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What Tyler Durden's Philosophy Teaches Us About Travel

Entertainment Culture
by Juliane Huang Jan 20, 2009
Certain travel lessons can be gleaned from the philosophy of Tyler Durden.

Most of us have seen the movie Fight Club. When it hit theaters in 1999 with an unbelievably carved Brad Pitt and ingeniously beleaguered Ed Norton, author Chuck Palahniuk found himself with a giant, rabid, new fan base dedicated to Tyler Durden and his philosophy.

Avowing anti-consumerist ideas and an explosive refusal of passive acceptance, Durden led the other characters into a violent awakening and encouraged audiences’ vicarious participation.

Whether leaving the theater or flipping the last page of the book, viewers and readers alike were left with the stinging thematic message: “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

For travelers, this message has been the underlying pulse humming in the background of every flight, ticket, hostel, and trek.

Subtle, but never forgotten, the drive to make the most out of life is the communal thread linking backpackers, flashpackers, travelers, and adventure-seekers alike.

Ten years later, Tyler Durden’s philosophy still has a lot to teach us about travel:

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

This is less about wiping our slates clean of all accomplishments, relationships, or manufactured goods, and more about cutting free from the obsessive attachment supported and fed by modern consumerist and business culture.

When we board that plane or get that visa stamped, we are instantly reminded that we are fundamentally free beings. We are free to go where we want and do what we want. Our car payments do not dictate our life choices.

Travel shows us that we’re free to do anything. We can stomp grapes in Italy, surf in Costa Rica, or fire dance in Thailand. We just need to make that choice. Freedom is inherent in travel and imperative in Fight Club.

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. . . You’re not your fucking khakis.”

In the shuffle of seductive television ads, competitive social comparisons, and overbearing societal barometers telling us just how far in life we should be, we tend to misplace our own identities.

We measure our feelings of self worth on how shiny and new the plastic of our recent purchase is. We define ourselves by the brands we wear or don’t wear. We allow automated computer programs to categorize our likes and dislikes for us.

Travel reminds us who we are and what we aren’t. We aren’t jobs, currency, automobiles, or textiles. And that’s never more clear than when drifting down the river in a bamboo raft on a sunny day. We’re never more in touch with our identity than when we’re navigating the streets of a new city whose language we can’t understand, using a map we can’t read.

We can be nothing but ourselves when we travel. And we should always remember that.

“People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.”

Travel takes courage and teaches us courage. Many are afraid to step outside their comfort zones and be without an anchor in the familiar.

As travelers, our bravery is continually challenged. Whether it is packing up all our belongings to move to another country or joining in a cliff diving session during a summer trip, travel is relentlessly asking more of us and testing what we’re made of.

But once we’re there, flying over borders or off the cliff’s edge, the rewards are immense. We are no longer seeing ourselves as we’d like to be; we are becoming the people we’d like to be. And that feeling is incomparable.

“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say… let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

Every new trip breeds new understanding. We see new landscapes, meet different people, gather new experiences. Travel helps us further along our intellectual, psychological, and emotional evolution.

Travel reminds us that life isn’t a series of boxes to be checked off or a succession of requisite motions. We are alive to be alive, learning growing and along the way. Everything else is minutiae.

Stop being perfect. It is more important to be evolved.

As with travel, Fight Club warns us to never lose sight of the essential. It’s easy to get hustled along on a guided path, but much more satisfying to forge your own way. As travelers, we need to keep in mind these reasons and our goals for why we travel.

And always remember, “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”


For a list of other movies that have changed travelers’ lives, check out “The Red Pill: 10 Films Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind.”

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