I can’t tell you from memory what I did on most days in 1998, but I can easily recall every one of the 28 cities I visited during my two-month trip through Europe as a teenager. I can tell you what I did every day during my almost five months spent traveling around the world last summer. When the mind is fully engaged, memories are fully formed, and life is fully lived.
Travel gives me many things. It helps me get a sense for the true swath of possibilities of present and past human existence, and how ideas have flowed and changed as they have spread through the world. It helps bring weight, tangibility, and a human presence to historical trends and current events. It helps me question my assumptions about how human interactions and societies can function. It helps me understand myself and even play with my identity by observing how I interact with the world when stripped of my possessions, social circle, and home cultural reinforcement. It helps me understand and appreciate what is unique and special about my hometown. At a base level, it provides tremendous amounts of raw experiential material that help enhance my knowledge and creativity.
I believe that the age of easy intercontinental travel has promoted world peace. While the cultural aspects of globalization have had some homogenizing effects, I believe that they’re far outweighed by the value of the social connections and cultural interchange that occur as a result. In the same way that people who have at least one gay acquaintance are far more likely to favor gay marriage, societies whose members share deep and active social bonds with members of other societies are far less likely to declare war against them.
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. While I have traveled far, it’s possible to have some of the benefits of travel by just going a few miles away from home. Even exploring your own hometown under unusual conditions is a form of travel.
I was able to travel very aggressively (25 plane flights, unlimited rail travel in Europe, numerous splurges such as doing one of the longest bungee jumps in the world) for less money than I would have spent on living expenses in San Francisco during the same period of time. Compared to others, though, I was spending a lot. During my travels I met people who managed to squeeze nine months in Southeast Asia out of $3000, including airfare from the US.
Unfortunately, most people’s lives are not financially or psychologically configured to allow extended travel. People tend to let their expenses rise to match or exceed their income, leaving little room for savings. In my opinion, people overspend most dramatically on their cars and housing, and could easily afford an extended trip simply by having a cheaper car or a housemate for a few years. Mortgages, spouses, and children make travel somewhat more difficult but by no means impossible. I met many families with young children who were on extended trips.
I blogged extensively during my trip around the world in 2009, and have been documenting my travel experiences since then. You can read all my ongoing travel blog posts here or subscribe to the feed here.
In case you are curious, here are tags for blog entries related to travel to specific areas from the last couple of years.
africa, belgium, burningman, cambodia, canada, castlecrags, costarica, craterlake, czech, dubai, egypt, england, europe, germany, greece, hungary, india, israel, italy, jordan, laos, latvia, lithuania, losangeles, missouri, netherlands, ny, oregon, oregontrip, pinnacles, poland, redwoods, roadtrip, scotland, shasta, singapore, switzerland, tahoe, tennessee, thailand, turkey, usa, vietnam, washington, yosemite
I want to encourage as many people as possible to spend at least four consecutive months away from home. I’ve helped a couple of friends do this already, and I’d love to help more.