I’m growing sour on travel. I have always disliked it. When I was a kid my parents took us all over Europe and the Caribbean, and it really exhausted me. Now that I’m a grown up, I am better able to articulate why I think travel is a waste of time. Here are four reasons why I think the benefits of travel are largely delusional:
1. There are more effective ways to try new things.
While it’s true that learning and broadening your experience is important, doing that one time is quite different from consistently integrating something new into your life. It’s low risk to try something for a week. Which will make more impact on your life: going to Africa for a week and seeing wildlife and living in the jungle, or retooling your weekly schedule so that you take a walk through your local forest preserve once a week? You will have a stronger connection to the forest preserve than the jungle, and you will have a deeper sense of how it grows and changes and how you respond. So if you hope that travel will change how you see the world, doing something each week to see the world differently will have more impact than doing it one time, seven days in a row.
2. Cultural differences are superficial. Economic differences matter.
Don’t tell yourself you travel to learn about different cultures. Because you don’t necessarily learn from people in other cultures. And you don’t need to leave the US to find cultures different from your own.
Frans Johansson writes about diversity, and he says that race is not a indicator of diversity any more—background is. And the most diverse backgrounds come from economic disparity. So a rich white person and a poor white person are more different than a rich white person and a rich black person.
I think this is true across cultures as well. I had a South African roommate in college. But she was just like me: rich, white, Jewish. But when I lived on a French farm for a summer, the big difference between me and the farm family wasn’t that they were French. It was that they were living on a farm. I know this because when they figured out I was unhappy, they sent me to live with their cousins in Lyon—a large city in France—and the cousins were just like me.
3. People who love their lives don’t leave.
Imagine if you were excited to get out of bed every day because you had structured your life so that every day was full of what you have always dreamed of doing. And you were in love with your boyfriend, and your job, and your new handstand in yoga. You love it all—imagine that. Would you want to leave all that behind for two weeks? What would be the point? You’d have more fun at home than away from home. So instead of traveling somewhere, how about figuring out what you’d really love to be doing with your time, and do that? In your real, day-to-day life.
4. Travel is not the time to do deep thinking.
People who need an escape so they can think deeply actually need to add that to their daily life. How about setting aside time to think deeply every few days? Sam Anderson suggests in his article in New York magazine that meditation is so important that people are going to start making time for it in the same way we make time for exercise now. So maybe that travel bug you are feeling is actually a give-me-headspace bug, and if you think you need it only for a couple of weeks, you’re wrong. You need time to think each day. Re-craft your days to honor that need, instead of running away for what can only be a temporary respite.
My guess is that the things you are aiming to accomplish while you travel are generally things you could accomplish on a deeper level if you stayed home and made changes to your life instead of running away. Routine and practice are the keys to giving deeper meaning to your life. Sure, disrupting routine is important for gaining new perspective. But you certainly don’t need to travel to the next country. There is plenty that is new right where you are now. Just look closely.