How to Travel with Purpose

How to Travel with Purpose

In a few days time, I will be embarking on a ten day excursion to Italy.

Growing up, traveling to Europe seemed like a dream, something out of reach financially.  As I grew older, I came to realize that Europe is quite cheap, as long as you know how to go about planning a trip. Now 29, I understand the immense value that travel brings to my life.

As a perfectionist, so I always struggle to know when “enough is enough.” It’s no different when it comes to planning a vacation – I usually go over the top, combing over every detail; fearful I will miss a landmark, restaurant, or event. I fear missing out on something and not doing my best. For the past few years, I’ve worked diligently on this fault, teaching myself that everything doesn’t always need to be regimented, perfect, and flawless.

Our best effort is enough, because it means we have given all that we have. This applies to perfectionists like me, but also to anyone who works hard to be the best versions of themselves each day.

I’ve allowed myself to take a step back to reflect what lies ahead on my trip. When I think of Italy, I think Roman Empire, art, religion; paradise for a history connoisseur such as myself. But, with any trip, there has to be balance and purpose. 

I want to see the best of what Italy has to offer. But I also want to lose myself in the moment; to wander and enjoy the randomness of a new place. I don’t want to have a regimented vacation that borders on the extreme. Rushing around from site to site does nothing but create stress – taking the fun and relaxation out of the trip.

How to Travel with Purpose (Italy)
Trevi Fountain (Rome)

Travel with Purpose

I frequent the writings of Ryan Holiday, who has discussed travel several times on his blog. In one of the articles, Holiday  writes around a central theme:

Travel in and of itself does nothing for us.

You see, most people travel to escape a poorly designed life. And that’s all it is really – an escape. The belief that leaving a stressful, unhappy life will help make things better, even if only for a few days. This may work in the short term, but will make no impact in the long term.

Travel can be similar to a splurge on something you really want. In the short-term, you’ll experience a high of excitement and anticipation. But like most acts of consumption, it quickly wears off. Travel is no different – as you will feel great as you get away from your issues, only to return and be back to square one. That is why you must travel with purpose.

People treat vacations as an escape – no different than TV, video games, porn, and other time-wasting activities. Once you return to your everyday life, the toxic situation you left will still be there. The same negative emotions will consume you, and your unhappiness will continue. Travel will not change this.

That is why it’s important to work on yourself and your fulfillment. In the past, I’ve explained how it’s a poor decision to get into a relationship if you feel empty inside. Travel is no different. You need to get your own house in order first before you go and book a vacation to distract you from reality.

Seth Godin Quote

When you do travel, make sure you take time to reflect on your experience. Think about the why. Use the time away to engage your mind, not forget about your troubles. A new location can spur creative thoughts and ideas by removing yourself from the clutter of routine and overburden.

The key is to immerse yourself in your experience.

Engage fully with your surroundings.

Lose yourself, both mentally and physically.

Wander and get lost.

More than anything, take in your surroundings – the air you breathe, the sky above you, the people, the language – and reflect on your own life and its meaning.

Pictures are nice, but memories are better. Believe it or not, the mind is the best camera you have. Use it well. Put your obsession with technology aside and unplug – even if it’s just a few hours – just you and your mind, silence and reflection. There is no better feeling.

When traveling to a new city or country, have a plan but be flexible. Be ready to deviate and accommodate randomness. Too strict a routine takes away from the experience. Getting lost in the streets of an unfamiliar city is an exciting endeavor.

In the above mentioned article, Ryan Holiday also suggests something unique that I hadn’t thought of before; going for a run upon arriving at your hotel. There seems like no better way to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Instead of fumbling around with a map, hit the pavement and get a feel for the area and where things are. You’ll see and appreciate more. I’m anxious to try this when I get to Italy.

Hallowed Ground

In a separate article, Holiday discusses the concept of “hallowed ground.”

Here is his explanation from the article:

“The battlefield at Vicksburg. The canals and palazzos of Venice. The forum in Rome. The streets of Tombstone. Old South Meeting House in Boston, the grounds of Harvard. The Hangman’s Elm in Washington Square Park. I’ve spent a lot of time in the American South. Part of the reason I like it is for its hallowed ground potential. Huey Long trained at the gym where I work out. As far as I know, the heavy bag I hit is still in the same place he learned to box. The building I write this in is 200 years old. How many people have passed through it? Wasted time? Enjoyed themselves?

Hallowed ground can be any site or location of significance which links us to the people and events which have come before us. The world is vast, and with it, so is our history.

Places like the Roman Forum, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu to lesser known locations such as streets, graveyards, and birthplaces – all serve as hallowed ground – a place for us to connect to the past.

Find a hallowed ground near you. Now close your eyes and imagine being in the middle of a celebration, tragedy, or spectacle; members of a long gone society. It is on this hallowed ground where we can reflect on the past, and more importantly, our place in the future.

Travel with Purpose - Roman Colosseum
Colosseum (Rome)

We live and we die. We are but a small blip in the history of humanity. Contribute our share to the world and be content with our best efforts. Such is our lot in life. Use travel to visualize those who have gone before us, and the remnants they have left for us to enjoy. This is no different than how our innovations and creations will be enjoyed by future generations. Maybe you will create a hallowed ground that is revered by people in the future.

Understand humility, but embrace abundance. Life is often incomprehensible; it’s tough to fathom our history and the scale in which we have advanced as a species. Billions of people have come before us. Billions more will come after us.

As Holiday says,

“They have no idea that you exist, but you know that they did. Embrace the power of this position and learn from it. It is an exhilarating moment, let it propel you.”

Bottom Line

Travel to grow, not to escape.

Embrace history and realize we are a microscopic sample of humanity’s grace.

Try unusual things.

Get lost.


Throw your schedule in the trash, and simply wander. Check out hallowed ground, and imagine yourself as a spectator at the Gettysburg Address or in the Roman Colosseum. Feel yourself in the moment. Mental visualization and deep thinking are crucial for your brain and more importantly, creative thought.

It’s up to us to make life worthwhile – to pursue challenging experiences that fulfill our raw desires. Fulfillment begins with yourself, and no travel or distraction can change this. Once you are settled as the person who want to become, then it’s okay to embrace travel.

Travel with purpose and your satisfaction will be everlasting.

Take care.

Screenshot 2015-11-21 at 12.56.17 PM

How do you like to travel? Share with me below!

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