Why Travel Makes Me Emotional

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page.”

— attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo

Those words bounce around in my mind when I book flights and pack my luggage.

By the time I land in my final destination, I’ve compiled a list of food and drink and sights I’d like to experience. My expectations are set high.

Ever since I began traveling during the summers between college, the magnetism kept growing. I couldn’t get out of my mind the places I had only heard about or seen pictures of. Making lists of potential cities and national parks and then continents and foreign countries became my coping mechanism, my ineffective way to carry dreams of places I’d never been.

As a boy from the Midwest—flyover state, some mockingly call it—I didn’t know where I belonged in the expanding world of knowledge and geography, but I knew I had to do something to find my place. Music inspired that urge to explore, too. I couldn’t stay in my hometown—that much I knew. But I couldn’t rationalize my way to any specific place until I did my diligence by collecting more information and experiences. I had to travel.

What I didn’t expect was the letdown after traveling.

This always happens to me after traveling somewhere. Checking in at the airport and boarding the flights home makes me think of the fun I had during the trip, the people I saw and the stories they told, and I don’t want to leave it behind. My mind tells me there’s work to do and a rhythm to return to back home, but my heart tells me to keep traveling, to see and taste and hear more than I have before.

Is it a curse of privilege? To have enough disposable income to jump on an airplane and vacation in a different state? Is it the remorse of saying goodbye to people we care about, or the dread of facing our old habits, pains, and work that were so easy to forget when we were hundreds or thousands of miles away?

Is travel merely a way we try to outrun ourselves, hoping for revelatory bliss we don’t allow ourselves at home?

Maybe it’s some odd concoction of the above, our expectations unrealistic in the face of life that includes some moments of inspiration and many more in the routine of daily tasks, effort, and simple joys.

Experience, Knowledge, and Perspective

Saint Augustine was onto something equating travel with reading. Reading a variety of books on different topics from many authors is one way to travel without moving, but I’m still hungry for more.

Experience and knowledge are two different but equally valuable parts of building a life of meaning. Without experience, knowledge gets proud and easily categorizable, lost in dualistic either/or. Without knowledge, experience gets claustrophobic and unaware of the depth and complexity of the world beyond our reach.

Travel opens our eyes to fresh perspective and renews our spirits. (tweet/share)

Like the exploration of reading, our bodily movement in time and space affects how we think and what we see. That makes me think it’s very much OK if we tangle with emotions before, during, and after travel.

With a little sadness from leaving, a few lines from “The Mountain Hut” by Norwegian poet and novelist Henrik Wergeland:

“Farewell, valley that I cherish,
Farewell, church and trees and home,
Farewell parson, farewell parish
Farewell kith and kin, my own,
Lovely gardens, walks of beauty, –
Would to God this were undone! –
Home, you stay me in my duty,
Calling, ‘Leave me not, my son!’”

Perhaps that’s why travel is so powerful: we’re always looking for where we belong.


Read more on travel, change, and gaining perspective in John’s new book, The Variable Life. Get the first chapter free.

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