Lonely Planet Writer

Why we travel (flashcard version)

Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) recently asked me to be guest-MC of a new New York chapter, and I took the occasion to weigh in on why we travel - and to use some funky crayons I bought in Beijing a few years ago. I've always felt we need a Periodic Table of Travel Elements - a chart that can sum up any type of trip into one (or more) of six basic reasons we go.


Here they are. Do you agree?

1. We travel to communicate

Photo 56

Telephone travel is when we go to communicate with friends and family. If Uncle Lionel relocates to Calgary, you go see him - and talk about how disappointing Cousin Greg's life has become.

2. We travel to relax

Photo 57

TV travel is travel to get away from life, veg on a beach, not think about work, souring relationships or the sad ennui that fills our day-to-day back home.

3. We travel to 'tick off' a bucket list of dream places

Photo 58

Tick-off travel means coming up with a list of 'must sees' then going, seeing them - like the Griswolds' quick look at the Grand Canyon in Vacation - and moving on. Eiffel Tower? Seen it. Taj Mahal? Yep. St Louis' Gateway Arch? Soon, baby, soon.

4. We travel so we can impress people

Photo 59

Show-off travel comes when experiences are tallied up to provide talking points to impress/bore others back home. Often goes hand-in-hand with tick-off travelers. Eg 'Were you just talking about grizzlies? Interesting... you know my name is pronounced Ro-BEAR in France, right? I was living in Nimes, last off-season, that's wear denim's from y'know, and locals called me that... particularly the guy running the MARCHÉ where I'd get my ingredients to make bouillabaisse for some visiting artist friends from Marseilles...'

5. We travel to discover things

Photo 60

Learn travel is travel to learn. It's sort of a flip-side to show-offers, where you go to absorb lessons from different cultures, like the hats worn or the language itself. The best trips, like chocolate to desserts, allow for at least a little of this.

6. We travel to eat

Photo 61

But the big one is food. I often describe all that traditional travel activity - like seeing museums, shopping, climbing observatory towers or mountains - as merely the 'space between meals.' It's the food that anchors a trip.

Of course you can combine all six reasons to travel in a trip. Like, if you go to Hue, Vietnam, to learn how to make com hen (an obscure local specialty) from a family-run, plastic-stool eatery, then take it to the beach - where Uncle Lionel awaits.

Read more from Robert - follow him on Twitter!