Is Travel the Answer?

A wee little travel essay I was asked to write as a guest article to a University publication

“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” Samuel Johnson

To so many people, travel is seen as a method of running away. Of avoiding reality and shunning our societal and moral responsibilities. In short, it’s merely a self-indulgent, short-term endeavour that’ll eventually come to an end. And with that end, we’ll return to ‘reality’ with a sharp kick, to sadly set off exactly where we left off a few months earlier. In the words of Elizabeth Drew, “Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversation.”

Now, although this may be a fair assessment of many backpackers and travellers the world over, it’s a long-shot from truly explaining the rationale and motivation behind much wandering vagabondism.

For so many poor lost souls out there, the country they grow up in is too small a pond to enable one to truly appreciate what needs to be appreciated. The restrictions set forth by individual cultures can all too easily close the mind off to alternative, and more positive thought modes.  As D. Runes once said; “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home”.

The Island Mentality

I’ve lived in Britain my whole life, and despite it’s well known multi-cultural side and slightly cosmopolitan air, it’s still extremely restrictive when it comes to experiencing anything entirely different.

The protestant work-ethic is widespread. Capitalism and materialism are rife. Life is often based on work. The social side of life is far more alcohol oriented than other cultures I’ve experienced.

The values mentioned are so steadfastly engrained in most citizens here that it’s hard to not be influenced by these ideas. And so for anyone who feels like they need to assess which of these values suits their own character, and which they should attempt to shun in order to lead a better life, the most logical step seems to be to actually and literally step out of that culture to view it from a more objective stance; away from the huge influence that comes from being within that culture.

It’s only from this more objective stance of one’s home culture that we can effectively compare it to others. Then we can more justifiably show why certain parts of different cultures are suited more to our character than others.

Without this, it seems that for those of us who want to challenge the norms of our society, we will constantly be asking ourselves the worst question in the English language; ‘what if…?’.

Is Travel the only option?

Other than travel though, is there any other way of looking more deeply at the real values that others hold? Do we have to travel to ask these questions properly? The obvious alternative is simply to read. To listen to what others have discovered about the questions that interest you. But this is something I’ve been doing for the past three years as a Philosophy undergrad, and the results are far from ideal.

Reading has its uses, don’t get me wrong. But it seems there can be no one set of principles that encompasses the variety of people in a single society. For thousands of years, from Aristotle to Kant to Mill, great minds have been trying to figure out these answers to no avail.

This is why I’ve little hope in finding that special self-help book on a Waterstones bookshelf that’ll suddenly enlighten me as how best to live, or in which direction I should be heading.

And even if I did magically and miraculously find that perfect ‘guide to life’, reading it simply wouldn’t be enough. We cannot be without first doing. Reading the instructions isn’t enough to build the set of drawers. So yes, reading and talking and thinking are fantastic ways to help fill in gaps in our knowledge, and plant the seeds of new ideas that may germinate or slowly fade away, but without acting and doing, this reading and talking and thinking is all pointless.

It seems, therefore, that reading cannot be an equal substitute to actually getting out there and experiencing new things ourselves. Why let someone else do the discovery?

What could be better or more life-affirming than exploring the questions, cultures and lifestyles ourselves?

To try to solve these mysteries from any kind of closed box, such as the Island Mentality, is bound to limit how widespread and open our thinking can be, and so seems to be to shoot oneself in the foot if you’re interested in questioning these norms.

And so, to the question ‘Is travel the Answer?’, at this moment in time, I’d have to say yes, yes it is. Even if only for a short time and around relatively similar cultures. For unless it’s tried, as said earlier, the solitary, depressing question left reverberating will simply be; ‘What if…?’


You have everything but one thing: madness.  A man needs a little madness or else – he never dares cut the rope and be free.

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