Figure out your shit — before chasing travel blindly

I will try my best not be overly critical of what I am guilty of myself, but I’d like to say it out loud: Seek purpose in life, don’t chase travel blindly.

“man standing inside airport looking at LED flight schedule bulletin board” by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Yes — we’ve heard it too often — “Go travel to enrich yourself!” Our news feed is flooded with the message of travel and stories of our friends quitting their mediocre jobs to travel around the world. It’s an inspiring message — but it may not provide you the answers you want or the purpose you seek from life.

You see, travel in and of itself can have purpose and can be truly meaningful. Travel is an excellent way to learn about a place, a culture, its people— you can’t know history or geography, without having lived in that place. It gives you credibility through first hand knowledge.

But the problem I see now, is that people travel for the wrong reasons — some travel to seek inspiration, some to “figure shit out”, and others to shirk from responsibility. In fact, according to this psychologist, travel is sometimes associated with a sense of entitlement, or pleasure-seeking tendencies. Finally, many are simply travelling to document their lives on social media — instead of engaging with actual people and places.

In fact, people are so busy Instagramming their travels that they miss living in the present altogether. Travel is only meaningful if you are enriching yourself with the experience, rather than worrying about capturing it in pictures and blogs to gain more viewership. And even those who regularly do travel blogs, do see travel as a business — the rest is selling a story, so let’s be honest and not glorify Instagram travel.

Don’t get me wrong — I love traveling and there is a lot to gain from traveling. In fact, I chose my major in college, believing I would get one or two trips a year sponsored by our department. I was a deprived Pakistani, with a passport that allowed me to travel practically nowhere without going through visa ordeals, let alone the budget challenges. It so happened that I became a water engineer — and henceforth, made by way to places where mighty rivers flowed. During the day, I connected with the locals, and worked on exciting projects with excellent other practitioners. At night, I dined with those people, walked around the streets and sometimes — missed home. It was a fulfilling purpose that I had found, chasing something else. In due course, I began to abhor needless travel, instead seeking more joy from my visits to local communities and reservoirs, instead of touristy places. (In fact, I have yet to properly see Angkor Watt, though I’ve visited all the wastewater treatment facilities in all of Cambodia!)

Most of my travels, I’ve tried to pen down in my blog Galati Travels, but this was purely as a hobby not as a desire to gain viewership. Until someone told me this:

“Why don’t you start a side business as a travel blogger?”

The idea sounded too good to be true — after all, I get to travel for work anyways. Why not add another dimension to my work?

Then came the second piece of advice, which didn’t sound all that fun — all that stuff about how to make my travel blog more “marketable” (and in the process, less honest). In fact, another advice from a seasoned travel blogger which I’d never forget was:

“If you want to go viral, it’s all about quantity. Doesn’t matter what you write — just write regularly to get followers and viewers. After all, blogging is quantity over quality.”

I was appalled — because in the process of this blog business, I realized I was loosing the first reason why I wanted to travel. To connect with the place, and disconnect with social media. Sure, travel bloggers can encourage others to travel, and promote tourism, maybe even go and volunteer in those places — but what’s needed is advice to learn some useful skills to actually be useful to those communities. In fact, some of these activities can be extremely detrimental to the local communities.

The problem, I see, is that people look up to these travel bloggers for inspiration, hearing them talk about how travel enriches you, how its going to give you purpose in life and hence, solve your problems. The truth is — it’s not. Sure, travel can be used to learn about those who are impoverished and to find purpose by helping such people. Travel can be a tool for change — but its not gonna happen through vlogs or chasing followers. Trying to get more followers on Instagram — in my humble opinion — is bullshit in terms of value created in peoples lives and one’s own life.

You may find purpose while traveling, but you don’t have to travel to find purpose. Before you travel, be honest why you want to travel, how you think it should enrich you, and if you want to help the people in that place, make sure you are going there with the right skills, the education and the tools that will genuinely help the people in those countries.

And don’t believe that the only way to seek purpose in life is through travel.

There is really no better purpose, than creating value in someone else’s life — be it in your home — or abroad. You can seek purpose, in your own home, raising good children; in your own neighborhood, keeping it clean; in your own community by building a school; in your own country by engaging in public service.