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Why We Travel

Ask almost any recent college graduate (including yours truly) what their plans are for the future, and you’ll most likely hear some permutation of “traveling” as one of their top goals. Whether that traveling entails service in the Peace Corps, RTW personal odysseys, or moving to make a new life in a foreign country for few years, they’re heading out in into what some social scientists term a “fourth world” made up of perpetual vagabonds. In the past few decades, mirrored by the rise in popularity of backpacker travel guides and independent travel websites, seeing the world has gone from being a luxury to a seeming necessity. Young and the young at heart are packing up and taking off by the thousands, fueled by far more than a vague notion of finding themselves and rejecting corporate capitalism. And it’s certainly not only guide books, cheaper tickets, or the internet that’s primarily motivating this “fourth world” to strap on their boots and head out the door. So what is it? What compels us to turn our worlds, quite literally, upside down?

Anyone entering a new phase of their lives in today’s world is faced with a dizzying array of options and choices – exponentially more than even a decade prior. Along with the ridiculous amount of opportunities, however, comes that much more pressure and competition. Find the right job, go to the right school – all the things the next generation are always expected to do but now in a world that is simultaneously more complicated but easier than ever to navigate. So how to make sense of it – what are you supposed to do when everyone keeps saying you can do anything? For many, their answer is to head out and actually experience the global world we live in. Traveling is our generation’s way of making sense of the changing world and attempting to find our own definition of it, allowing us to get a handle on all those choices to make in our own lives.

And it has nothing to do with “delaying” the real world. Well, maybe that’s not quite true, but it usually has a lot more to do with trying to find the real world – the one you want to live in and that makes sense for how you want to live your life. Traveling, in a sense, can be one of the most essential steps to take in becoming a responsible citizen of the world. If there are so many new and different opportunities than ever before, why should you be expected to take advantage of them by following the traditional route of going to college, finding a good job, and settling down?

And lets not forget that ubiquitous “global perspective” that’s so valued in the business and political world. There’s not really any way to gain that perspective without actually removing yourself from your home country, and that travel experience will stay with you throughout the rest of your life. So for all you worrying about starting a career as soon as possible, traveling and working abroad is possibly the best preparation there is for embarking on a life back home – or anywhere. For a generation that is consistently lambasted for our apathy, we are pretty passionate about getting out there and seeing the world. Perhaps we’re all a little overwhelmed by all those choices everyone keeps throwing at us, and that seeming political or social apathy simply means we haven’t quite made up our minds yet and need to get out into the world to do so. The world’s a big place, and with every increase in travel and communication technology, things that were once crystal clear for our parents get a little more blurry for us. Everyone who has traveled comes back with an increased global consciousness, and that global consciousness is what will change our world for the better.

And somewhere mixed in with all this global responsibility and making sense of the world, there’s that same youthful drive for adventure, fun, and new experiences that characterizes anyone heading out to make their way in life. It’s simply that what was once accomplished by moving to the “big city” or spending a few weeks in Italy now means traveling to Southeast Asia or teaching English in Africa. Most people I know who are heading out to travel have bigger aims in mind than just having fun, but they’re certainly not going to forget about it while they’re out there.

So maybe it’s a little glamorous to characterize the recent travel phenomenon as a new generation of classical wandering scholars trying to learn about the world, but why not? Most of our academic, social, political, and even personal concerns (even if we aren’t quite sure what those concerns are yet) extend beyond ourselves and our own country. A close friend who wants to work in conservation biology is deeply divided about the often opposing concerns of social welfare and conservation in undeveloped countries and can’t embark on her career until she travels and finds a way to ethically reconcile these differences. We aren’t alone anymore, and traveling is our way of taking the first step in embracing that fact.

So, tickets are cheaper, traveling is safer, and there are more and more organizations that cater to the backpacker looking to tour, teach, volunteer, or work in foreign countries. So get out there and enjoy. There’s no better time than the present to head out there and start experiencing the world, one student ticket at a time.