Ok, need is a strong word. Maybe on the list of a person’s needs, traveling isn’t too high, but I believe it has a real purpose and value.
Aside from the relaxing benefits that can come from having a vacation, physically going to a new place and environment effects who we are.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the most fundemental are our physiological needs (food, air, water, sleep, etc.) followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization.
I mean, in a survival situation, the most important things are food and shelter. Once those needs have been established and secured, a person can start thinking about safety and protection.
After that, focus can shift to their loved ones or to helping others who are also in that same survival situation. They can be productive and helpful which helps their self-esteem and then, finally, self-actualization.
So what does any of this have to do with traveling?
When I was young, my father owned a family theatre business (I’m sure this will come up again). The family part meant we (us kids) had the privilege of helping him out with jobs.
I loved going with my dad on jobs mostly because it was time spent just the two of us (and he’d usually buy lunch).
On one such job, we drove through a small town in Indiana on our way to install stage curtains and I distinctly remember being shocked at how small this little town was. It had one stoplight, a small Main Street, a few general stores, a school and a church.
My dad must have noticed my shock (or silence) and asked me what was wrong. I replied something along the line of, “People actually live like this?”
I mean, no McDonalds to be seen people. No Walmart, no fast food, no 10 screen movie plex. What did these people do all day? Or eat?
My father’s response has stayed with me. He said, “The biggest mistake a person can make is to believe everyone lives their life the same way they do.”
This thought blew my adolescent mind!
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He then explained it to me kind of like this, “People live their lives differently then we do. It doesn’t mean we’re better or they are better. It’s just different, but the importance is to remember it.”
One of the best parts of traveling is experiencing life in a whole new way. A way we had never thought of before. To meet new people and to be exposed to new ideas, whether we agree with them or not.
One of my favorite stories of all time is Anne of Green Gables. In the movie version of the sequel, Anne of Avonlea, Anne notices her nemesis, Catherine Brook, standing by a window. Anne sits by the window and the two begin talking.
Catherine tells Anne about an old print she used to look at as a young child of a spring with palm trees around it and a sting of camels walking in the distance in the desert. She talks about how she’s always wanted to see the spring for herself.
She said, “I want to know, not just believe.”
I feel there is a need, deep down inside most of us that compelles us to travel. To dust off the everyday and go in search of something new…something more. Adventure? Truth? Experience perhaps, but it’s there.
A need to know something is real. Not just a chapter in a text book but a real place with real people who live their lives everyday oblivious of us.
So back to Maslow’s theory. The last need is self-actualization. What does that mean anyway? According to dictionary.reference.com, it means, “the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world.”
What better way to fulfill this need than to travel?
Traveling inspires us to be creative. To be independent. To be spontaneous. And most importantly, to have a better grasp of the real world around us.
Whether we travel around the world or we never leave our own city limits, we need to continue having adventures and making new discoveries and reaching beyond ourselves.
Maybe after we see how small the world really isn’t, we can begin to understand how small it truly is.