Young people are traveling, and traveling widely. A recent article from The Atlantic chronicles the following:

“In the United States, the Boston Consulting Group reports, the millennial generation, defined as those between the ages of 16 and 34, is more interested than older generations in traveling abroad as much as possible—by a 23-percentage-point margin. The United Nations estimates that 20 percent of all international tourists, or nearly 200 million travelers, are young people, and that this demographic generates more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2007.”

 

For us young millennials, the allure of the open road is a powerful one. It is a whispered promise of adventure and brighter horizons seeping through our pores, flowing along our veins towards these hearts of ours that are apparently not yet sufficiently jaded and broken by the “cosmic ground note of disappointment” that runs through life.

 

The question is, are we traveling for the wrong reasons?

 

There is an unspoken assumption — certainly not worthy of elevation to self-evident truth — that these early golden years are ours for the taking and consuming, ours to dole out as we please, ours to spend joyously, wantonly on our desperate search for meaning and self-fulfillment. We celebrate the earthy glories of travel as an extension of this youthful voyage of self-discovery we’re on, this suspiciously permanent existential odyssey of ours to the farthest reaches of self-awareness. We slake our unquenchable thirst for self-acceptance in the infinite depths of human culture, sate our ravenous appetite for self-knowledge on the voluptuous, bounteous feast of human experience rendered rare and exotic by miles traveled and borders crossed.

 

Lest you catalogue your correspondent as an emotionally decrepit, sanctimonious young codger disgusted with the vagaries and rampant narcissism of his fellow youth…well, that’s an uncomfortably apt description of him. But, lest you stop reading before he gets to his point, let it be said that this ubiquitous tendency to frame anything and everything in reference to oneself is normal and perfectly understandable, if perhaps not desirable or commendable.

 

We are, after all, young. We know not the weight or yoke of the mundane. We eschew simplicity and repetition in favor of passion writ large and days lived fully. We run from the normative to the arousing, electrifying embrace of a personal search for apocalyptic love, joy, experience, meaning.

 

In the end, though, perhaps our endless fixation on ourselves doesn’t matter all that much. Perhaps it’s just as well, because the main point of travel – the fixed, lasting, permanent, joyous realization of wanderlust – is this:

 

Life is not about us.

 

Our utterly remarkable planet, our blue sphere of improbable wonder hurtles through the cosmos carrying the hope and fear and loss and joy and despair and ecstasy and anguish and adulation and worship of billions of living, breathing individual human beings, just like you and I.

 

We are either collectively inconsequential or collectively miraculous. Either way your personal metaphysics trend, you cannot disavow the astonishing complexity of the tapestry that surrounds you. You cannot help but marvel at the staggering scope of life itself.

 

As we travel, as we leave our homes to weave our way across borders and boundaries both physical and allegorical, as we pierce the membrane of culture and upbringing and worldview to dip our fingers in foreign waters and discourse with foreign minds, we will smash into the brick wall of our own ignorance and insignificance again and again. This is an impossibly beautiful and valuable thing. It gifts us the priceless riches of wisdom, which Marilynne Robinson once described as “almost always another name for humility.” It connects us with myriad shades and variations on what it means to be human. It relentlessly, wonderously pulls us outside of ourselves and engenders a deep sense of compassion and empathy born of meaningful connection with other lives.

 

Travel, by all means! Travel promiscuously. It will open your eyes to horizons you never dreamed existed and advertise the blessed freedoms of a life lived in community with others, in common pursuit of greater things. And you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun. Cheers.

 

What are your thoughts on travel? Is it the love for exploring geography or the love of exploring culture that inspires your wanderlust? Let’s discuss here, or find me on Twitter @aa_murph