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February 24, 2013 / A Mindful Traveler

Why Do You Travel?

Three years ago, I took the longest journey of my life.  A full day’s bus ride brought me from Bariloche to Buenos Aires.  This journey concluded four months in which I learned to speak Spanish fluently and saw a number of impressive sights. More importantly, I met several exceptional people.  This is not the story of that journey, but of a realization I gained years later because of it.  I owe this realization to someone I met on that bus trip…  and to you.  This realization is an understanding of why I travel.

I’ve long struggled to connect my interests in travel and meditation. At their best, both activities allow me  to see more things and to see them in sharper focus.  Vipassana, the type of meditation I practice, literally means “seeing clearly” in Pali, the language of the Buddha. I’ve found that travel has the same effect. I’ve realized that what’s important to me is not this enhanced sight, but the opportunities for engagement that it brings.

My new friend made his living by playing online poker, which allowed him to travel the world. We weren’t in touch again until he emailed me a month ago. He was planning an overland motorcycle trip from Vietnam to Portugal during which he intended to do research on human happiness. He was looking for leads. I directed him to Adam Pervez and wished him well.

What ensued was the most profound email correspondence I’ve ever been part of.  In the intervening years, he’d become a serious practitioner of vipassana and therefore had begun to travel in Southeast Asia, as I had just done.  He’d sat many meditation retreats, but had found himself drawn to practice engagement instead.

I didn’t fully understand what this meant until the exceptional comments I received on a post  last week led me into a number of fascinating conversations.  I understand now that I also travel in order to better engage other beings, both while traveling and at home.

Why do you travel?


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  1. tiramit / Feb 24 2013 2:37 pm

    One thing is that the outer world is seen to be changing and there’s something about that… it creates a resonance with me; ‘aniccan’: nothing in this world is permanent. If you’re travelling all the time, mindfulness is a necessity so you develop an alertness. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • A Mindful Traveler / Feb 25 2013 1:31 am

      Thank you for your comment tiramit! I connect very strongly with the concept of anicca in my daily life, but until you mentioned it here, I hadn’t connected it with my travels. Now that you mention it, however, my friend whom I wrote about above spoke of being aware of this connection during his time in Laos.

      Although he was only there on that one occasion, by encountering various years’ guidebooks and speaking to people, he developed a strong sense of how things were changing. Many people now speak of their perceived need to visit somewhere before it “changes.” (I hear Myanmar frequently described in this fashion.) I myself have engaged in this kind of somewhat selfish and unskillful thinking, in the hopes of being places before they become popular and expensive to visit.

      After your observation, I now understand why my friend responded in the negative when I asked whether I should visit Laos immediately before it was “spoiled.” (As I said, I spoke quite unskillfully.) He told me that while he appreciated the relative peace he encountered there, what he appreciated more was the awareness of change.

      Thank you so much for your observation and also for helping me to understand his.

      By the way, let me also take this opportunity to once again commend you for your wonderful blog and also commend readers to it 🙂

  2. ellatitman / Feb 25 2013 11:08 am


    I travel to connect with various experiences of ordinary daily life. I travel a distance and then stay for days, weeks or months. Ideally in a rental or a self-catering apartment. This way I have to go to the local shops. Get to cook with what is available. And I walk a lot: soaking the colours and behaviours. And the café’s. I am a café (chai whallah) dweller.

    The other way I travel is through art & crafts. I think these pieces are like condensed expression of someone’s experience of being (on behalf of many other people that share the experience).

    Thought provoking post. Thank you. I have learned something about myself as I considered your post/question. 🙂

    Can you say something , or add a link, about the practice of engagement. I am curious.

    • A Mindful Traveler / Feb 25 2013 11:35 am

      Thank you for your beautiful comment ellatitman! I appreciate your sharing your reasons for travel. I too really enjoy spending an extended period in a single place and walking. I love the way walking lets you see things at a human scale and a human speed.

      I found both of your reasons for travel quite intriguing. Living as much like a local as possible and traveling through a passion are both wonderful ways of exploring other cultures. It seems to me that you really are seeking to understand the places you go and cultures you experience in their terms and context. Out of curiosity, do you create arts and crafts, collect them, or both?

      Thank you very much indeed for your question about the practice of engagement. I plan to discuss my own practice of travel and engagement in my very next post 🙂

  3. ellatitman / Feb 25 2013 2:22 pm


    Human scale is a good way of putting it 🙂

    I studied art a long time ago but my life worked it’s way to a different path. I am very lucky to be surrounded by practicing artists.

    I look forwards to your post on the practice of engagement.



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