Why do I travel? What does traveling mean to me? Why is traveling great, and why is traveling overrated?
This is a personal essay, talking about my personal experiences on travel.
1. To make money / for work
First of all, I travel to make money. A large portion of my income (around 80%) comes from traveling and teaching workshops. Therefore, a part of the reason why I travel is tied to my income.
Also, Cindy’s research is overseas and abroad. We spent almost a year in Vietnam for her to do research in the archives in Hanoi and Saigon.
2. To learn about foreign cultures, and integrate the positive parts into my own life
For me, I love learning about new cultures, opening up my eye, and seeing how I can apply and integrate these lessons into my life. Some cultural lessons I’ve lesrned which I like:
- Omakase: “Chef knows best”—trusting the sushi chef to give you the best stuff on the menu, according to what the sushi chef thinks will be best for you. Not a spirit of arrogance, but of general compassion and love for the customer.
- Customer facing service: When you are handed your credit card, or a receipt, the workers always turn it to FACE YOU. In my life now, when I gifts (like books or prints), I always try to make it face my recipient.
- Small is beautiful: Living in a tiny Airbnb apartment in Kyoto, I realize I don’t need much space to be happy. Rather than desiring more space (like typical American) I try to better utilize the small space I already have. Lesson: Not desiring a big house or home. Having a preference for a smaller dwelling.
- Hustle: Vietnamese entrepreneurial spirit of hustle. Uber drivers drive 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I cannot complain that my work is too hard.
- Resourcefulness: Making the best of the things I already got. For example, Vietnamese are very good at recycling stuff for other purposes. For example, a carnival game that involves the plastic vegetable draining baskets to throw to catch toys. True innovation as making NEW PURPOSES with old things.
- No meals alone: All meals with friends or family. Vietnamese people are generally happy and joyful, because close to family. Very little social anxiety or isolation among Vietnamese people.
Critique of traveling to “experience culture”
I think to travel to just “experiencing” a foreign culture as a leisure activity is bad. Why? It’s like another form of consumerism… instead of buying a luxury good, you’re just consuming an experience for some sort of novelty.
My suggestion: When you travel and experience a new culture, figure out what you like and dislike from that culture, and figure out how to actually INTEGRATE or remove those cultural practices to your “real life” back home.
3. Living abroad vs “traveling”
One thing I realized— I like living abroad, and working abroad. Not to just travel for travel sake.
For example, when Cindy and I travel, we ALWAYS travel with a laptop, or devices which allow us to MAKE and CREATE things.
Living abroad is nice, because we must travel light, and not bring a lot of stuff. It reminds me:
I don’t need a lot of physical things to be happy.
Not only that, but the liberating feeling of living with few stuff. Fewer stuff, less choice anxiety.
Living abroad means no car. No stress of parking, paying insurance, maintainance, etc.
Living abroad means wearing the same all black outfit everyday. No stress.
Fewer distractions with stuff, which means more focus on creating stuff.
4. Studying philosophy vs traveling to “find yourself”
I no longer see traveling as “finding myself” or to simply “make good pictures”. Traveling hasn’t helped me find myself, my values, or beliefs. Rather, studying philosophy and just reflecting and meditating on my life experiences has helped me create my core values, and my ethics in terms of how I want to live my life.
I still think traveling is good to find a new perspective, and to break out of old habits. But I wish I knew traveling wasn’t the point of life, and traveling wouldn’t solve my life problems and dissatisfactions living back home.
5. Beginner’s eyes, fresh new perspective, less bias
I find when traveling or moving to a new place, it helps open my eyes. To realize that America isn’t the center of the universe. To observe how people live and interact differently.
But at the same time, realizing how we are all more similar than dissimilar, regardless of our cultural beliefs or traditions.
For example, we all love coffee, good laughs, time with friends and loved ones, making art, joking around, and walking and talking. This seems to be universal to every city or country I have visited.
To me, this gives me hope and optimism. Why? It has made me see all humans as my brothers and sisters. Rather than trying to find differences with other humans, I try to find similarities with other humans.
Once we realize that we are more similar than dissimilar, I feel we can truly open the doors of our hearts to empathy, love, and mutual understanding.
Conclusion: I encourage you to travel!
I’m still learning about myself, and forming my beliefs. My philosophy on life is in a constant state of flux. I want to be in a never-ending state of “becoming”— and therefore never die.
I just find it sad that a lot of people never have the privilege or opportunity to travel. Not only that, but a lot of people wait until they’re 65 or retirement age to travel.
Traveling won’t help you figure out all the questions to life’s problems, but it will certainly make you less ignorant, more enlightened, and to adopt a broader world perspective to living.
So while in some ways I think traveling is overrated, traveling is still one of the best “bang for the buck” experiences you can invest in.
Start small. Travel to the neighboring town. Or travel to another city in your country. Or take a cheap flight somewhere for a weekend, or a week. I use Kayak.com to find good deals, and stay at cheap Airbnb apartments. Traveling doesn’t gotta be expensive, or it doesn’t have to be for a long time.
I will write more traveling articles, as I think I know some good “travel hacks” to share with you.
Never stop exploring,
Why do you travel, or what does traveling mean to you? Share your thoughts in ERIC KIM FORUM.