Finding meaning in travel
Iwas at dinner recently when a friend shared stories from his two-month holiday. Everyone at the table looked at him with a mix of awe and jealousy, but my friend waved it all away. “It got boring after a while,” he said. “Castles, beaches, and partying, it was the same thing every day.”
His audience was hardly convinced, and few of them likely had any sympathy for him as they looked back on their last two months of monotony at work. But I felt like I could relate to what he was talking about.
When I first started working in China, I spent my holidays traveling across the country and around Asia, visiting sights that I had long dreamed about. But after my first few trips, I found myself returning home less and less satisfied. Sure, I could brag about going to places my friends hadn’t been to and show off some cool pictures on my WeChat Moments, but what had I really gained?
Everyone likes to talk about how travel broadens our horizons and enriches our lives, but it’s easy to forget that this isn’t the “default setting” for your average summer vacation. A really meaningful trip takes some thought and, usually, a little work as well. Snapping selfies in front of a beautiful temple isn’t going to help you develop your EQ, and running from one restaurant to another isn’t going to teach you the meaning of life.
All too often, we get lost in traveling for its own sake and forget why we headed out to explore the world in the first place.
My friend shared some of his ideas on how to make his future trips more meaningful. Next time, he said he might devote himself to learning a new language well enough to have a real conversation with the locals or take a cooking class to learn how to make the country’s signature dishes. That way, when he returns home, he can say that he truly came back with more than he left with.
As for me, I’ve started planning my trips based on local festivals. Over the past year, I’ve feasted with new friends during Malaysia’s Hari Raya Puasa festival and watched sacred dances and processions at the Monlam festival in China’s Gansu Province. I feel it’s helped me better learn about the lives and beliefs of the local people and experience the culture as it is actually lived. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!