International Travel: Escape or Enlightenment?

enlightened slacker?

Travel to any global vagabonder magnet – Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Paris – you name it, and you are bound to come across a bunch of seriously confused, unemployed 20 somethings traveling on their parents’ dime and clueless as to what they are doing in life.  Start a conversation with them in hostels or streetside cafes and the picture quickly emerges:  They just finished college or are taking a break from school.  The job market sucks so they are stalling on finding a job and are instead traveling while they are still young and can do it.  They just got laid off and are drifting on severance pay.  They’ve rejected the 9-5 rat race and are now out to live on as little as possible and really enjoy life far from the distractions of the corporate grind.  Travel is a way to put off the nasty realities of life.  It’s the grand escape.

The Enlightened Traveler

Then there is the enlightened traveler.  To this type, travel is not an escape.  It is a deliberate life growth decision. For this kind of purposeful vagabonder, travel is a way to grow.  It is often well planned out – if not in terms of specific itinerary, more so in the sense that it was premeditated.  It was planned for financially.  It was a lifestyle decision.  A rejection of the suffocating norm.  An embrace of diversity.  A look into how much more life and the world has to offer.

The Grand Decision

The fact that both kinds of travelers are out there and the fact that we as travelers or internationally-minded lifestyle designers have a choice of how to live speaks to the richness of options out there.  Travel can be incredibly enriching or it can be a complete drain of resources.  You can emerge refreshed or financially and emotionally broke.  The grand decision lies with us.

Head in the Sand

The answer should not be to ignore the question.  I’ve talked to friends and colleagues that can see very little point in traveling or investing in an international broadening of horizons.  Why spend your money on travel when you could use it to enhance the day-to-day?  What’s so great about being somewhere else.? Why give up control, risk your own security and step out of your comfort role unless you need to?

Try It

Part of me says that if you have to ask these kinds of questions you are better off staying at home.  But the more hopeful side of me says that the response should be “just try it.”  Try traveling.  See if you can resist getting hooked on the thrill of adventure – the surge of adrenaline that comes with discovery – of the world and of yourself.  See if you can ever look at life and home the same way after you have experienced the chaotic beauty of the exotic urban capitol that is Bangkok.  See if a trip to the Vatican doesn’t inspire an awestruck appreciation for unmatched scale, class and architecture.  Go volunteer at an orphanage in Mexico and see if you don’t come back with a fresh perspective on life.  In short, see if you are ever the same again after giving yourself up to a genuine experience of travel, of “otherness” – even just once.

Grow Intentionally

No, the question of whether to gain or to lose from travel does not come from staying put.  It comes partly from trial and error but more so from a much deeper place.   Do you want to experience the best that the world has to offer?   Do you want to drink deeply of the richness in life?  Do you want to be transformed into someone that is more self-aware, compassionate, open-minded, tolerant and understanding?  Then choose to travel with these transformational qualities at you core.  Decide that whether it be a long weekend or a multi-year global trek, you will make travel the greatest growth experience of your life.

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Bjorn Karlman

7 thoughts on “International Travel: Escape or Enlightenment?”

  1. As a future global traveler, I’m terrified that the unemployed vagabonder might rob me and take my stuff. How do I meet financialy well-off diversity-embracing enlightened travelers? (that have nice stuff) :)

  2. “A rejection of the suffocating norm… A look into how much more life and the world has to offer.” — like a punch in the gut, his is actually what’s making me sleepless for the past 3 weeks now.

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