The Case for Traveling More

Some not-career-advice for you 20-somethings.

A couple of weeks ago, while reflecting on the ~8 months that I spent out of the country over the last year, I decided to reread Rolf Potts’s Vagabonding.

And man oh man, the opening to Chapter Two is one sobering passage.

“There’s a story that comes from the tradition of the Desert Fathers, an order of Christian monks who lived in the wastelands of Egypt about seventeen hundred years ago. In the tale, a couple of monks named Theodore and Lucius shared the acute desire to go out and see the world.

Since they’d made vows of contemplation, however, this was not something they were allowed to do. So, to satiate their wanderlust, Theodore and Lucius learned to “mock their temptations” by relegating their travels to the future. When the summertime came, they said to each other, “We will leave in the winter.” When the winter came, they said, “We will leave in the summer.”

They went on like this for over fifty years, never once leaving the monastery or breaking their vows. Most of us, of course, have never taken such vows—but we choose to live like monks anyway, rooting ourselves to a home or a career and using the future as a kind of phony ritual that justifies the present. In this way, we end up spending (as Thoreau put it) “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.”

We’d love to drop all and explore the world outside, we tell ourselves, but the time never seems right. Thus, given an unlimited amount of choices, we make none. Settling into our lives, we get so obsessed with holding on to our domestic certainties that we forget why we desired them in the first place.

Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

We’re all born with this intrinsic desire to travel and explore. As children, we learn to crawl, then walk, then run toward the world around us, but our freedom is limited to our homes and neighborhoods. Anything more, and we are at the mercy of our parents.

Then we turn 16, and a driver’s license grants us our first taste of true freedom. Suddenly, we can drive anywhere that has a road. We might still ask our parents for permission, but we finally have the ability to explore.

Then we hit college, the first time that we live away from home. New places, new friends, new relationships. Besides a few classes per day, we can do whatever we want. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t skipped a few 9 AM lectures on Fridays? Our only limitation is our wallets.

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