Why do we travel?

To be reminded how completely mental habit blinds us to experience, just take a trip to an unfamiliar country. Suddenly you wake up! And the algorithms of everyday life all but start over, as if from scratch. This is why the various travel metaphors for the psychedelic experience are so apt.

– Michael Pollan in How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics

A letter I wrote several years ago:

J,

You asked about why people travel now and how travel has changed. The question itself is quite poetic and what is more poetic than travel?

Really, I think, travel has changed very little since the dawn of time. I was thinking about The Odyssey this morning for a thing that I was writing for a client. I was thinking about how we focus on the romantic details of that story and the loose sketch of its plot arc(s).

The Odyssey is a story that we can all agree on. A child in a region of the world where there is no access to Homer’s poem has just as much an idea of why its plotline speaks to people as does the Greek scholar.

I think it is in the book Big Sur that Kerouac says that ‘The roads don’t move — You’re the one that moves.’ And maybe I have misquoted him and perhaps I am just thinking of Benjamin Gibbard’s song instead (based on the book). But regardless, the point is sound.

We travel, you know, so that we can find out not what the world is like on the other side but to find out whether we might be the same on the other side.

This, in my opinion, is why we still crave home luxuries while travelling. It is because we are not interested in exploring Jemaa el-Fnaa so much as we are in staying in a luxury riad where we can explore our own hopes and desires.

Tell me: when was the last time you went away and did not revisit a part of your character, saying “I wish I could read more/run more often/eat better/xyz”?

The roads are the same. The world is largely the same. But more than ever, perhaps thanks to a global economy, travel affords us the opportunity to briefly experience the feeling of moving as a person by moving away from our own home.

And the reason we love to travel rather than to move? Because when we are surprised to find that, although in France or Spain we may eat much later and savour the food more, we are exactly the same inside and can return home to the warmth of friends, family and the comfort of a daily routine more in keeping with our usual experience.

Travel is a wonderful way to reassure us of what we think we already know about ourselves.

At least that’s my opinion,

M

Photo by Andreas NextVoyagePL on Unsplash