A few years ago, my parents went on a trip to South America. They hiked around at Machu Picchu, visited the Iguazu waterfalls and chilled at the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. When they came back, I asked: “So, how was it?”. And my dad replied: “Oh, it was great. But I don’t think I need another trip like that. After all the traveling in my life, seeing new places just doesn’t excite me anymore. I’ve seen enough.” Traveling is one of my greatest pleasures, so this statement shook up my believes a bit. When you feel like you have seen enough, aren’t you giving up on life in a way? Isn’t it a total resignation from the world? Let me tell you some of the thoughts it provoked.
Basically, I started asking myself what exactly it is that makes traveling so appealing. First and foremost, there is this huge curiosity. The wish to see new landscapes and foreign architecture. In a way, traveling makes us feel like explorers. Traveling makes us feel like we are the ones who discover new species and lonely beaches. We forget that thousands of people have climbed the same hills and swum in the same rivers. What is more, traveling allows us to meet people with different cultural backgrounds and see the world through their eyes.
But then I tried to think about the limits of traveling - limits that I have experienced myself and limits that I observe with regards to other travellers. The biggest limit is probably our own comfort zone. Let me give you an examples. A bunch of my fellow students decided to spend a semester in “exotic countries” such as Thailand and China. But when they showed me pictures of their stays, it turned out that they spent their time with other international students, stayed in posh apartments and went to clubs where you find mainly expats. In other words, they got exactly what they have here in Germany just with some exotic plants in the background. Traveling didn't help them to broaden their horizon.
The next limit of traveling that I would like to talk about is what I call travel narcissism. I guess travel narcissism is on a new peak since the rise of Facebook, Foursquare and Instagram. People spend their entire holiday checking in at the coolest bars and posting selfies in front of the Taj Mahal. What is it all about? Your own experience? I doubt so. The more we post and share, the less we get to focus on the actual experience. Traveling becomes a mere gratification of the ego instead of a valuable personal experience.
The third and last limit of traveling is a little more philosophical. I like to think that I need traveling to develop empathy. The more I travel and the more people I meet, the more I understand their situation and rethink my own impact. And as much as this might be the case, I wonder if it is true that traveling is the most efficient way to work on ones empathy. The most empathetic people are simply the ones who manage to hold on for a second and take the perspective of somebody else. In a way, it is more about introspection than about exposure to many situations. It’s the ability to imagine “what if I was that other person”. My favourite example is that of a yogi who is sitting by himself in the Himalayas and developing profound understanding of the world. No traveling needed at all. Just a lot of work on your own attitude and imagination.
But let’s go back to the initial question. Is the feeling that you don’t want to travel anymore a resignation from life? Well, after thinking about it for some time, I concluded that it’s not. It might just mean that you don’t need the ego boost of posting travel photos anymore. Or it might mean that you realised that you can work on your empathy from home. Or it might mean that you realised that you never actually step outside your comfort zone, so there is no point of travelling at all.
But hey, maybe it’s not that complicated after all. Maybe traveling is just a fun way to waste some time. At least my dad stopped his philosophical thoughts and is back on the road – driving on his Harley Davisdon through the United States. Sure, he has seen enough... ;-)