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A purpose driven (travel) life

January 6, 2011
by budgettravelsac

It’s interesting how each one of us has different personalities and ways we like to travel.  I tried to wrap my mind around this a few months ago with the psychology of travel where I listed the pros, cons, and motivations of travel.

So I guess this process for me has been evolving.  This week, I talked about making some changes, starting a new blog, and going in a different direction.  Well I just finished a book last night that really got me thinking about life – and travel. 

Warning:  This is another one of those philosophical/meaning of life posts on travel that might challenge you, make you uncomfortable, or make you mad.  So keep reading.

The trip of a lifetime

It’s been a tough few months for you.  Family issues, relationship problems, and contemplating your future.  However, these last few weeks all the stress is over as everything has settled down, you’ve got great friends and family in your life, and you decided to quit your job and travel for a few months.

Your trip begins with soft sand between your toes, crystal blue waters, and a quiet getaway on the beach.  You spend a few days soaking up the sun and warm waters, enjoying the food, and restoring your soul as you prepare for your journey.

One day, you decide to head into the countryside to see what else is around.  You pass through a rural village and see kids playing football in the street without shoes.  It’s great that these kids have such great energy and are so used to being outside that they don’t even need shoes.  Their youthful exuberance and charming faces have turned your observation into child-like enthusiasm.  So after a few minutes , you join in and enjoy a game of football with them.

After playing for a while, you look a little closely at the village.  You realize how poor the conditions are as homes consist of nothing more than a badly patched roof and mud floor.  You notice that the kids seem small for their ages and a little malnourished.  After spending time with them, you wonder why there are no adults around.  But it’s a quaint rural village in a distant country and you are excited that you got to experience the local village culture.

After saying your goodbyes, you head a few miles away and meet a couple of foreigners who are dirty and sweaty.  You strike up a conversation and find out that the village you just passed doesn’t have water, the crops are dying, and many of the adults aren’t educated and are struggling to find work.  The foreigners you meet are village volunteers who have only been in town a couple of weeks.  It’s hard work, there aren’t many volunteers, and supplies and money are limited.

You head back to your hotel and are struggling with the things you saw.  You want to do something but you don’t have a lot of money or time and you just started your long journey.  Tomorrow is your last day here before you move on to your next destination.

Fulfillment or Purpose

In our lives, do we seek fulfillment or purpose?  Is life about achieving our dreams or is the journey more important?

For me, I definitely love routine and comfort.  I want to keep my family safe.  I want to make sure that I provide for them.  I want to be a good, loving, protective father and husband.  On the flip side, I like to travel and experience exciting new places and cultures.  I don’t seek material things and by no means am I rich.  I am quite content with a very simple life.  Yet these values seem to conflict with each other – especially when I travel.

Why do we do travel?  Is there a purpose to it?  Is travel about stimulating our senses to make life exciting?  Do we seek comfort when we travel or do we enjoy the challenges and the unexpected?  How do we handle it when we see or experience things that make us uncomfortable?

I am wrestling with the idea that travel has to have a purpose beyond the contentment it brings to my life.  Do I travel because I enjoy it?  Or do I travel because it changes me in the process?  If I answer ‘yes’ to both of these, that’s ok.  However, if the latter is more important than the former, then my life has purpose.

Is my life about comfort and fulfillment or about purpose and meaning?  If I am honest, it’s a little of both with probably more comfort than meaning.  And as I wrestle with this idea, I am confronted with all of the things that travel has taught me.

My travels have given me wonderful memories and amazing experiences.  It’s also brought frustration, uncomfortable situations, and bad experiences.  I don’t like those situations.  I want to be comfortable.  I don’t want conflict.  I don’t want bad experiences.  Yet I can’t ignore what travel has shown me.

Travel brings highs and lows.  What do I choose to remember about my travel experiences?  How I answer that question speaks to what my life and travels are about – fulfillment or purpose?

What does travel mean to you?  Do your travels serve a purpose?  Are your travels more about the destinations or the journey itself?  What do you think about purpose driven travel?

P.S.  The story of the beach and the rural village is an illustration and is not based on anyone’s life or any real travel experiences.

Beach photo (Flickr: pasujoba), Kid football photo (Flickr: Eric Vernier)

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. laurelexpatgermany permalink
    January 6, 2011 2:40 am

    Interesting topic. I think mostly I travel to places that I’m interested in seeing, so for personal fulfillment, but often find I also achieve a purpose when traveling, i.e. learn to be more resourceful, practice being patient patience, gaining a better understanding of cultural differences, etc, but when I set out to travel I don’t think “Hmmm..what place would really help me work on being more patient?” I think often we are drawn to places that are the right places for us and that by traveling to these places we will find a purpose, even if that wasn’t our intention.

    • January 6, 2011 2:48 am

      Laurel, I am impatient and get frustrated when I am lost. I go to places I like and that interest me. I don’t always like to be stretched and challenged when I travel but I always learn something no matter where I go. However, that’s the purpose of me writing this I guess – to reflect on my travels and see what it tells me about my life.

      These thoughts were inspired by the book I read and there will be more to come on this topic and the book later on. Thanks for sharing!

  2. January 6, 2011 9:13 am

    I guess I am a personal traveler too. I choose things that grow me as a person rather than benefit others. Not likely to be a volunteer somewhere anytime soon, though I am quite into helping others. Travel is my time to be someone else and be somewhere else.

    • January 6, 2011 3:23 pm

      Part of my desire to travel now is to open the eyes of my kids to the world around them. In that sense, travel is purposeful and meaningful. However, I question myself whether I should still do more. I guess this post is part of the process I am going through as I wrestle with this idea.

      Being with people you enjoy and going to places you want to see is always fun. And we can always learn from those things. There are teachable moments in every part of life so there is always something meaningful we can take from every trip.

  3. January 6, 2011 10:56 am

    Great article Jeremy, and it’s a great topic because we all have unique purposes behind traveling.

    I travel in the migrationology lifestyle, staying in a place for a while and trying to get involved with something/anything, observing the local culture. When I travel for personal enjoyment, I try to incorporate some purpose and opportunity. This benefits myself and hopefully others in the process.

    • January 6, 2011 3:28 pm

      Good approach to traveling Mark! My post isn’t to say there isn’t fun in traveling or times we don’t need to just get away and enjoy ourselves. However, if fulfilling our own personal enjoyment is all we seek, I am just asking the bigger question of “what are we living for?” Many people travel all the time just as some people work 9-5. No matter what you do, what are your reasons for doing it.

      I’m still wrestling with this.

  4. January 6, 2011 1:18 pm

    I think that having a “good” travel life needs to have a good balance of fulfillment, purpose, comfort, and meaning… as well as a little bit of those uncomfortable moments that teach us and make us grow. Honestly, if there’s no fulfillment we wont be having that life for long. As much as we like to have a purpose and to make an impact in other lives, if we have no fulfillment on what we are doing, we wont be serving our purpose as good as we would have expected to.

    Great post… got me thinking! :)

    • January 6, 2011 3:36 pm

      Glad I got you thinking Norbert and I appreciate your comments. Now forgive me as I play devil’s advocate to your comments.

      I would make the argument that your life can’t have purpose if what you do isn’t fulfilling. In order to be effective at a meaningful and purposeful life, we have to enjoy the things we are trying to do. Otherwise, we would give up when it gets hard. However, if we are seeking to travel just because of our own enjoyment or pleasure, I am saying that isn’t purposeful.

      In travel, it can be fulfilling without it being purposeful. It can’t be purposeful without it being fulfilling. However, who’s to say that being purposeful won’t make what we already love even more fulfilling?

      • January 6, 2011 5:21 pm

        Oh, I totally agree with you Jeremy. Travel can be fulfilling without being purposeful but it can’t be purposeful without being fulfilling. Enjoying what we do, whatever in life it is, is key to give it true meaning and it is what will keep us doing it consistently.

  5. January 6, 2011 9:19 pm

    I enjoy reading your personal essays and narratives. Why do we travel and what do we get out of it? Those are questions every traveler grapples with!

    • January 7, 2011 1:05 am

      Thanks Leslie! I think it fits my personality (and my insanely analytical and deep thinking mind) to write posts that challenge myself most importantly. Travel, like many other things in life, challenges and teaches me about how I live and makes me wonder why I do what I do. Guess part of the blame for my “essays and narratives” is due to my kids and thinking ahead about how I want to live. It’s fun and difficult and hope it gets people to ask questions about their own lives so that we all lead more meaningful lives.

  6. January 7, 2011 11:04 am

    Well, you’ve definitely opened up the floodgates for discussion on this topic. I travel to broaden my knowledge, because I’m a visual learner. Textbooks don’t do it for me–I actually need to go, see, learn and experience something to understand it. This is especially true for new places, people, culture. Fortunately I grew up traveling at a very young age, so it’s second nature to me. But my BEST memories — those that have shaped me as an individual– are travel memories.

    • January 7, 2011 10:24 pm

      I completely understand. Travel has been great for expanding my knowledge. It makes me wish I could go back now and take classes from high school and college over. Travel makes me appreciate what I learned now. However, it’s so much more interesting when you travel. Travel memories are education are a great part of travel! However, it’s also inspirational and that’s where I think it can give you purpose as well!

  7. January 8, 2011 3:24 am

    I travel because it is where I feel most fulfilled and on purpose. When I travel I feel as if I am living life’s purpose which is to experience joy and wonder, and to be fully present in each moment.
    I feel as if my purpose in life is to experience all the wonder of the world and to learn as much as I can from it. I feel as if “God” has selected me to play this role in life, as I can play it well. I can allow “God” to experience the world through me and delight in it. Just like I feel some people are musicians– this is their purpose to allow “God” to hear the creation of music ,as with artists and athletes and so forth.
    And God to me is not a religious God but a higher Universal power that lives in each one of us.
    Travel has helped me to be a better person and through this I can make a more positive impact on the world. I think the fulfillment comes from living your purpose. If you don’t live your purpose you will be unfulfilled. The two belong together.
    I’m not sure if that explained anything or answered your question.

    • January 8, 2011 2:56 pm

      I’ve stated it in the comments before and it summarizes what you are trying to say. Whether it is in travel or life, we can find fulfillment without purpose. You can’t find purpose without fulfillment. If you are living your life for a purpose, then the two do go together. If you are living just for fulfillment, you will not be satisfied and will continue to travel or live to seek even more fulfillment. I don’t think we can ever truly be fulfilled without a purpose.

      I am glad people are challenged by this and are thinking. The goal of this wasn’t to tell people what their purpose should be but get them thinking about how they are living when they travel. What is their motivation and what is their life about? I think all of us have learned things from travel that have touched us, challenged us, or inspired us. In that respect, we can’t just keep seeking those things without taking those experiences and giving back to others in some way. If all we seek is to gain for ourselves, then our lives won’t be fulfilled. And this is true in travel. We can enjoy traveling but it becomes more meaningful when what we experience gives us an opportunity to impact others for their benefit.

      I’ve probably said too much about this and rambled a bit myself. However, let me ask another question – why do you write and blog about travel?

  8. January 8, 2011 4:26 am

    For the past couple of years now, I’ve realized that the actual destination I visit is much less important than simply making sure that I am learning about the world and about myself every single day while traveling.

    In the beginning of my travels, I definitely did not have a purpose and was merely traveling because I enjoyed it. But that changed over time and now, my purpose is to gain that education that many people do not have access to (the education that travel can offer) and use it to help eliminate many of the misunderstandings we have about other people and places in the world. And once I discovered this purpose, every day of my travels has been infinitely more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined.

    Great topic for a post by the way!

    • January 8, 2011 3:04 pm

      Thanks Earl. I completely agree. Once you get beyond the excitement of travel and really begin to understand what you are experiencing, your view of the world is changed and you can never go back to the way you were. Learning about other people and cultures gives us an opportunity to appreciate our differences. Experiences with people make life far more interesting and destroys the stereotypes we have. It makes life real, meaningful, and yes, purposeful. So my question on this topic – what do you with what you have experienced to impact other people?

      Thanks for the comment! I am probably going to expand on this topic and share more on this later. There will be more challenges to come! :)

  9. January 8, 2011 9:26 am

    I travel for challenge. I like to experience new things constantly and have more info to draw upon as I make further decisions in life. I think its important to push ourselves to our limits and cross boundaries we didnt know existed. I was meditating on this idea a few weeks ago and came to the conclusion that if we focus too hard on what the answer is, we will miss out on the lessons of questioning.

    • January 8, 2011 2:59 pm

      I admire you for seeking the challenges. It’s hard to be pushed and feel uncomfortable. Those are things I don’t really like. I deal with them as they come but I don’t choose them. What have those challenges taught you and how have the things you experienced affected those around you? Has your life and travels had an impact on your relationship with others?

  10. January 8, 2011 9:59 am

    I think you can travel for both purpose and personal fulfillment, enriching the destination and yourself at the same time. You won’t find me volunteering in the jungle anytime soon, but I like to think there are subtle impacts I make when I travel that help people in some way. It could be as simple as reversing a stereotype. In the end, I pick destinations I am interested in, which could be why I keep going back to Italy and Europe. Like you, I don’t like being uncomfortable, but I always find myself changed by those bad travel experiences.

    • January 8, 2011 2:49 pm

      I completely agree Suzy. I love Europe as well and as I shared in an earlier comment, you can have fulfillment without purpose but you can’t have purpose without fulfillment. They do go together. And to have a purpose driven travel life, you don’t need to volunteer in the jungle. You just need to take what travel has taught you and share it with others. Than can be something like sharing trips to help others when they travel or supporting local businesses. There are so many ways to have purpose when you travel.

      I guess I was just saying that if all we do is travel for our own pleasure, never learn from our travels, and just want everywhere we go to just be the way we want it, then what is the point? I think there is something travel teaches us that we can use to give back to others. I guess it’s the “pay it forward” idea in travel.

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