Why I Travel

I travel because traveling makes me less afraid of the world. Drop me anywhere in the world, and I’ll survive. (Cue Destiny’s Child, now.) I may not speak the language or know another soul, but I’ll survive. This drop-me-anywhere confidence confers meaningful psychic comfort.

I travel because it makes me less racist. Racism is something we have to un-learn.

I travel because it introduces randomness of the most intense degree.

I travel because I enjoy the cultural exchange. Sharing the best of American culture (peanut butter, hamburgers, individualism, and entrepreneurship) while appreciating the non-obvious intricacies of other milieus, such as pandas in China, drug dealers in Colombia, and beer in Czech Republic.

I travel because travel enriches my internal mental stream. I think more original thoughts when I’m traveling, I think more critically about where I am, what I’m doing. My memory comes alive in interesting ways. In Beijing the other day I stared out at a huge lake and mountains and the scene reminded me of standing at a cliff on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. I couldn’t quite recall the Alaskan memory, but the connection was felt, and a tremendous stream of thoughts followed. Alain de Bottom: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts requiring large views, news thoughts new places. Instrospective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.”

I travel to force myself to live in the real world as opposed to in head-land. Familiar territory dulls my antenna to the world. When I go to my gym in San Francisco, I am unobservant. I’ve done the walk so many times, down the same street so many times, that I mostly stare at the sidewalk and live within myself. When I’m in a new place I have to pay attention to the street signs, and thus to everything else.

I travel abroad to remember why I love my country. I travel within my country to remember that while founded on perfect ideals it remains an imperfect place.

I travel to be anonymous. Abroad, I am not “Ben.” In China I am a foreign devil. In Latin America I am a gringo. In Europe I am, apparently, just another tall blond German. In Ukraine I am an unmarried American penis with the power to marry and immigrate my spouse. My individuality is subsumed by a group label and the associated stereotypes, and that is, in small doses, oddly liberating.

I travel not because it makes me happy in the moment — in fact, many moments are uncomfortable and stressful as they’re experienced — but because it makes me happy afterwards. I’m happy when recalling memories, embellishing and sharing stories, and reading articles in the newspaper and being able to say to myself, “I’ve been there.” Buying new experiences makes you happy; buying more things generally does not. (Why oh why do wealthy older people keep buying things instead of experiences?)

I travel so I don’t regret not traveling when I’m older. And this is one of the top regrets of well-to-do professionals over 50.


Here are all my posts on travel. Other random links: against Adderall, Justine Musk comments on “voice” in writing, Philip Tetlock reviews the latest crop of political-forecasting books, how to tell if you’re a douchebag, parsing the few differences between school and prison.

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