Why Do We Travel?

Mui Ne Sand Dunes Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a Facebook post written by my favorite writer, Elizabeth Gilbert. It was entitled “Why do we travel?” and began with a picture of herself, donning an eye mask and clearly suffering the effects of jet lag.

It was 3am. A time every traveler who has covered a multitude of time zones will tell you, is when you question your life choices. Much like Gilbert, you recall all the money you spent, the chores you left behind, and how many emails are waiting in your inbox. You look in the mirror, at a mere shadow of yourself—eyes hollowed, skin dry and taut, stomach bloated. And you wonder, “why the heck do I do this to myself?”

This is a question I’ve been getting a lot lately. It seems, that all around the world, the idea of being 33 and single, without the desire to have children, is concerning. I’ve particularly felt this concern while spending the summer in my hometown of New Port Richey, Florida. My high school friends look at me with pity, while they share stories of their misadventures in breastfeeding as I sit in silence. Questions of when I’m coming home, and when I’m going to get married buzz around me like flies circling a horse’s backside. And instead of slapping them away with a giant tail, I’m forced to smile, and to do my best to explain why it is I travel.

  • I travel because every time I board a plane, my palms sweat and my mind races with anticipation of exploring a new country.
  • I travel because it’s made me a better person. A less selfish person. A patient person.
  • I travel because it’s made history matter.
  • I travel to hear and learn new languages, to expand my mind.
  • I travel to eat. To cook. To understand how food brings people together.
  • I travel to see aging temples, to hike to ancient ruins, to witness sunsets and sunrises so beautiful they can’t be captured in a photograph.
  • And finally, I travel because the more I see and experience, the more I realize that I haven’t, in fact, seen much at all.

The reason we were put on this earth is different for everyone. Some were born to be mothers. Some to be fathers. And some, like me, were born to be travelers. Thank you, Liz Gilbert, for teaching me that. And for reminding me to pick up a good eye mask before I leave.
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Why do you travel?

32 thoughts on “Why Do We Travel?”

  1. So true! I’m 35, married, and childless. I also gave up a promising career to travel the world. I find I don’t have much in common with my friends back home either, and that tells me something.
    It tells me that I need new friends, but it also tells me that I made the right decision to live my life the way I do. There is NO WAY I wish I was struggling with a two-year-old or tied to a mortgage. I don’t envy them at all, even if we don’t have much in common anymore.
    You’re doing the right thing embracing your passion!

    1. Thanks so much, Heather! It’s always nice to connect with others who have a similar lifestyle. If nothing else, to make me feel more “normal”! 😉

  2. This is so great! I’m currently reading Eat, Pray, Love for the first time and so far I love it! Can’t believe I waited so long to get started with it :)

    1. Thanks, Lisa! It is such a wonderful memoir. I read it for the first time in 2006 when I was going through a really dark time (similar to Gilbert’s situation), then again after I had moved to Korea in 2010. I plan on reading it again this year. It changes each time I read it, and continues to inspire me as both a traveler and a writer. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  3. This post gave me chills as I was reading through your list of reasons why you travel. I completely agree with you! Who cares that the rest of society expects us to grow up, graduate college, get married, have kids, the end. That’s not for everyone, and you’re the perfect example of why it’s not! You want more out of life.
    I’m finding that I don’t have much in common with my old friends who haven’t traveled and don’t understand why it’s so important to me. I could NEVER have a sedentary lifestyle, never learning, never going anywhere new, never meeting new and interesting people…
    Thanks for sharing!
    http://www.travelalphas.com

    1. Thanks so much for the comment and for reading, Maddy! And I completely agree with you. I will always have my friends back home, but things definitely change the more I’m gone. But with that also comes rich friendships with unexpected travel companions. :) xo

  4. I agree with Maddy… this post gave me chills too! I am at the age, 27, where a lot of my friends are taking “the next step”. Whatever that may be… house, kids, marriage… and while I am in a serious relationship with a guy I love, we just aren’t in a rush to do all those things. We want to continue traveling, living away from our home state, learning, and experiencing new places. I know life is not a “one size fits all” and it is a good and brave thing to live the life that fits you best. I love your blog and seeing your travels! Maybe another reason you/we/I travel is to share experiences with other travelers, people who understand where you are coming from and appreciate your thoughts :) All the best to you! –Jess

    1. Awww thanks so much, Jess! I agree with you about traveling to share our experiences. One of the main reasons I’ve continued this blog is to inspire others and to connect with people like you. :) Thanks for reading! xo

  5. This post hit home for me too! Besides sharing the same age, much like yourself I’ve been living in various countries for the last 10 years. After leaving South African shores, I headed to the UK where I met a guy who (much) later became my husband. From the UK we ended up in Botswana in the safari / hospitality industry for 6 years, and then last April took up a position in Belize where we are now. With each country and year that passes we say, “one more before we settle”… The truth is we probably won’t settle for a very long time. Moving from country to country has become our “norm” and that’s perfectly fine by me (although it took me a while to realise that this choice was okay)! Thanks for the posts and enjoy your travels!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Britt. As an international teacher, I hear a lot of teaching couples and families saying the same thing you and your significant other are saying: “one more before we settle…” I personally hate the term “settle down” and think it’s great that you are living the life that you are right now. And that you’re happy. I’m actually planning to dive in Belize this December. Really looking forward to it! xo

  6. I think there are even more reasons you’ve yet to discover. However, you are well on your way!
    Keep on doing what you love; you’re an inspiration.

    1. I definitely agree with you, Nick! (About the more reasons to discover, not about me being an inspiration. But I’ll take that, too. ) xo

  7. “The reason we were put on this earth is different for everyone. Some were born to be mothers. Some to be fathers. And some, like me, were born to be travelers.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

  8. Amen to all of this, especially on traveling for food and languages and history! I feel like that desire other people have to be mothers, is channeled for me instead into travel. And I love it!

  9. I am having trouble accurately describing how this post made me feel. There was definitely a heart flutter involved, and a lot of “Yes” being said. I love that you shared this. I have a long term boyfriend, and everybody is always asking us about “the next step.” For me, once I’m done with grad school I would love the next step to be travel…and a lot of people don’t get that. A lot of people want to tell you that you’re wrong, you aren’t doing things the right way. But everybody has a different “right.” Thank you!!

    1. Thank you so much for the comment, Amanda. I’m so happy it inspired you and helped you connect to like-minded people like me. There are actually a lot of us out there! :)

  10. Jennifer this is brilliant. You speak so much damn sense. James and I have been together over 3 years now and our families are constantly asking ‘when are you going to tie the knot?’ and ‘we want more grandchildren!’ Woah Woah WOAH. Calm yourselves. I do want a family one day, but right now, there’s too much of the world just waiting to be explored.

    I’d add one extra bullet point to your reasons we travel: I travel because of the people. People are remarkable and when you travel it reminds you how much good is in our world. The news is too full of bad news and bad humans… travel reminds us that these are the minority. For the most part, people are beautiful, inspiring and kind.

    Thanks for the post – sharing this right now :).

    Gabby

    1. Thank you so much, Gabby! You are so funny. And I totally agree about the people. I have met the most amazing friends while traveling the world. I’ve also met strangers who reminded me the importance of a smile, ones who let me into their homes, and women who taught me to cook without a word of English spoken. The human spirit can be absolutely amazing.

      Thanks again for sharing and for your comment! xo

  11. Your pictures are beautiful, Jennifer! Isn’t it possible to just have a love affair with the world? I think that should be first and foremost, even for those who do find someone to share the love affair with. It’s like a permanent threesome <3.

    1. Thank you so much, Neysha! I love your comment. And I definitely have a love affair with the world. I’m pretty sure we’re verging on using the word “soul mates.” 😉 xo

  12. This morning my personal facebook feed was overwhelmed with images of my friends having babies back home; I really needed to read “Why do We Travel” so thank you!

    It’s nice to feel a sense of normality. :)

    1. Awww thanks for reading, Moi Petite! I’m glad that it made you feel “normal.” There are a lot of us out there :) xo

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