A Life Well Lived: at Home and Abroad

Activities - Saigon/HCMC: Aug. 30, 2016

Motivation to travel is often conducted by either push factors such as the reasons that drive us away from home and pull factors, which pull us towards a place.

These well known motives include escape from a perceived dreary environment, exploration and evaluation of self, relaxation, prestige, regression, enhancement of kin relationships and facilitation of social interaction; and two cultural motives: novelty and education.

Travelling often offers freedom from work and obligations. It is an escape from our traditional lives and social roles. With travel we have the liberty to spend our time as we see fit. In this case, tourism reflects an escape from something, rather than a quest for something. The primary travel motive then, is leaving the home scene behind temporarily without being concerned about where to go – but preferably to a nicer environment than what you experience during your daily grind.

A traveller’s needs and intentions can also stem from an inner feeling of wanting to search for something new, further fuelled by peripheral pull factors that promise just that. These kinds of travellers have a relatively clear idea of what they want and expect – they are not travelling away from home. Their basic needs spring from the feeling of absence stumbled upon in their own environment. This scarcity is subjective. If they cannot satisfy this deficiency, they must then look elsewhere.

Specific desires one may want to fulfill are another primary travel motivator. It may be about tangible matters, such as a specific interest like a birdwatching trip, a cultural interest or sports events.

Another example is medical tourism. The importance lies in the travelling and not in being a tourist. Participants do not alienate themselves from social status, and the idea of being in between two cultures does not play a part. Tourists know what they want.

“Some people may travel to stay in constant motion or run from their problems.”

The positive effects of travel are well-documented, including its ability to broaden our perspective, strengthen our relationships, help us appreciate home and increase the number of experiences we encounter. Because of this, some people are tempted to idealise, over-commercialise or overstate the benefits of changing geographies.

“While standing next to a 1,000-year-old building or hiking the great outdoors is cool and all, doing so probably won’t result in personal enlightenment.”

Some actually think that emptiness you feel inside can be filled with travel. You may distract yourself with it, which can be good for your health. But measuring your life by the number of trips taken will often leave you feeling unsatisfied. Kilometres travelled will never mask your personal insecurities. Lasting happiness is a work in progress that’s usually better rooted at home.

I’ve met globe trekkers who seemingly squandered much of their time overseas and learned very little from the cultures they were exposed to. And I’ve met sophisticated, tolerant and sympathetic people who’ve rarely (if ever) left home. In other words, ignorance can still be well-travelled. While I’m a big advocate for using travel as a mental and physiological enabler, the work of overcoming ignorance still falls on us.

I’m humbled by, grateful for and in awe of the many places I’ve visited and intend to visit. But this gift can never compensate for negligence at home. As awesome as it is, traveling does not grant a free pass from taking care of our financial, personal or familial duties.