Travel — WHY Do We Risk Money, Time, Energy, and Love?

Why Travel?
Mike in Sophia, Bulgaria, 2013

WHY do we travel? We spend most of our time planning the logistics — the where, when, who, and how. Yet, it’s the WHY that provides us the happiness.

So, why do my partner, Mike, and I travel?
At first, we thought it was just a matter of definition. Travel meant one thing, journey, another.

Actually, lots of words (tourism, sightseeing, travel, journey, tour, take a trip, globetrotting, gallivant, peregrinate, sightsee, wandering, odyssey, trek, expedition, gadabout and perambulation (among others) mean the same thing. The words to describe travel differ in the details — length, location, or inclusion of leisure or pleasure.

One of our first trips, to the South American countries of Curacao and Suriname (2002), was after my father’s death to visit his birthplace and island where he lived as a young man. We applied one dictionary definition and found it fit some of the trip — it was certainly leisurely and pleasurable for the parts where we sat on the beach drinking cocktails and watching the sunset. But that description didn’t always fit this trip. I felt sadness when we buried my father’s ashes and excitement when I met for the first time members of my extended family.

We got closer to understanding WHY we travel when we looked at what we wanted to accomplish.

For the trip to Belize (2004) with my 12-year-old son, we planned to lounge, swim, and play. We also wanted to expose him to another culture. Belize provided a life-experience component as my son haggled with a local merchant over the price of a necklace and determined he would NOT swim with the stingrays however much touted by the tourists.

We emphasized the exposure component further when we added in service and volunteering.

On our trip to Guatemala (2005), we traveled with a non-profit organization (PAVA) to put together a fund-raising video. We shot footage of past PAVA projects, which allowed us to meet Guatemalans involved with the organization’s programming. We pushed well beyond the tourism sector with this project that continued for another three months back at home while we translated, edited, and produced the finished piece. The extra time and effort revealed another component of the answer to WHY we travel — passion.

Mike, a sociologist, and I, a social artist, share an enthusiasm for people and their places. We want to know about the individual and group and the influences of history, environment, language, ethnicity, religion, and mores that help to shape each.

Passion drives our process on a day-to-day basis — why should it differ on holiday? If our objective in life is to be happy, then it’s logical to include our individual passions and process to get there on our journeys away from home.

It seems obvious that if I’m not a golfer, I would be crazy to plan two weeks of golf for my vacation. Similarly, if engaging strangers on bus benches here in Milwaukee fuels my fire, why would I not include some of that when traveling?

Mike and I found we plan and travel in both individual and shared ways. Before our sojourns, Mike reads. While we travel, he watches and looks. He swears he never talks to anyone as he takes a trip as he’s too busy viewing the environment, natural or manmade. But, I’ve seen him: he interviews. Uncannily, he finds an author, a playwright, a book-store owner who will sit and discuss their theories about the local people. “How does their dislike of _____ affect the culture?” or “How did they respond to _______?”

Meanwhile, I read little. I’m in charge of the logistics that take up a ton of time and energy. Upon arrival, I observe for a while, then, I engage with everyone I can — it doesn’t matter a bit if we speak the same language. We pantomime thoughts; we create something together (art, food, an outing); ultimately we exchange our values. Then I layer in Mike’s summary statement (gathered from the people he’s interviewed). The combination helps me form a statement in my head that I re-present as a photo, a video, or written story.

Our trip to China and Japan (2006) followed the pattern above; our first trip to Haiti (2007) did as well. The latter morphed into something larger. We created a non-profit organization that partnered for six years with an agriculturally-based village to develop leadership and economic independence. That odyssey resulted in a book (GIVE & TAKE) and my blog.

A few years ago, Mike and I went to Eastern Europe. Before we left, we had a stated objective: to understand how Eastern Europeans viewed the Roma (often referred to as Gypsies). The process took place over that summer. The outcome was less structured than from other trips, but just as satisfying: we have a small printed book on our living room shelf, and a few blogged stories.

Now, 15 years later, the WHY we travel is a pretty standard answer for Mike and me. Happily our trip will be successful.

Mike and I are in the midst of preparing for our next gadabout. And, I admit, it’s those pesky logistics that give us the greater trouble.


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Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist, story-teller, and author of “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website,

Copyright @2016: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.

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