Everyone knows what travel is. There’s not a lot to explain: you buy a ticket, go somewhere, have fun. End of story.
In fact, most things can be explained in this straightforward manner. For instance, everyone knows how cars work: you put gas in, drive around, have fun.
Every year, millions of people go abroad in search of adventure.
Some have such a miserable time they’ll never travel again, yet others claim travel is their favorite pastime. Some say they’ve had so fantastic an experience, it’s changed their lives – even after losing half their luggage and surviving an illness unknown to Western medicine.
What went right? Clearly, travel really isn’t as simple a process as it seems.
Just as going to a party is no guarantee for having a good time, spending a week in some distant setting won’t automatically deliver everything the travel brochure promised.
If simply “going someplace” is all it takes to enjoy ourselves, we should be in the throes of ecstasy every morning we get up and hit the road for work. But it doesn’t work like that – something else is going on here.
In fact, it’s safe to say that:
What’s missing in the formula?
The Missing Element
I’ve never been very good at math – and I’m grateful, because it’s precisely that reason which helped me gain insight into the equation of happiness.
One day at age 16, I came home with algebra homework that had me completely lost. My grandfather sat me down and started working through the formulas with me, but still I failed to grasp it. He stopped for a moment, then looked at me and said:
“You know, I enjoyed algebra when I was a boy, because I saw myself as a detective, and the problems as mysteries. Now, you have to use the right tools in the right order – you can’t take fingerprints without dusting, for instance. If you go through each step, you eliminate suspects until you finally get the culprit and solve the crime.”
I wasn’t a huge fan of mysteries either, but it didn’t matter. I had a new way of thinking about the material, one which showed it in a completely different light.
From then on, I treated my homework not as “work,” but mysteries. My grades shot up like rockets, and I found myself actually enjoying math!
The scenario hadn’t changed, but had been redefined in a manner I could relate to. My early difficulty and later success were based on the inner perspectives that framed them.
Based on this experience, I learned that our inner attitudes dictate our relationships to things – and that these relationships can be changed to our advantage.
The Traveler/Tourist Illusion
Travelers see themselves as active seekers of fresh experiences, flexible in adopting new outlooks. Many of them thumb their noses at tourists, who seem outwardly unwilling to change their perspectives, preferring that the experience cater to their preconceived notions.
But it’s impossible to recognize attitude by outer appearance, and so the “traveler/tourist distinction” becomes an exercise in snobbery.
This isn’t to say some people aren’t ignorant – only that it can’t be pinned to any group of people or their activities.
The man in the Hawaiian shirt may strike up a conversation with a native – and, from that empathy, find his entire worldview completely rearranged. This man has traveled, while a backpacker “keeping it real” on a sparse budget may only be touring his own preferences.
The role is illusory – the difference is in attitude.
For those seemingly anchored to familiar islands of perspective, they remind me of my struggles with math. They lack a means of insight to a more enriching experience.
But no one – certainly not I – can claim their perspectives are in all ways superior, nor can we abandon our ingrained ways with equal ease. The key to insight is dialogue: remaining open to new ideas, tolerating difference, and helping one another see more.
Most importantly, it’s clear that difference in insight isn’t limited strictly to travel as we define it.
What we consider travel is both inner and outer experience – not at all the traditional idea of getting away from it all, it’s really about getting to something new, within ourselves. The external venture is essentially a vehicle for an internal discovery.
Potentially, there is just as much potential for inner travel at home – volunteering for a community program, talking to someone from a distant place, even taking “the road less traveled” to work.
It’s all in what you look for: uncovering your potential in a physical or mental pursuit is more of a journey than going to Paris and seeing nothing.
There may be more travel in a sudden moment of realization than in a hundred thousand frequent flyer miles.
The art of travel is about making contact with the Moment: a timeless instance of profound awareness.
It may be frightening, demanding – it may have nothing at all to do with what you consider pleasurable. But what makes travel possible is your eagerness to become something more than the sum of your habits.
It’s the desire to step beyond your everyday bubble of comfort to see what’s outside.
However you reach it, whatever you discover: the essence of travel is self-discovery, exploring the limits of your world to finally arrive at your sense of meaning.
Phil Cousineau, in The Art Of The Pilgramage, says:
“If we truly want to know the secret of soulful travel, we need to believe that there is something sacred waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.”
This equation adds up.
What do you think about this definition of inner travel? Share your thoughts in the comments!