Exploring Chattanooga with a local
Someone asked me recently: "what do you mean when you say travel with purpose?"
It can mean a lot of different things to different people. To some people it can mean doing good while traveling in the realms of mentoring, volunteering, working. For others it means having a goal accomplished by visiting a place such as learning Spanish in X country. To me, I think traveling with purpose encompasses all of those actions and more.
Travel with purpose is about going beyond face value
At the core, I think traveling with purpose means experience things beyond face value. In my travels and what I put out into the world on my blog and social media is that I want to make people think and experience places, cultures and things beyond what is seen at first glance.
In the instantaneous gratification world of social media, sometimes it feels like a competition of who has the prettiest edited picture and who has traveled to 195 countries in the shortest amount of time. I want to dig deeper into the WHY. Every place, body, and stone has a history and a story. Traveling with purpose to me means thinking deeply about people and places instead of taking them at face value. I travel to learn and observe, to participate and to exchange knowledge.
Some people just want a picture with popular places just for the picture. If there are no pictures did you even go, amiright? Obviously, I do this as well and there's nothing wrong with that. You can't be intentional all the time, we're human after all.
However, I want to encourage more insight. Yes, the coliseum is a beautiful structure, but what can we learn from it? Can you imagine the things that went on inside this structure? What was its purpose? How has it shaped the city and the society it stand in today?
Travel with purpose is about finding meaningful interactions and experiences
I think traveling with purpose is not just responsible travel or sustainable travel or traveling to volunteer. It can be all of those things or it can be none of them.
Volunteering can be a great reason to travel somewhere that can provide you with a feeling of meaning, but I don't think every volunteering experience can provide that for everyone. You can volunteer to find purpose, but you don't have to find purpose through volunteering.
I think traveling with purpose can be more broad in the sense that it's about finding meaning in interactions and experiences.
Those interactions and experiences can be big or small. Whatever it is that yanks the cord on that lightbulb in your head where you have an 'aha!' moment is perfectly fine. That moment where you get a little more understanding and clarity about another person, culture, tradition or place.
Some of the ways I've found purposeful travel is through talking and asking questions of local people, experiencing a family owned restaurant, staying at a homestay, taking a cooking class, watching a traditional dance performance, etc.
Travel with purpose is about cultivating education and curiosity
For me, traveling with purpose is an active state. It's about listening to the guided tours, reading the books, the websites, and talking to the people. It's about soaking up information, digesting it and asking questions from a place of love for knowledge, curiosity and understanding.
The first thing I learned when I started studying Anthropology was that there's a word for thinking your culture is better than everyone else's: ethnocentric. It's the belief that your way of life is better than others and judging other cultures based on the values of your own. This type of ethnocentrism is what has led to prejudice, discrimination and genocide.
I think we can all combat ethnocentrism by traveling with purpose. We can cultivate education, curiosity and open the horizons that things that don't have to fall into our box of 'normal'. Things and people who are different than us are not “weird”, they just are. Traditions or foods are not better or worse, they can just be. We can appreciate aspects, behaviors and beliefs for whatever they are without putting our own lens on it.
We're not perfect and subjectivity will always exist, but we can try. Try to travel with purpose.
Admiring Uluru from the ground due to research about whether or not travelers should climb it. I decided not to so as not to disrespect the local people's sacred site.
Eating a home-cooked breakfast made by our Cuban housekeepers - eggs, mango, pineapple, espresso shot and bread.
Learning about slave trade, life on a plantation, and the operations of the sugarcane industry in Louisiana.
Taking a cooking class in Bali, Indonesia with a Balinese family in their home. We even were able to take the recipes home with us!