Is Travel an Act of Selfishness?
I could just tell she was making a beeline for me. My wallet was in one hand, an electric car door opener in another, and I was standing in front of an ice cream vending machine at the only rest area I had seen for two hours. "Spencer, just don't make eye contact. Turn your back to her, toward the ice cream machine, and you'll be fine." It was too late. I had been in Los Angeles and San Diego for several days and wasn't even asked once for money and here I am on the other side of Timbucktu, California, along I-5, immersed in the aroma of cow shit and I'm the victim of panhandling.
After a couple minutes of rambling on about running out of gas I reluctantly parted with a $10 dollar bill, like I was handing over my first born child. I briefly considered asking her if she had change for a $10, but instead just did the deed and walked away. It's not the act of giving money that I was so reluctant to do, but much more about whether I was actually doing anything. If I wasn't so concerned about getting to an event on time, maybe I would've gone to get her enough gas, if that indeed was the situation -- that she just coincidently ran out of gas at the only stop for another 60 miles. I want the satisfaction of knowing that I've done something. At the end of the day, I want there to be worth to my life.
Ironically, while traveling last week, some friends and I discussed this part of travel. We all agreed that we love to travel and that there's definitely something in it for us individually, but we wondered if there was more we could be doing. It was these two events that made me ask the question: Is travel selfish?
Travel has evolved over the 28 years of my life. It at some points in life consisted of weekend trips nearby, at other times holiday trips abroad as a tourist and most recently, a career/life break. However, whether 5 or 28, local or abroad, it's primary end has been for myself. Maybe it was for some much needed time away from home, to travel somewhere that was on my bucket list, or to use it as a career/life transition. It's not on the beaches, during a safari, or visiting an attraction that I question why and how I travel. It's "off the beaten path" that I ponder why I travel -- walking through the Tenderloin district in San Francisco, driving through the back roads of St. Lucia, and walking the streets of Soweto.
In true philosophical fashion, I can't confidently answer this question with an absolute yes or no. However, I can answer it as it relates to me and my own experiences. Travel for me is more of a paradox than anything, because while I'm doing it for myself, what results, whether I'm trying or not, is a string of selfless acts. I'm convinced that travel brings out the best of me. I often come back refreshed, happier, and a better worker. This week for example, after traveling for several days, will be my most productive week for a while. I'm happy, energized, and refreshed from traveling, and therefore channeling those things into my work and relationships. Not only that, but travel often brings things that are even more tangible, such as a new language or skill set.
“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.”-Samuel Johnson
I loved what Carol Cain of NYCity Mama had to say: "Yes. Traveling is selfish. It's about a personal journey. We take from those we meet and the places we visit to form our experiences and those of our children. Absolutely. It's important to be aware of it, so that we can also be responsible and make efforts to leave something positive behind." If travel didn't have a positive effect for us, whether inward or outward, why would we do it? Travel elevates my life, giving it added worth. I want to climb mountains, go to foreign countries, speak new languages, and meet new people because of what happens on the other side. I want to see that person that comes back. Because who comes back, isn't the person who went.
"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."-Miriam Beard
I'll long wrestle with this question. Travel continues to evolve for me. More than anything, this is a challenge to myself. I still want the white sandy beaches with frozen drinks, the cozy hotel beds I don't want to get out of, and the dessert samplers that I don't have room in my tummy for. I like those things, a lot, and I'm not giving them up. However, at the same time, while travel satisfies and influences me inwardly, I want to consider how it can influence people and places outwardly, both while I'm traveling and when I return. It's probably not going to be handing out $10 dollar bills, but I also haven't figured out what it is.
What is travel to you? Have you found ways to give back while traveling and/or upon returning?