“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” – St. Augustine
I have a friend who is admittedly “not crazy about traveling.” She finds it stressful: booking a reservation, packing, leaving, flying, etc. She adores her everyday life at home with her new husband and their dog, and is never bored doing the same old stuff every day. She finds beauty in routine.
In the era of travel, one might wonder if her “symptoms” are normal at all. Because, for those who can do it physically and financially, pursuing one’s wanderlust is a given, right? Is her travel aversion really a problem? What is the big deal about travel anyway?
These questions and the constantly growing hype around travel made me want to dig into this topic, which is full of interesting elements.
My mum says I was 5 when I strolled as far as the edge of our sleepy little village and she found me all by myself, terrified. I explained to her calmly and with self confidence that I was going to see the world. What on earth might have been my motivation to discover the unknown at such an age?
Some time later, during my first year of university, I studied behavioral genetics and I can clearly recall the astonishment I felt when our professor spoke of a mysterious gene called DRD4-7R. Some studies claim that there is a relationship between the presence of this gene and the drive to find something new, like a new place to settle down. From an evolutionary point of view, the adaptive value of this gene in the human past consisted in population migration: discovering places with more resources, safety, etc. in order to survive. (It’s a funny thought that without this gene, I might be writing this article somewhere around the border of Asia and Europe, at the foot of Ural mountain…?)
Does this gene variant explain the human curiosity necessary to discover new places in modern times? Well, at the risk of oversimplification, perhaps it could be one of the many explanations. But, considering that as few as 20% of us possess this “wanderlust gene,” it is hardly an explanation for the global “tourist migration.” So how did travel go viral?
In a constant push to move
“Places you must see before you die,” “How I left my 9-5 job and became a full-time traveler,” “30 places you must see before you turn 30.” You know the headlines – these are the types of articles circulating on the internet, making me feel like falling down on my table and crying from the frustration of how wrong I think these messages are.
But it’s not just the internet; all kinds of media are pushing that single message: TRAVEL IS COOL. There is no fashion brand that doesn’t have statement T-shirts with cliché travel quotes.
Perfumes are named to reflect a vagabond lifestyle. It seems that you simply can’t escape the downward spiral of the tourism industry and the verdict is clear: you must travel because if you don’t, you are missing out.
But why is it pushed so heavily?
What are the benefits of travelling?
I challenged Google by typing in the keywords “travel makes you” and “travel makes us” and according to the most popular articles (appearing on the first 2 pages), travel has the miraculous effect of making us:
- a better person
- more attractive
- more creative
- a better entrepreneur
Wow, I mean… no wonder why we all want to hop on a plane if it’s all that it takes to acquire these qualities! There seems to be a spiritual and life-altering connotation added to travel that makes it so desirable for us humans, always wondering about how life could be lived to the fullest.
But the question emerges: Does not seeing the world make us less happy and a worse person? Are we depriving ourselves the possibility of personal growth if we stay at home?
Denmark is always at the top of the list of the world’s happiest countries, so there is a number of studies that put their happiness in the limelight. For sure, Danish people seem to know a great deal about happiness at home – they even “invented” an expression for it, called “hygge,” which cannot be translated into just one word but is described as “a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life.”
Enjoying a book in a cozy corner of your home, inviting your family or friends for dinner can be hygge, and we don’t even have to open our front doors. Of course, hygge is also about going out for a long walk; the difference is the feeling of slowing down and appreciating the simple things that bring joy to your life. Raise your hand if you have never ever experienced hygge, even if you didn’t even know of its existence!
Should I stay or should I go?
Being enthusiastic about the concept of hygge doesn’t mean that I am in any way promoting a sedentary lifestyle over seeing the world. All I’m saying is that we don’t have to be psychologists to understand that entering the travel rat race with our selfie stick at an over-touristy spot will not make us happier, while finding peace with our mental and physical space does. Regardless of where you find it: at home or abroad. For me, sharing my travel stories with my homebody friend is just as much joy as living through them with my boyfriend.
Traveling at our own pace, learning about the world, enriching ourselves with the knowledge of an another culture all add up to a truly a life-altering, phenomenal experience, but travel in itself is not cool nor will it enlighten us or solve our problems – it is all up to us to make these experiences rewarding ones. It takes patience and attention to learn how to be responsible travelers and to savor the exhilarating moments of our trips.
Is travel overrated, then?
It sure is, in the way it is communicated in most travel blogs, warped by social media and hyped by key players in the tourism industry . These exaggerated messages depict travel as the source of miracles: a magic wand that instantly makes us happy, smart, etc. Experiencing different cultures, languages, and ways of thinking certainly broadens our worldview. But it is always a question to what extent we let another culture enter our beings that makes the difference in how meaningful a trip is.
Find your own pace, don’t believe the hype surrounding new destinations, but learn about yourself and what truly makes you happy. If it is popular destinations, go to Cinque Terre or Mykonos. If you’re into remote places, put some effort into finding those. And if it is staying at home that warms your heart, then…don’t start traversing the globe just for the sake of travelling.