A good friend and I were joking recently about why it is almost a law of nature that young people today will list travel as their top priority, far above things like financial success for example. He then turned the joke back around on me and said that I have no right to talk and that my travels probably set a bad example for some.
It’s partly true. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling over the last couple years. I’ve got over 386,000 “butt-in-seat” flying miles on Delta alone. I’ve spoken in Ukraine, Czech Republic, Iceland, Serbia, Brazil, Bosnia, Poland, and visited dozens of other places in the last two years. I’ll be visiting Tokyo later this month as well as New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. I understand the desire to travel, especially when you’ve been pent up in school you’re entire life like most of us were.
But I was also fortunate to learn some lessons very early on and to develop a healthier relationship to the travel question that allowed me to avoid some of the mistakes I see too many students make these days: inability to commit to jobs, FOMO, chronic lack of meaning, and general unreliability.
1. Travel alone will not fix your problems. There’s a good story I learned from Montaigne’s essay On Solitude about a traveler who complains to Socrates that his friend was “unchanged by his travels.” Socrates laughs knowingly and tells the traveler “of course he was unchanged. He took himself along with him.” 
As comforting as it can be to blame our problems on external circumstance, the truth is that we are often far more to blame than we think. Young people think they can escape the challenges at home by traveling but they underestimate the degree to which they themselves, by being themselves, create those challenges.
The Roman poet Horace asked the question when remarking on people who seem compelled to travel,
Why do we leave for lands warmed by a foreign sun? What fugitive from his own land can flee from himself?
And Emerson wrote,
I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, the sad self, unrelenting identical that I fled from.
Travel can remove you from a bad situation, true, but unless you remove those parts of the bad situation that are inside of you, nothing will change. Travel will not save you if you cannot save yourself.
And even if you aren’t running away from anything, you just want “more” than what you are now, travel cannot help you by itself. Whether you are in Rome, Italy or Rome, Georgia you will find that you are fundamentally the same person and that only you can change that.
2. Travel is a tool, not an end. 80% or more of the travel I do these days is related directly to work or some intellectual/financial goal. Besides the big tax write-offs, there’s a reason for this: unfocused travel leads to unfocused results. I’ve done the whole “let’s just show up in Paris!” thing before and it works far less often than people pretend it does.
When I was in my brief “travel for travel’s sake” stage that all the teen movies tell you is what life is about, I would almost always come home disappointed in myself. I would feel like I should have gotten something more out of the trip.
Once I realigned my expectations so that travel became a means to accomplishing very specific, very deliverable ends like giving a talk, meeting a client or friend, seeing a speaker, learning, or experiencing something, the quality of my traveling improved and so did the rest of my life.
As Ryan Holiday, the author and marketer wrote,
Travel…should be part of your life, no better or no worse than the rest of your life.
I didn’t have to make the terrible choice many young people have to make between having a serious career and traveling because I found opportunities to travel for work. In Prague, I met with customers and potential customers. In Iceland, I spoke at the University of Reykjavik. And in Tokyo, I’ll be meeting with some of my readers on this blog, potential clients and becoming more knowledgable about the Bitcoin Cash industry. You can do this too if you’re creative.
I suggest to anyone who wants to travel but has no definite plans of any kind: wait a bit. Find a way to make your travel productive and you can have the best of both worlds with far less downside than your average hostel hopper. It will be so much better.
3. Meaning is created, not experienced. As I look back over the last few years about the things that really gave my life meaning, very little of it has to do with travel directly.
I’ve had some incredible experiences to be sure: hot springing at midnight in Iceland, renting a house with my friends/colleagues on a private beach in Ecuador, and making friends with wonderful host family in Poland are a few.
But the experiences alone can’t give you meaning. You create meaning through the process of taking an abstract vision and making it real, over and over again. For me, that’s my work at Praxis and with the business clients I work with. It’s the talks I’ve been fortunate to be able to give around the world and the writing I do.
Travel could never replace that. “All travel, no work would make Derek a dull boy,” so to speak, or as Ayn Rand wrote in The Virtue of Selfishness
Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values.
So by all means travel, but don’t make the mistake most young people make and forget that if you want meaning, you’re going to have to create it, and it’s probably going to be a lot of work.
To me, there is more to admire in the person (and more meaning to be found) writing their novel from Jackson, Mississippi than the person taking mindless photos at a museum somewhere or hopping from country to country because they want to “find themselves.”
Remember that during your travels, and enjoy. 
 This general idea can be found everywhere in ancient literature. From Confucius: “Wherever you go, there you are.” From Lucretius: “Thus each man flees himself.” From Seneca: “And so we must realize that our difficulty is not the fault of the places but of ourselves.”
 For a followup to this essay, read Travel doesn’t make you special.