Travel Without a Purpose
Simplifying Life on the Road
Wandering aimlessly through Tuscan hills. Photo by Gregory Hubbs.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost
In my early 20’s, I backpacked through the Pacific Rim countries for a year. The Circle Pacific ticket carried me from Seattle to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Hawaii, I had no real timeline and no ulterior goals or purpose other than experiencing Asia.
I quit my job, stored my few belongings in a friend’s basement, and departed with just a backpack and a guidebook to Southeast Asia.
With loose plans, the trip took on a life of its own. I taught English in Vietnam; motorbiked through remote areas of Cambodia that were—I later learned—riddled with landmines; visited pristine beaches in southern Thailand that are now inhabited by Club Meds; and sang with a half white/half Aboriginal band in Sydney. Though my flights were pre-determined, not much else was.
At this young age, my mind was open to being molded and influenced by the people I met and the things I experienced. With a childlike innocence and naiveté, I embraced everything as new and exciting—cultures, food, architecture, and landscape. Grappling to understand myself, I was also starting to understand the world around me.
If we are lucky, with age and maturity we acquire more self confidence. We become active members of our community and we have established ourselves as parents, friends, and co-workers. But in the process, we also acquire more worldly goods and an attachment to a certain lifestyle. So strong is this attachment that we are lulled into believing that we cannot leave it for even a 2-week holiday.
You Can Take it with You
Few of us truly take a vacation from our jobs. In order to justify our travels, we devise ways to either take our work with us (ensuring that our hotel has wifi, for example) or we fill our travels with purpose.
We schedule language-learning classes at our destination, we study yoga, or we volunteer. Once the plans are made, we stock up on travel guides, create folders packed with information about our destination, and begin making lists of must-see sites, restaurants in which to indulge, and museums to scour. We do all this in order to make our travels more fulfilling.
But is it?
The Pendulum Swings
As with all trends, the pendulum swings both ways. While some may be caught up in the idea that their journey must be filled with activities, sightseeing, and purpose, the slow travel movement has been quietly expanding, counteracting our need for fast-paced, goal-oriented, trips.
The Slow movement as it relates to travel is based on the premise that you connect with a community by staying in one location for an extended period of time, becoming one of the locals, frequenting the same shops, taking public transportation, and really getting to know a place.
But traveling without a solid goal in mind does not mean you have to stay put in an Italian villa—you just need to slow down. I have attempted to hold on to my simple, often slow, travel style all through my 30’s and (now) 40’s. While I may book my first and last night’s hotel stay, I allow for serendipity the majority of my trip by asking for recommendations from other travelers and the residents.
A slower, unplanned style of travel promotes self-discovery as well as an organic (rather than one steered by guidebooks) connection with the locals. You learn to explore on your own – meeting the farmer in the field in Dijon, the woman carrying a bundle of firewood on her back in Nepal, or the merchant at the chocolate shop in Belgium. You allow travel to come to you rather than you tackling it head on.
No Need to Give it All Up
It was nearly 20 years ago that I set out for my year-long trip to Asia. Though today I live a relatively simple lifestyle, I have accumulated more belongings than I would care to admit. In fact, more than enough to fill a friend's basement.
But you do not have to sell your furniture or put your possessions in a storage locker in order to travel more simply, without a purpose. It simply involves a change in perspective, and is a mode of travel that can be followed for any length of time; be it one week, one month, or one year. Just permit yourself to have some downtime.
Traveling with a purpose most certainly has its place, and I would not discourage anyone from taking that language course in Costa Rica, or volunteering at an ashram in India. But sometimes it is prudent to step back and allow things to happen. All you need is a good map of the city where you are landing and the ability to allow for kismet.
As Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Go back to your beginner’s mind and travel knowing all the possibilities in the world exist.