Exploring the Philosophy of Travel

"So you're kind of like the philosophical traveler". My friend's father noted this as we drove up Highway 101 to Sonoma County over the Thanksgiving holiday. I chuckled, responding with: "Yes, I am in fact kind of like the philosophical traveler. Traveling philosopher actually." My friend's father had put this together without knowing about my blog, looking at my business card, or knowing much about the history of my life. This had simply come up after talking about my reasons for being a travel writer and my college degree in philosophy.

However, it got me thinking about my own philosophy of travel and that of others. As "The Traveling Philosopher", a name that I'm now becoming known for, I thought it couldn't be a better time to start a series on the philosophy of travel. Why do you travel? "Spencer, because I love it; duh." Okay, you like to travel. That's probably why you're here, but why do you really travel? Travel is expensive, time consuming, an investment, and offers many of the same opportunities that you can experience from home. You use public transportation, eat a lot of food, take photos, view landmarks, go out for entertainment, and go to bars for cocktails. What's so different about that from what you do at home? These are some of the arguments people have for choosing not to travel. So what's your answer? Why do you travel?

Before beginning with why it is that I travel, I think it's important to lay out what travel isn't to me. Travel isn't the seeing of sights. Don't get me wrong, I've done plenty of iconic touristy activities, like visiting Alcatraz, walking to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and having my photo taken along the rim of the Grand Canyon. Yet this isn't why I travel. I also don't travel simply for rest and relaxation. I like rest and relaxation as much as the next person and don't really travel like this enough, but it's not why I travel. I also don't travel for an escape or to be healed. Travel has never healed me or fixed my problems. I've traveled for all of these reasons at one time or the other; however, at its root, it's not why I travel.

Travel has a funny way about it. I'm often the type of traveler who may spend mere minutes at a place people recommend spending days at and then spend days somewhere that people recommend only spending minutes at. Some of the great inward changes and revelations as a result of travel have come in some of the least likely places. One being in Atlanta last spring and most recently, flying into Seattle from San Francisco.

I had been wrestling with this question about why I travel for days. I couldn't put my finger on why it was that I really traveled. But then, the clouds parted, literally. We had started our descent into Seattle and for the first time since leaving San Francisco, the clouds had parted, but just enough so that out my window to the left, I could see the sun beaming directly onto Mt. Rainier. The clouds continued to part as purple, orange, and pink colors now lit up the sky as the sun started to set. I had seen some beautiful sunsets recently along the central and northern coast of California, but this was something different altogether. It was in that moment that I realized why I travel. I travel for change.

Change. I know, it's a broad term, but I think it best sums up why I travel. In every sense of the world, change is why I travel. I travel for a change of scenery, for a change of clothes (From sweaters and boots to board shorts and flip flops), for a change of culture, and for a change in my schedule. But most importantly, I travel to be changed. When I think of the most significant moments of my life, travel has always been a part of those moments. One way or the other, the person I depart on an airplane as, isn't the same person I arrive back as. And this change has a direct influence on my peers, friends, and employers when I return from traveling.

My philosophy of travel isn't likely your philosophy of travel. Chris Guillebeau put this nicely a couple years ago when he talked about developing your own philosophy of travel. I've often gotten emails and comments from readers who simply can't relate to what I've written about here on my blog because no matter how many times they've traveled, they haven't experienced travel the way I've written about it. And that's alright. People travel for different reasons and have different results because of it. However, while I believe that people's reasons for traveling will vary from person-to-person, I wholeheartedly believe that people should develop their own philosophies of travel - that is, to find out what fuels their drive to travel and work to recreate those times of happiness that we often feel while traveling. In a sense, to recapture that wonder of adventure that was so prevalent during our childhood, but becomes harder to attain as we get older.

"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls."-Anais Nin

If you've ever taken a philosophy course, then you may have noticed that philosophy professors rarely, if ever, reveal their own philosophy of the subjects their teaching. Over the coming weeks and months I'll be writing an on-going series on the philosophy of travel. Some of it will be observations and things I've learned during my travels, while others will be questions that I've received from other travelers. However, to start the series, I wanted to go against the common philosophical grain and explore my own philosophy of travel. Over the coming weeks, I hope you'll share your own questions and comments, whether here, on Facebook, Twitter, or Google.

Why do you travel?

Photo of me courtesy of Kirsten Alana.