Why Travel With a Purpose?
“People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life.… I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
For me, the true purpose of travel is to feel “the rapture of being alive” that Joseph Campbell talked about. In the chaos and haste of our everyday lives, we survive by falling back on habitual ways of thinking and doing. Leaving all that behind and venturing into the unknown on a physical level, we open our hearts and minds to the world in fresh and vigorous ways. That’s when our inner and outer perspectives begin to align, and we feel the first stirrings of joy. And this is where things get interesting.
“The point of travel is to help us in our inner evolution,” says The Point of Travel video. “Every location in the world contains qualities that could support some kind of beneficial change inside a person.” Often that change is a simple one, such as feeling more rested or getting away from the office while we still cling to a few shreds of sanity and are able to refrain from throwing the stapler at the wall — or a colleague. In these uncertain times, we may need to refresh our souls by looking at objects of surpassing beauty that have endured for centuries so we can reconnect with our own resilience and sense of wonder
On my journeys, the most powerful transcendent moments happen when I connect with people. And that happens far more easily when I am traveling with a purpose. What kind of purpose? That’s different for everyone, of course, and it certainly doesn't need to be anything too grand or complicated. You might want to learn a little conversational Spanish, do volunteer work, or visit some of the dive bars you frequented in your misspent youth. Whatever your goal, you’ll find having one opens doors and creates conversations you’d never expect. During last summer’s Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, everyone I met wanted to tell me about the traditional dishes of their childhood. Cooks invited me into their kitchens, introduced me to their families, and shared stories, recipes, and dreams.
One of the best ways to plunge into a culture is through work, whether paid or unpaid. Twenty-three years ago, Rich and I started volunteering with a couple of organizations that sent us to the Republic of Georgia, El Salvador, Kenya, Mexico, and Bosnia. Our goal was to provide basic business advice to struggling microenterprises. We’d spend weeks or months working with post-Soviet medical groups trying to navigate the transition to a capitalist system or assisting sewing collectives struggling to survive as cheap Chinese imports flooded into town. In the off hours, we’d get to know our hosts, their families, and their communities, enjoying many convivial evenings swapping stories and learning local drinking customs.
The organizations that we worked for no longer have active volunteer programs, but there are plenty of others on the lookout for an extra pair of hands. For instance, Habitat for Humanity, which helps people in disadvantaged neighborhoods build new homes for their families, now operates in 70 countries. Last summer, Rich and I spent a day working at a soup kitchen in Athens operated by the worldwide Catholic relief organization Caritas. If you Google volunteer programs, you’ll find countless listings, many of which provide excellent opportunities. But of course, you’ll want to use your consumer skepticism to investigate them thoroughly. Some charge a participation fee, and you certainly don’t want to pay big bucks to spend your time on a project of dubious utility.
Not all purposes have to be serious or even sensible. Rich has (and I say this lovingly) a peculiar and deep-seated obsession with luggage-free travel. He adores the feeling of freedom that comes from moving through the world unencumbered. And although it took him twenty years to convince me to try it, I find I like it, too, for shorter journeys. So far we’ve made luggage-free trips to France, Kosovo, Albania, and a haunted hotel in Santa Rosa, California, and I don’t have to be a psychic to predict there are more coming up in my future.
And speaking of the future, just this morning I stumbled across an alarming article that said, “Purpose is the latest business buzzword and it appears to be driving genuine change in the tourism industry.” Oh dear God, I thought. What fresh hell is this? Even our spiritual goals are being prepackaged and turned into marketable commodities by the tourism industry? Yep, apparently so. “This prompted travel brands to reposition themselves as organizations working to contribute to create a better world, rather than exploit it. Their focus is now about Purpose, with a capital ‘P.’” So there you have it, my friends. Super savvy industry marketers, knowing the number of international tourists is projected to hit 2 billion this year, are poised to compete for your purpose-driven travel dollars. Read the fine print and reviews Carefully, with a capital “C.”
No one knows what the future will bring, and in these days of alarming headlines and the commercialization of everything, it’s more important than ever to find honest, meaningful ways to embrace the world and love the human race, looney as it is. As a traveler, you shape the quality of your inner and outer journeys. “The big question,” said Joseph Campbell, “is whether you’re going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
After I published this, a reader named Debbi wrote to ask if I'd share Carlotta's video. Here it is! It's one of my faves. You can almost smell that sausage risotto cooking...
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1/28/2020 05:58:03 pm
What a great post! I've always loved your quote about traveling in order to return home and see the world through fresh eyes.
1/29/2020 07:35:55 pm
Thanks, Kate, glad you liked the post. I think the quote you mean is this one from TS Elliot: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." A major favorite of mine! I think of it every time I walk through my front door after a long journey.
1/28/2020 09:08:38 pm
We are coming to Sevilla 2/3 - 3/3 and then on to other parts of Spain. I have enjoyed your books and blogs taking notes about apps and joined InterNations. Thank you.
1/29/2020 07:39:01 pm
Wonderful, Julia! I hope you love Seville as much as I do. You're arriving at the perfect time — the first hint of spring is in the air and there's a festive atmosphere without the madness of the big festivals that happen later. Enjoy your time! If you're looking for ideas, visit the Enjoy the Best of Seville page on my website: https://www.enjoylivingabroad.com/enjoy-the-best-of-seville.html
1/28/2020 11:44:01 pm
“Expansive” is the word that comes to mind for me...think it was Hemingway who said “Not traveling is like buying a book and reading only the first page”.
1/29/2020 07:42:30 pm
What a lovely quote, Faye! Sounds like Hemingway. But it may also be a version of "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" which is attributed to everyone from St. Augustine to Mark Twain. I actually like yours (or Hemingway's) better. The part about "reading only the first page" seems very apt.
1/29/2020 08:02:19 pm
Thanks Karen! Sounds more like mark Twain & perhaps H. borrowed from him! St Augustine...not so much!!! Ha ha!
1/29/2020 08:49:54 pm
Whoops...indeed attributed to Augustine...he was born in 354...how much did people really travel then.?....or at least not very far or very often...unless heads of church or state,etc
1/29/2020 12:15:17 am
“On every journey, you must die once. The person who arrives should not be the person who left.” Tibetan proverb.
1/29/2020 07:45:18 pm
I love that Tibetan proverb, Angela! It is so true. If we aren't changed by our journeys, what would be the point of taking them? Thank you so much for sharing that quote with me. And for sharing my stuff with your 95 year old friend. I wish I could be there to hear your discussions about traveling the world. I'll be he has plenty to say.
1/29/2020 01:44:06 pm
Is there any chance you could share Carlotta’s video?
1/29/2020 07:52:09 pm
Debbi, I just posted it at the end of this article. Enjoy!
1/29/2020 07:06:36 pm
Wonderful article that touches close to my heart and is bringing tears to my eyes. I love that you cover the giving parts and the sheer enjoyment of travel. After Singapore and the Maldives, I am happy to go back to Nica to my rural NGO and work with the kids whose goal is getting an education and giving back to their communities.
1/29/2020 07:53:44 pm
Working with a rural NGO in Nicaragua must be incredibly rewarding, Kitty! I'm so glad you have found a way to give back to the world. In these uncertain times, it's more important than ever that we find ways to help one another, wherever we are.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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