Why You Should Travel

Dear friend,

This letter is an encouragement for you to travel, see the world, expand your mind, expand your horizons, to push yourself out of your comfort zone, for you to take bigger risks in life, to learn to live with less, and to live with more zest, excitement, and freedom in life.

1. You don’t need to travel

To start off to be very clear:

If you decide not to travel, that doesn’t make you a bad person or an idiot.

Traveling isn’t for everyone. But, if you were ever interested in traveling, yet, unsure, scared, or hesitant — this letter is for you.

2. How traveling has personally benefitted me

Airplane. Eric Kim.

Primo, traveling has broadened my horizons, and might for you too.

For example, before I started to travel, I was a very close-minded American. I thought (specifically) California was the center of the universe, and that everyone else in the world thought how I thought, and shared the same cultural values as mine.

Group photo of street photography workshop attendees in Beirut, Lebanon. 2011

I remember doing my first street photography workshop in Beirut, Lebanon. I remember that when I first got invited by Loryne, all my friends and family were skeptical. Americans are very afraid of the Middle East, and they told me stuff like, “You’re going to get kidnapped” or terrorized, you’re going to get bombed, etc.

Loryne Atoui talking with me in Beirut, Lebanon. Thank you Loryne

When I first landed in Beirut, my host Mohammed was a handsome Lebanese man, slicked back hair, drove a GMC SUV car, wore a Gucci suit, and everyone in the city had an iPhone, was fluent in French, Arabic, and English—and were some of the kindest, most open minded, and warm people.

Lebanese Flag
Me and the Lebanese Flag

I still remember Mohammed’s mom saying that I should stay in Beirut, and they would find me a beautiful Lebanese wife (all while enjoying a nice home-cooked meal of Kibbeh, Lamb, and homemade Hummus and olive oil — oh man, I miss this).

Eating Dinner in Beirut Lebanon
Eating a traditional dinner in Beirut, Lebanon
Thomas and I at the end of our workshop
Thomas Leuthard and I at the end of our Street Photography 101 Workshop in Beirut, Lebanon. 2011

Same when I went to Dubai— meeting all these beautiful people from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and other counties that Americans are “afraid” of.

My biggest lesson traveling:

Humans are more similar than dissimilar, and we are all brothers and sisters on this planet.

We have difficult cultural and heritages. We have different religions, and belief systems. Yet, we all love good food, drink, coffee and tea, family, friends, and nice laughs over the dinner table. If we all learned that we were more similar than dissimilar, I think there would be a lot less war, strife, and killing and oppression in the world.

3. You can be happy anywhere in the world

Mike Dunn, the singing waiter from Howard Johnson in Madison, Wisconsin.
Mike Dunn, the singing waiter from Howard Johnson in Madison, Wisconsin.

Also, traveling has taught me that you don’t need much. You just need a warm place to sleep, food, water, coffee, WiFi, and you’re good. Which is pretty much anywhere and everywhere in the world.

4. Being uncomfortable is good.

Blue shadow. Madison, Wisconsin.

Also, when you travel, you will be uncomfortable. You’re not going to have all the conveniences and luxuries from back home. People aren’t always going to speak your language, or follow the same customs or cultural norms.

I think discomfort is always a good growing opportunity. When we are too comfortable in life, we get weak, flabby, overly sensitive to pain, fear, danger, and we become more risk-averse.

Blue window and reflection.

My only concept of success in life is having the guts to follow your dreams, passions, and to take risks, and to have skin in the game — to push your limits, to grow, and to not only strengthen and empower yourself, but also to empower others.

5. What is truly important to you in life?

Eric with espresso. Madison, Wisconsin.

Traveling will also teach you to find out what is really important to you.

For example, I don’t think the point of traveling is to just keep on traveling. I see traveling as a bridge, or an opportunity to really reflect, think, and challenge what you really want out of life.

Red petal leaves. Mark and isi Wedding.

For example, your life goal might be to just buy a house in the suburbs, have 2 kids, and buy a BMW. That’s totally cool. But the thing I want you to challenge yourself is asking yourself,

“Is this what I really want out of life… or is it what I have been spoon fed by society to believe in?”

My opinion is that there are no ultimately “better” or “worse” values to have in your life. You decide how to life your life, and you decide what values to honor in your life.

Cindy by water. Madison, Wisconsin.

Yet, I challenge you to consider and to really challenge yourself:

Am I really living the life that I desire, or was I simply too scared or risk-averse to try the more epic and dangerous option and adventure in life?

Traveling won’t fix your life problems, and it won’t necessarily give you the answers you are seeking in life. But, traveling certainly will help.

6. How traveling might help you in your life

Why does traveling help you discover your life’s purpose, task, or your priorities in life? Some ideas:

a. Traveling gives you an opportunity to get away from friends, family, and the bubble back home.

Woman with umbrella in rain. Tokyo, 2017

This gives you a unique opportunity to have some time to think on your own, independently, without having the opinions of others influence too much or manipulate your own thinking. I recommend every novice traveler to first travel a little bit solo — by yourself. Traveling with friends and family is also a great bonding opportunity which I highly recommend — but solo traveling is where the greatest growth and reflection opportunities come from.

When else will you be somewhere, where nobody knows who you are, and where you finally have the chance to reflect, journal, meditate, and think about yourself and your life —the direction your life is heading, your life goals, and what is truly important to you in your life.

b. Traveling allows you to become detached from your physical possessions

We all need physical possessions and tools. Yet, the problem is when we become the spaces of our possessions, rather than our possessions being our slaves.

For example, I got a lot of shit back home that I was once attached to. Now, I don’t even remember half of the stuff I got back home. And I don’t miss it. I realize, they are things which are “nice to have” but not necessary.

The benefit: I become less lustful to acquire more possessions and stuff. I realize my power doesn’t rely on me having the best or most powerful tools. And I also realize, owning more stuff won’t give me a more fulfilling, exciting, or adventurous life. Having more stuff might give me more convenience and comfort in life — but is it convenience and comfort I really want out of life?

c. The opportunity to not be stuck on the routine of your 10-6 job

Also, traveling will give you the chance to not labor at your job, and get stuck in the rat race, stuck in the same boring routine of your weekly work life.

Because — I know, when you’re so busy and strained and exhausted from your job on a daily or weekly level, you simply don’t have the energy, time, or focus to really sit, meditate, and consider what you want out of life. It’s not your fault.

And it is true that getting physically away from your home, and your job, and traveling will give you some mental and emotional distance from the bullshit and work from back home, and to truly have an opportunity to reflect.

7. Take a risk

Now, you can do this all without traveling. You can become a zen monk, reflect, and meditate at home on your own. But to be frank, it is easier to reflect on life when you’re traveling and on the road.

Cindy with umbrella. Tokyo, 2017
Cindy with umbrella. Tokyo, 2017

Therefore, if you already have got your shit figured out in life, know what your true purpose, passion, goals, and direction is in life —traveling will be a waste of time for you. It is better for you to stay at home, and focus on your life’s great task. To save your time, energy, and resources.

Man walking up stairs, and looking nack. Dynamic diagonal lines and composition. Tokyo, 2017

But, if you’re still seeking the answers or questions to your life, take a risk. Travel. Go travel to places on your bucket list.

Helicopter. Tokyo, 2017
Helicopter. Tokyo, 2017

Personally, I recommend traveling to places where it is cheaper and more affordable. For example, my favorite places to travel to:

  • Berlin
  • Kyoto
  • Saigon/Hanoi
  • Prague
  • Lisbon
  • Portland
  • New Orleans
  • Mexico City

All these places are quite affordable and have a lower cost of living, cheaper food, easy to get around with, most have Uber access, and Airbnb or cheap hotels are plentiful.


Woman walking past blue background. Tokyo, 2017
Woman walking past blue background. Tokyo, 2017

Once again, I don’t mean to say that you MUST travel. Rather, you should travel, if you’re interested. Why? The chance of you having a phenomenal experience and learning important insights about yourself is very high, and the chance of you not learning something about yourself is low.

A picture of myself holding an umbrella. I shot this with my RICOH GR II while tilting my camera, to accentuate the diagonal lines in this picture.

But remember ultimately, traveling isn’t really about getting to know foreign or exotic places — but getting to know yourself, and who you are.