Travel. It seems like we all love to do it — or love to say we love it. But what is it really for? Why do we get away, and how does it give us meaning? Here are six ways to find fulfillment wherever you go, whether it’s around the corner or around the world.
1. Meaning is what you make it.
A meaningful time isn’t necessarily a good time — or a bad time. You bring the context to your experience, and it might include having tough conversations, going through a physical challenge or crying into your gelato in Italy. You don’t have to perform your trip for anyone.
“Give up this idea that travel has to look like something that maybe you’re seeing on Instagram,” says adventurer and travel blogger Torre deRoche. “It doesn’t have to be anything apart from what you make it.”
2. Never stop being afraid.
Engineer your travel so you’re doing things that scare you a little. Going outside your comfort zone is how you can stretch and grow on the road.
Eat alone if you’re usually terrified of that. If you’re afraid of leaving home for long lengths of time, extend your trip. If you’re learning a new language, use it with the locals.
“You realize the world isn’t as scary as maybe you’ve come to believe, and that just enriches my life and my experience of life,” DeRoche says.
3. Understanding why we travel makes the journey more meaningful.
It could be for a sight you’ve never seen, to reconnect with an old friend, to test your stamina or just relax. Dig a layer down in the why, and you’ll often find something it leads to the same frame: We travel to gain fresh perspectives and to experience surprise.
As daily routines become automatic, we start taking our world for granted, says artist Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing.
“Simply removing yourself from those, wherever you might end up removing yourself to, is really helpful for getting some kind of new perspective on yourself and your life,” Odell says.
4. Treat your travel as an experience, not as a product to consume.
Old aphorisms are often true: The journey is the reward. Don’t be the reviewer on TripAdvisor who gives the Grand Canyon — the Grand Canyon — a paltry three stars with the comment, “Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.”
“Acknowledge that the meaning is going to come from the place, not from you, ahead of time, planning your trip,” says Odell.
5. Do more than just see a place. Be there.
Seek out what makes the place you’re in truly different from the last place you were. You might talk with locals in a language you don’t usually speak, or volunteer while on a trip, so you’re not spending time in tourist traps.
“It has to do with observation,” says Odell. She recommends an app called iNaturalist, which lets you take photos of the ecology around you and identify flora and fauna wherever you are.
6. You don’t have to leave home to be transformed.
Bring the same open perspective that you have on a trip to your daily experience. Be curious and observe.
“It just becomes very quickly evident that I will never really get to the bottom of things that I’m observing, and that is such a delightful feeling,” Odell says. “It’s so different from consuming a product. It’s also different from looking things up online where the answer is yes or no. It’s kind of the opposite of that.”