Why Travel?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I do things. It’s easy to question what others do, but it’s bit more personal to question yourself. One thing that I never thought to challenge my own intentions about was why I travel. I never thought about it until my girlfriend asked me why one time. I didn’t have an answer for her. I still don’t really know or understand, but I have a few hunches.

Traveling was initially appealing because it was an easy way to do something radically different. It was a way for me to differentiate myself from my peers, to make myself unique. Traveling became addictive because I would always be the “honoured” guest, and I would always feel more special than I was. Traveling became a way to run away from commitment.

I remember the first plane ticket I bought with my own money. It was a Singapore Air flight from Toronto to Japan. I had just quit the army, gotten a nice severance paycheque, and there was a girl to see in Kumamoto. Things never worked out between the girl and I, but I got a taste of adventure. Soon, I was finding ways to get frequent flyer points for next to nothing, and redeeming those points to fly myself out to jams across Canada, and to adventures around the world. I didn’t know what to do with my life at the moment, so it seemed like the best thing was to just keep moving. One could say that I felt a bit stuck – whereas my classmates had all gone to take on work with banks, consulting companies, and ad firms, I stayed in Kingston trying to build a breaking community. It utterly failed, and when I think back on it, there really wasn’t so much potential benefit to anyone. I think I was comfortable staying where I was, instead of trying to venture into something I wasn’t familiar with. Instead, I felt like I was breaking out of my comfort zone by going on these big trips around the world. There was no longterm goal, no vision, just a leap of faith driven by a desire to be different.

Each time I went on these trips, I felt like I was doing something meaningful to me. I can’t tell if it was an illusion, a part of the rhetoric that we’re fed nowadays, or if it’s genuinely some part of who I am. Sometimes people tell me that they’re jealous of how I get to travel so much, but I can only think that we all imagine the grass to be greener on the other side. There is definitely something special about going somewhere for the first time, to be mesmerized by its differences. But it’s easy to be mesmerized. It’s easy to find wonder and joy in new things. And it’s easy to walk away from anything that you don’t like. The real challenge comes in learning to embrace the things you don’t like by staying. I was always the “special guest”, and it was easy to get attention from the locals. But what if I was just another local? I would have had to earn that attention in other ways. I felt meaningful and loved simply because I was there and because I would not be there anymore.

In the past 5 years, I’ve had a ton of addresses. Kingston was funny in that everyone signed 12 year leases, but the students would almost always only stay for 8 months. So I always tried to find 8 month leases, then sublet a place for the summer for dirt cheap. Then I moved out of Kingston, and moved to Toronto for a summer (which I loved). I traveled for a bit in China with my mom, and lived in Ottawa for a few months. I didn’t want to spend so much time on a bus by living in a suburb, so I moved back to Toronto after finding a cheap room with a friend. Now I’m moved out of Toronto, and have been traveling non-stop for the last 6 months. I think my lack of commitment to a city is reflected in other parts of life, like a lack of commitment to a single career or passion. I’m always dipping into different pools, but never going all the way. I can’t help but feel like I’ve hindered myself in some ways, but I’m grateful for the diversity of experiences I’ve had.

I’m grateful that I had the privilege to access resources that enabled me to travel around the world. Many of the people I met on my travels might never have that chance. But I rethink now the real reasons for why I traveled, and those reasons were ones of insecurity about myself. I tried to solve my problems by exploring the world instead of exploring myself. But again, I don’t regret doing it, and I’m looking forward to committing myself to a new home in the coming years.

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2 thoughts on “Why Travel?

  1. Charles, I really enjoyed reading this. I know I am terrible with words so in a way, this reflective piece helped clarify a part of me that is struggling to piece togther why I have been traveling around the world too. Thank you for that.

    “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” —W. B. Yeats

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