve always wanted to visit.
James Oglethorpe, a seasoned traveler, is happy to sit still for a while and gaze at “the slow change of light and clouds on the Blue Ridge Mountains” in Virginia, where he lives. “My mind can take me the rest of the way around this world and beyond it.”
It’s not the place that is special but what we bring to it and, crucially, how we interact with it. Travel is not about the destination or the journey. It’s about stumbling across “a new way of looking at things”, as writer Henry Miller observed. We need not travel far to gain a fresh perspective.
No one knew this better than Henry David Thoreau, who lived nearly all of his too-short life in Concord, Massachusetts. There he observed Walden Pond from every conceivable vantage point: from a hilltop, on its shores, under the water. Sometimes he’d even bend over and peer through his legs, marveling at the inverted world. “From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow,” he wrote.
Thoreau never tired of gazing at his beloved pond, nor have we outgrown the quiet beauty of our frumpy, analog world. If anything, the pandemic has rekindled our affection for it. We’ve seen what an atomized, digital existence looks like, and we (most of us anyway) don’t care for it. The bleachers at Chicago’s Wrigley Field; the orchestra section at New York City’s Lincoln Center; the alleyways of Tokyo. We miss these places. We are creatures of place, and always will be. After the attacks of September 11, many predicted the end of air travel, or at least a dramatic reduction. Yet the airlines rebounded steadily and by 2017 flew a record four billion passengers. Briefly deprived of the miracle of flight, we appreciated it more and today tolerate the inconvenience of body scans and pat downs for the privilege of transporting our flesh and-bone selves to far-flung locations, where we break bread with other incarnate beings.
TRAVEL IS FOOD FOR THE SOUL. RIGHT NOW, WE’RE BETWEEN COURSES, SAVORING WHERE WE’VE BEEN, ANTICIPATING WHERE WE’LL GO.
In our rush to return to the world, we should be mindful of the impact of mass tourism on the planet. Now is the time to embrace the fundamental values of sustainable tourism and let them guide your future journeys. Go off the beaten path. Linger longer in destinations. Travel in the off-season. Connect with communities and spend your money in ways that support locals. Consider purchasing carbon offsets. And remember that the whole point of getting out there is to embrace the differences that make the world so colorful. “One of the great benefits of travel is meeting newpeople and coming into contact with different points of view,” says Pauline Frommer, travel expert and radio host.
So go ahead and plan that trip. It’s good for you, say researchers such as Matthew Killingsworth, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Our future-mindedness can be a source of joy if we know good things are coming, and travel is an especially good thing to have to look forward to,” he told National Geographic last year. Plotting a trip is nearly as enjoyable as actually taking one. Anticipation is its own reward.
I’ve witnessed first-hand the frisson of anticipatory travel. My wife, not usually a fan of travel photos, now spends hours on Instagram gazing at images of Alpine lodges and Balinese rice fields. “What’s going on?” I asked one day. “They’re just absolutely l captivating,” she replied. “They make me remember that there is a big, beautiful world out there.”
Many of us, me included, have taken travel for granted. We grew lazy and entitled, and that is never good. Tom Swick, a travel writer, tells me he used to view travel as a given. Now, he says, “I look forward to experiencing it as a gift.”