Yesterday I wrote down some thoughts I’ve had about travel as a way to respond to the students and young professionals I meet at conferences, universities, on social media, and here on the blog who list travel as their top priority in life. It’s often I hear questions from the younger people in an audience that imply traveling regularly makes you a sort of hero, and I wanted to respond to that feeling.
One of the points I should have made more clear in the essay is that travel as travel is the easy choice and it doesn’t make you special on its own, particularly in today’s world. This goes contrary to the cheesy lifestyle design ads and blog posts we’ve grown so used to seeing on Facebook and YouTube blogs where travel is made out to be THE thing to do, I know.
I shared the essay on Facebook on a friend of mine, Clark Ruper, commented the following on that point, which I think is brilliant:
Well put. One of things I laugh about most from my bachelor days was scanning OkCupid and seeing 95% of profiles listing Travel as something super important to them. I couldn’t eye roll hard enough. No shit you like to travel, a vast majority of young relatively well off people do. That doesn’t make you special or interesting in the least, and the picture of you with a sedated tiger in Thailand is not helping.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to travel. I want to travel. I did it so much over the last few years I could fly for free on a normal schedule with my points for the next few years. Everyone I know wants to travel and that’s the point. To make it the key thing by which you identify, to act like it’s something unique to you, to use it as a substitute to real world accomplishments, is self indulgent in a bad way and it does not have the positioning power it once might have had. It can be one part of being interesting, but a smaller part than we like to think.
Clark goes on:
You are interesting if you have actually accomplished something in your life, and these days flying around the world is a really low bar.
Travel is not a hard thing to do these days. Overall life mobility is increasing, costs of travel are going down, and the world is becoming more well connected daily. I flew from Iceland to Brazil to Bosnia to Mississippi last year all fairly cheaply and with no hassle besides some jet lag. If you’re choosing travel as the highest bar of achievement you can reach, you’ve chosen a low bar. You aren’t Columbus or Magellen, you’re a 21st century digitally connected person with access to an abundance of wealth, luxury, technology and ease that has never before been seen. And its rare I meet someone in the US who has not left the country at least once.
Travel can bring a ton of excitement and energy to your life. It can be a tool to achieve new personal and professional ends. You can learn a lot. But with rare, rare exception can it to make you special by itself.
I read a great quote about this by Mozart  a few years ago that writing this essay has recalled to mind:
A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not…
So where does that leave the would-be-traveler? Travel! Have fun! See the world! But don’t expect it to do all the hard work for you of developing yourself into something capable, competent, interesting, and productive.
People didn’t read Christopher Hitchens because he was well-traveled, but because he had something they thought was worth saying. People don’t look at Steve Jobs as a technology hero because he took a guru trip to India, but because of the products he helped build and market. Ayn Rand, one of my favorite authors and thinkers, never traveled out the US after she escaped Soviet Russia. She’s remembered for writing some of the most influential novels in American literature.
And that should be where you set your sights. Let travel be a backdrop to an otherwise interesting and productive life, not an end all be all, but a means to something bigger.
These days my priorities focus exclusively on making new things, managing existing things, and developing myself intellectually and financially. Travel often factors into that but not always, and if I had to give it up for all that I would.
 I unfortunately cannot source this quote. It could be apocryphal.