Why Do We Travel? – Part One

What drives us to ditch the daily grind and travel? We all have our own reasons, I imagine. We abandon the safety of our own shores to discover new wonders, to see whether the stories we have heard are true, or simply seek to get lost in a labyrinth of strange new experiences.

Travel can unlock something hidden inside ourselves. On our journeys we often feel like completely different people. Limitless possibilities stretch out ahead of us. What makes travel so intriguing though?

Borgesian Labyrinths

“I am not sure that I exist, actually.” Said the writer Jorge Luis Borges. “I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”

You may not agree with Borges’ ideas on identity, but it is difficult to argue that the places we visit do not leave at least a subtle impact on us. But to what degree can travelling change us and is that part of the reason we do it?

Borges’ works often use labyrinths as metaphors for the mysteries of reality. A good book can be a door into the corridors of the mind, for example, and for Borges even concepts such as time and space become invisible mazes.

Although these metaphors may seem overwrought for a weekend of pub crawls and vomiting in party hostel toilets, I feel his ideas about labyrinths go some way to describe the longing for mystery and discovery that motivates travel for me.

Consider that the most beautiful and interesting parts of cities can often be the labyrinthine passageways of its historic core – from Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic to the Medina of Marrakesh. In terms of travel, the metaphor extends beyond the physical. We often experience confusion as we venture into lands of foreign languages, customs and visions of reality.

The thrill of the maze, I feel, is the voyage into the unknown. We become absorbed in uncovering its hidden order. At some point we are bound to become completely lost, but then a glimmer of hope emerges, as the path finally becomes clear.

But continuing with this metaphor, do we as travellers really alter ourselves as we familiarize ourselves with the unknown? Labyrinths and mazes have been a philosophical symbol of an inner journey since time immemorial. The descent into the self and return with a greater understanding of its passageways can be both terrifying and liberating – travel as spiritual journey is a well-trodden idea, but no less true.

Adventure Is In the Eye of the Beholder

But so what? Can our journeys really inspire meaningful changes in our view of the world? Is the reality that of Marcel Proust’s idea, that discovery is based not on seeking out new landscapes but seeing with new eyes?

Travel is not necessary for this kind of discovery of course, but who can argue that immersion in different cultures and worldviews is not likely to light a candle in those open to the possibility.

A sense of adventure does not require travel and indeed the feeling of adventure is largely self-created as any child playing make-believe knows.

There is a freedom in travel however, as we break out of our monotonous daily routines and thrust ourselves into a different experience of time and space itself.

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