They say to travel is to live your own story. All too often, a trip becomes a list - places, museums, mountain tops, famous villages, renowned restaurants. Check them off, share the photos. Move on.
But if you take a trip on your own terms, to a place that genuinely calls you, the results can be transformative.
Elena was just back from a hike in Denali. She'd spent the day traversing the trail-less tundra up to the Cloudberry lookout above Wonder Lake. It was early fall in Alaska, a quiet time of year when the natural world changes rapidly. Winter creeps in with every gust.
A US Marine from Central California, Elena was traveling in Alaska on her own. She'd booked three nights by herself at a lodge in the heart of Denali National Park, a long, long way from the hustle and bustle of her regular life. And that was precisely the point.
"I just needed some space, some big space," she says in a quiet voice. Unclear about any specific goals or aiming to check off any lists, Elena was embracing the simple joy of travel.
This trip into the heart of Alaska was, for Elena, about discovery. She was looking to learn about the world, and in the process, learn about herself. Wild places tend to offer that kind of thing up in droves. After all, it's not just about spotting wildlife (although that too can change your life). It's about the solace of solitude and reconnecting with what's important to you. Travel can quell a restless soul, soften a hardened heart and unlock the most rigid mind. Of course, time spent in amazing places isn't necessarily life-altering. But its the potential that matters.
"These landscapes make me feel whole. They put my life in perspective," Elena says. "I just want to soak it all in."
Travel is about more than just relaxing
Having some time to just relax is never a bad thing. A traditional vacation can mean settling in somewhere comfortable and staying put. It can bring rejuvenation, mend aches and pains and give you a break from the chores and monotony of daily life. That's vacationing - you want to return home relaxed.
Traveling, on the other hand, is about the journey. It's stepping outside your routine, embracing adventure. The goal is to return home a smarter, healthier and better person.
Here is how traveling is different from vacationing:
- Travel is about the place. While a vacation can be about your own needs (needing to relax, needing to recharge), traveling is looking beyond yourself to the place you are at. For Elena, that meant absorbing all she could about the berries of the tundra, the history of mountaineering in the Alaska Range and the feeling in her heart this vast, quiet place brought.
- To learn is to understand. Sometimes it's learning to speak a foreign language or mastering the art of making gnocchi. Other times, it's discovering the lifecycle of the gray whale or grasping glaciology. Whatever it is you take in, traveling broadens your understanding of the world.
- Pushing yourself = discovering yourself. Trying something new can be tough. Many of us fear new things. Take it one step at a time, though, and you'll see the outcomes. Go for a full-day hike. Kayak around an island. Try the local cuisine. From a new passion to a new career, the kinds of things you discover while traveling can only help you grow and make the most of your life.
- Be transformed. If you're a city dweller, the wilderness can astound you. If you live in a small village, a trip to a downtown gallery may blow your mind. Either way, travel asks you to examine your own life, your own culture and your own place in the world. In the process, there's no doubt you'll become something better.