Stop Wondering and Start Wandering

Stop Wondering and Start Wandering

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” This insightful quote, credited as anonymous, encapsulates the yearning felt by countless souls who grasp the profound essence and bewitching beauty of exploring our enigmatic, yet magnificent, world.

However, the true spirit of travel may have been obscured along the winding path. In my youth, I often heard people speak of traveling as if it were merely a temporary respite, a fleeting “vacation” to momentarily retreat from the monotonous routines of daily existence. Vacations, tourist traps, and resorts have commonly (and erroneously) been equated with travel, a word that encompasses a vast expanse of culture, adventure, and transformative experiences.

True travel is not predictable, with no predetermined routes or meticulously planned itineraries. Nor is it comfortable, with lavish five-star accommodations, room service, and indolent days lounging beside a pool. Travel is the act of moving forward into the unknown, embracing uncertainty and the thrill of unpredictability.

John Steinbeck, in his celebrated travelogue “Travels with Charley,” eloquently expressed, “I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.” It was evident that he was driven to witness the heartbeat of America firsthand, taking in the sights and sounds at an unhurried pace, so he could gaze upon his homeland with renewed vision and profound insight.

Accompanied by his poodle, Charley, and his ever-present paper and pen, Steinbeck’s final journey was a cross-country odyssey across the United States, determined to conclude his life with a deeper understanding of the world around him.

This is the essence of travel for those of us who decide to stop merely dreaming and start doing. How far can we venture when we shed the self-imposed boundaries and allow ourselves to wander freely, embracing the unpredictable path that unfolds before us?

Travel is not a vacation; it is an immersion into different cultures, an opportunity to forge connections with new people, and a chance to accumulate experiences that transcend material possessions. Observing alternative ways of life allows us to appreciate what we have while contemplating what may be missing and what aspects of our lives we are capable of changing.

Humility is a intrinsic part of the traveler’s journey. We learn to live with less, to shed the excesses and embrace simplicity. We must swallow our pride and ask for help from others, becoming less rigid and more adaptable.

Yet, despite the discomfort of the unknown, the vulnerability of relying on strangers’ kindness, and the occasional feelings of being lost and overwhelmed, there is an undeniable, wildly contagious allure that adventurers cannot ignore and would-be travelers cannot shake: we are meant to roam. Something about the world and all its wonders beckons to us with the irresistible promise that we won’t regret leaving behind everything we’ve ever known for the vast, unexplored expanses that await.

Ashlea Halpern, a former magazine editor turned professional nomad, writes, “It wasn’t until we got back to the U.S. and started unpacking our bags that it really sunk in. I was simultaneously grateful to be home but also growing antsy about where to go next.” This insatiable wanderlust is a common refrain among those who have tasted the intoxicating freedom of the open road.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of being enveloped in an unfamiliar realm where everything is unknown. Who you’re going to become, who you’re going to meet, and what you’re going to experience remains a tantalizing mystery until you make the conscious decision to stop merely wondering and start actively wandering.

Being uncomfortable is one of the largest, yet most rewarding, aspects of travel; it is something that makes the journey incredibly worth it in the end.

That’s why I urge people—young and old, rich and poor—to travel, to embrace the great unknown.

Why? Because when we do, our perspective inevitably shifts, right along with our sense of self. We discover that as human beings, we are all

inherently the same, even though cultural and linguistic barriers may temporarily separate us.

We are humbled in the process, often ignorant of local customs, and we must rely on the kindness of strangers when we cannot speak the language, when we are lost, when we don’t know how to hail a cab or board a ferry in a foreign land south of the equator.

Through experiences like these, we become more helpful and hospitable ourselves, knowing how to pay forward the kindness and generosity shown to us by others on our journeys.

If we could collectively shift our focus away from our own discomfort and open our minds to learning from others and considering their perspectives, there is no doubt our world would be a better, more compassionate place.

The misconception that traveling is solely for the wealthy is simply untrue. Luxurious accommodations, fine dining, and guided tours are not inherent components of the earthy, soulful travel experience. While extravagant destinations like Paris, France, may not be ideal for budget travelers, there are countless affordable gems scattered across the globe.

Although I agree that wandering the hallowed halls of the Louvre would be a magical experience (and there’s no reason not to save diligently for such a bucket-list adventure), there are also small countries tucked away in southern continents and unassuming European nations that shine like hidden jewels awaiting discovery.

Thailand, Vietnam, Uruguay, and even the Czech Republic are among some of the most beautiful and budget-friendly destinations in the world, brimming with culture, warm people, and natural beauty. While waking up to the iconic Eiffel Tower would undoubtedly be an incredible experience, waking up in Thailand entails sleeping on simple mats—protected by a mosquito net—and being lulled to sleep by the sound of a rushing river just outside your door. You are susceptibly vulnerable, yet paradoxically fully alive and present.

Volunteer programs such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Turtle Teams Worldwide, and HelpExchange offer excellent, affordable travel opportunities for individuals. These organizations typically cover most expenses in exchange for volunteer work from the participant.

Essentially, traveling should not be viewed merely as a vacation or an escape from one’s familiar world. We travel so that, naturally, the world does not escape us—so that we can fully embrace all the beauty, diversity, and richness that our planet has to offer. We travel to grow, to challenge ourselves, to forge connections, and to become better versions of ourselves through the transformative power of new experiences and perspectives.