What’s Your Motivation to Travel?

by Keith Savage · 55 comments


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That’s the question I’ve been chewing on lately. It’s been hard for me to put my finger on exactly why experiential and slow travel appeal to me. It’s not OK for me to not understand this as it will help shape the logistics of future travels. Whenever I pose the question to myself, the answer always boils down to a desire for authenticity in travel. Simple, right? I want authentic travel experiences, and a solid tactic to meet this goal is to give myself time to beat a new path wherever I go in search of these experiences. Yes, this post was going to be straightforward and snappy, a gilded and elaborate missive explaining the driving force behind Traveling Savage!

Then Sunday happened. Sarah and I had a long and provocative conversation about the term “authentic.” Not only that, I also found an old and stimulating article on the topic at Brave New Traveler by Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View. It was becoming clear that my knowledge of self was fuzzy at best. Where does it all go from here? Read on.

Authentic Addicts

As a culture, Americans are obsessed with authenticity. We want the genuine article, whether it’s a first edition Catcher in the Rye, a one-of-a-kind Picasso, or the befriending of macaques deep in the jungle of Borneo. The desire is so strong we don’t even mind fake authenticity. It’s in our food (do you really think Olive Garden’s chefs are training in Italy?), in our clothing (distressed jeans anyone), and in our social interactions (How are you? Good, how are you?). We want, and I’m speaking in generalities here, what others don’t or can’t have. Is this class driven? Do we just want to feel special? In a world that ticks along to a schedule of exacting mass production, we are starving for the rare and random and flawed.

In the context of my travel plans, the first obstacle was accepting the fact that “authentic” simply isn’t the right word, nor does it go very deep. I had to just throw it out. What does it even mean to have an unauthentic or counterfeit travel experience? The cynics among us might equate the opposite of authentic with touristy experiences, but I think that’s an unfair comparison. It implies that popular destinations, events, restaurants, and activities are somehow not real expressions of the culture in which they exist. As Pam’s article points out, the world today is what it is. There is no parallel Lost-esque universe where our media- and imagination-fueled perceptions of place exist. It is pointless to seek some era of the past. And then I thought, “Am I just trying to escape the known?”

Escaping the Known

The thoughts rippled through my mind: what I desire is a place unmolded by a familiar human touch. I want to be a part of something without being the reason for it. Subconsciously, I shy away from places riddled with America’s monolithic consumerism as if it were some parasite devouring the soulful origin culture, Starbucks and McDonalds left behind as a kind of byproduct. This is a cynical view, but I can’t deny that it shapes my perceptions. The places I’ve loved most, like the Orkney Islands, are distant outposts where time seems to lag behind and it’s hard enough for a person to get there let alone some multi-national franchise.

Experiential travel is the perfect vehicle for diving into a culture. It blends the satisfaction of learning local customs with the joy and excitement of travel. Perhaps I have a latent fear that learning will be inhibited by the presence of my “known” American culture, one that is more prevalent in cities around the world (I have been known to say that big cities are “samey” – whether I’m staying in a hostel in London or a timeshare in New York City, the experience is, somehow, always similar). I want to tread foreign ground. What I realized – just as I’m writing this – is that perhaps I don’t know yet what I don’t know. I have traveled, true. So what, so I have stepped out of one bubble into the midst of a bubble bath.

Haute Voyage

So what does this mean for my motivations? I’ve learned that I harbored a hidden small-mindedness that, like an airplane window, was cropping the vastness of the world. I like when ideas come to a neatly-wrapped up conclusion, but there’s room for all of these ideas to exist and then some. The rare and random and unique and authentic is not some place on the map. No, the world will not do the work of providing “authentic” environments. It must be expressed at an individual level.

What’s my motivation to travel? To learn, to grow, to create, to share. Traveling Savage will be a place to help others do the same. To be continued?

What travel preconceptions, prejudices, or false beliefs have you identified and left by the wayside?

Listening to: Mogwai’s EP+6 album
Drinking: Balvenie 15-year single cask

Original photos by ntr23 (addict) and acme (voyage) via Flickr under Creative Commons


Financial SamuraiNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 10:14 AM

I think it’s great that more and more young and old americans are exploring the world. I have to say living in the US, it’s a pretty UNCULTURED place.

So many people just speak English, and only English unless you live in one of the bigger cities. It’s a shame!
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..Oops! The World Is Coming To An End! =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 11:40 AM

Hey Sam. Is America uncultured or are we just blind to its charms as citizens?

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Ian [Eager Existence]No Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 10:25 AM

Wow. — You think too much :)
I’m happy to read along as you post, and learn with you.

I like your take on the travel blogger experience, & only hope I can find my own unique experience & angle to write about (& build an audience).

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KeithNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Hi Ian – Yes, this post came from the eye of a brainstorm. Thanks for reading along, and good luck with your blog! Keep at it.

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GrayNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 11:15 AM

I want to hang out with you and your wife if you’re having conversations like this all the time. :-) I’ll admit that my one disappointment with Puerto Rico was seeing so many chain retail and restaurant outlets (Walgreens, McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, etc.). But the more I thought about it, the more I thought “We (I use the term “we” loosely, because I could live without them) all want these conveniences in our lives where we live, but then we expect the people in the places where we travel to live without them just so that we don’t have to encounter them when we travel there, because our expectation is that this place will look and be totally different than where we’re from (e.g., “be more authentic”)? Isn’t that kind of selfish?” As with everything else, it’s very complicated. I cringe at the cultural imperialism of a corporate entity like McDonalds, but at the same time, obviously people must want them where they live, otherwise they’d go out of business. I think, to some degree, we need to learn to tune that stuff out when we travel and dig deeper for the “authenticity” of a place.
.-= Gray´s last blog ..You Should Know: Journeywoman =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 11:39 AM

I wouldn’t say we have these conversations ALL the time, but when they happen they’re always helpful. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, too. We want the conveniences without having to see them. In other words, we want the world to be a different way and are not accepting of it the way it is.

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Trans-Americas JourneyNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 12:05 PM

The quest to remain unbored…always seeking new peoiple, cultures,places,stimulus 7 adventures

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KeithNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Yes, this is part of my motivation too.

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EricaNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 1:46 PM

To push boundaries for self development! That is my reasoning – be it authentic or USA 2.0 you can always find experiences that will take you out of your comfort zone. <3

Oh and because I thought it was funny: Olive Garden’s Culinary Institute of Tuscany – http://www.olivegarden.com/culinary/cit/tour.asp

Cheers!
.-= Erica´s last blog ..New Page – Takayama, Japan =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 1:56 PM

Right on! Nice link. I’ve heard of their “culinary institute.” So 100 people go there and how many OG restaurants are there exactly?

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AndrewNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 2:04 PM

The search for the “real” is an interesting one. It also seems like the search for the unfamiliar. Ok, we Americans seem to use Starbucks and McDonald’s as a sign that a place has become somehow tainted or “unreal”. I wonder if this is something to do with the familiarity of the ideas rather than something else. The phrase “I came all this way just to see that? I can do that at home.” Somehow that is a problem. We want to travel to see new things, so familiar things are a problem.
Maybe travel is just an addiction of the ‘new’, where each thing you see becomes more familiar and thus forcing the seeker to find more exotic unfamiliar things as a bigger ‘hit’ of the travel drug.
I fear I’ve let a blog post/rant morph into a comment. Then again, I think my motivation is for the search of the Authentic Me, the real self within; so maybe not too far off.
.-= Andrew´s last blog ..Pertonachpour – That’s in Asia somewhere right? =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 4:12 PM

Hi Andrew, yes I’ve thought travel might be an addiction to the “new,” as you put it. I haven’t quite made up my mind on that other than to hope that’s not the case. But there’s that small-mindedness again, as if I will run out of places to see and stand in awe of. Preposterous.

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JunoNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 10:48 PM

Keith, you could be a thinker! haha Nice ideas.

Motivation to travel… hm
I just can’t resist the thrill it gives me. I addict to thrill like somebody addict to run.
It is different than when I feel doing something obviously exciting, say, rollercosters.
This thrill travel gives me lasted pretty long time. Everytime I talk to one of my friend I’ve met in somewhere in the world, I can feel it.
This could be motivation enough? :)

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KeithNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 9:17 AM

Whatever your motivation is, it’s enough. Perhaps it’s about making connections, tethering yourself to the world a thousand ways.

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LilianNo Gravatar May 26, 2010 at 10:58 PM

For me, because I don’t travel all the time it is not only just for relaxation but like a break from the monotonous lifestyle that I usually lead. It is like a breath of fresh air. And after that, I come back having learnt something new about the place I have visited and having met people who are from a different background! I guess that is my motivation.
.-= Lilian´s last blog ..How To Learn A Foreign Language: Top 5 Tips For The Beginner =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 9:18 AM

I’ve been living this life for seven years. Work and work and work for that two week break where you can breathe that “fresh air.” Thanks for commenting Lilian!

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Caz MakepeaceNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 10:07 AM

I travel to live with reckless abandon. To enrich my life’s journey, discovering who I am to fulfill my purpose, and to help make the world a better place. Be the change you wish to see in the world. I have to know the world before I can understand how to make it better.
.-= Caz Makepeace´s last blog ..4 Ways in which Travel Makes You Stronger =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 9:19 PM

Love the positivity and energy! That will carry you through many travels. Thanks Caz!

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JoAnnaNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 2:49 PM

I think not knowing is part of the reason we travel.
.-= JoAnna´s last blog ..Reading: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009 =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 9:20 PM

Hi JoAnna, very poetic way to put it. I think you’re right, too. We don’t know, but we want to.

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Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel ExperiencesNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 6:15 PM

Great question – not sure I’ve found the answer yet. Or one that I can clearly define just yet.

By the way, LOVE the photos.
.-= Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences´s last blog ..Behind the Bar with Jetside Johnny =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Hey Andy! It’s a tough one to answer, and as you can see from this post I haven’t quite figured it out either. Sarah took the second photo in the streets of Coimbra, Portugal – such awesome graffiti.

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SuzyNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 10:31 PM

I guess if a place is decorated with Walmart and McDonalds, we all may have a bad taste in our mouths and not give that location a try. I used to be this way about Florence, Italy. I thought it was an over-run tourist trap with gorgeous Renaissance architecture. I thought no one would speak Italian to me. Well, they wouldn’t until I made them. I went and lived with Italians, anyone can do this through homestays or couchsurfing, and suddenly it was a completely different city to me. I think the real Florence or X place is always lurking somewhere. You just have to find it. Perhaps that is my motivation to travel, but I don’t know if we can ever answer that question fully. I do agree that the escaping the known is part of my motivation. While I love places like Florence, Sardinia and Sicily, more off the tourist path, left these deep impressions because they were so different than the rest of Italy.
.-= Suzy´s last blog ..Traveling With Full Passion, Easier Said Than Done =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 29, 2010 at 9:57 AM

You’ve made a good point in that whatever it is you want, it takes work to get it. In your case, it took some alternative living methods to taste the Italian culture you were looking for. Thanks Suzy!

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MattNo Gravatar May 27, 2010 at 11:01 PM

Excellent post Keith. My motivation to travel is to better understand this world we live in – its places, its people, its oddities, and its beauty. I’m drawn to the challenges that traveling brings on – language barriers, dealing with new cultures, and being out of one’s comfort zone.

I’ve done much of my travels on working holidays – I prefer this as it allows me to spend not days, or weeks, but months in a country gaining a better understanding of the place.
.-= Matt´s last blog ..An Update & Travel Question =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 29, 2010 at 9:59 AM

Hey Matt – Being drawn to the challenges of travel is really interesting to me. This idea was originally a big part of the post but I cut it because it took away from the core message. Yes, I think many travels actually seek the challenging times. For what? Well, that will need to wait for a future post.

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Dustin Main - Skinny BackpackerNo Gravatar May 29, 2010 at 10:19 PM

I think for me, part of it is the previously mentioned “newness.” I’ve talked in the past of how I thought traveling was like going back to when you are were a kid, where everything is new and exciting. That’s certainly true for me, but I know there is a lot more to it.

For now, I’m not too sure either, but your post will help me think of it a bit more and maybe figure it out. When I know, I’ll let you know :P
.-= Dustin Main – Skinny Backpacker´s last blog ..Define: Travel – Six Months and Counting =-.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 1, 2010 at 9:24 PM

Comparing travel to being a kid really strikes a chord with me. I’m also a kid at heart. Something for me to chew on – thanks Dustin!

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Travel Budget PlanningNo Gravatar May 30, 2010 at 6:31 PM

I don’t know why I started traveling, but I think I continue to enjoy it because of the variety it offers. I meet a variety of people (whether they’re fellow travelers or locals) in diverse places with diverse perspectives. There’s the unknown but I also have a sense of complete control. If I want to move on, I move on. If I want to linger, I linger. My options are endless and the choice is mine.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 1, 2010 at 9:27 PM

Solo travel really does put the power in your hands for leading your life on a day-to-day basis. Good point!

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Globetrooper LaurenNo Gravatar June 1, 2010 at 6:47 PM

To widen my comfort zone and push my limits. I find that if you don’t go beyond what you expect, then it’s not that memorable.
Great post Keith, very insightful.
.-= Globetrooper Lauren´s last blog ..Travel on Equity: the key to endless global travel =-.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 1, 2010 at 9:30 PM

I definitely share this motivation. I think there’s a desire to test myself and see what I’m capable of (because I believe I’m capable of more than I’m doing now). Thanks Lauren.

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Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar June 1, 2010 at 7:53 PM

It’s unfortunate, the world has altered due to invisible economic borders falling down. The Berlin Wall had nothing on globalization. Whatever is happening to you could certainly be intangible. The quest, for… ? Currently, I’m withholding any judgment or ideas on what exactly will meet me across real borders. If anything, a good percentage of what you encounter will never be similar to home.
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Video Moment – Vegemite & The Aussie Nomad =-.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 1, 2010 at 9:45 PM

I think avoiding the attempt to anticipate everything your travels have in store for you is a good idea.

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Lauren QuinnNo Gravatar June 3, 2010 at 2:38 PM

Recent experience with authenticity:

I was searching for a place to get “real” Texas BBQ in Austin. No car and random restaurant closures ended me up at Stubb’s, which appeared to be the Chevy’s of BBQ: super corporate, pre-packaged, bland. But as I ate my thick-cut white bread and drank out of a bottomless red plastic cup, the only green thing involved in my meal the garnish of iceberg lettuce, I realized that there was a certain kind of authenticity in the contrived shit-quality Americanness of it… Just a thought…
.-= Lauren Quinn´s last blog ..Travel Tip: Magazine Blanket (AKA: Stickin It to the Man) =-.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 3, 2010 at 3:38 PM

I think this example gets at the nebulousness of authenticity. Each person might have a different definition and your experience at Stubb’s might be just the “authentic” experience a foreign tourist is looking for.

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AbiNo Gravatar June 5, 2010 at 9:08 AM

A little like Juno, I travel because it thrills me, because it makes me feel alive. It helps to teach me about the world and to look back at my own culture and question parts of it.

In terms of “authenticity” and what do you mean by “unauthentic” or “counterfeit” travel, this is how I see it, using an example from Seville:

To me, authentic means genuine. An authentic travel experience here could well involve McDonald’s and the out-of-town American cinemas because that’s what a lot of young people want to do here. It also involves the huge Feria each year, where women dress up in stunning “flamenco” dresses and dance choreographed dances. Both are authentic, but the second one interests me far more because it is different to what I can do at home

However, around the cathedral (the central, touristy area), shops sell and promote paella because they have learned that that’s what tourists want and expect. Actually, paella is hardly ever served in Andalucia and it comes from a different part of Spain. It is pretty much ONLY served in the tourist hotspots. Tourists arrive imagining that something will be a certain way, the travel trade provides it and people return. That’s pretty much my idea of an “unauthentic” or “counterfeit” experience.

Sorry for the long first comment – glad to find your blog!
.-= Abi´s last blog…Unusual Journeys: Swimming to South Africa =-.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 6, 2010 at 10:36 AM

Hi Abi, thanks for the thoughtful comment and I’m glad you found my blog too! Your example makes me think that the travel industry functions on stereotypes (like Paella in Spain though it’s a Valencian specialty). For tourists, the search for these stereotypes is a way to find the familiar in an otherwise alien place – the stereotypes are what we/they know about the country.

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seminyak hotelsNo Gravatar July 11, 2010 at 9:13 PM

I wonder if this is something to do with the familiarity of the ideas rather than something else

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anthonyNo Gravatar August 5, 2010 at 3:52 AM

Not to be picky….but Starbucks are heavily involved in “fairtrade” so for me it’s a high 5 for them :)
good post

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 27, 2010 at 11:20 AM

I respect fair trade practices, but that’s not really the point here. It’s the proliferation of multi-national companies (e.g., Starbucks) that signify the presence of encroaching monoculture that concerns me.

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Donna WillinghamNo Gravatar September 20, 2010 at 2:47 AM

Travelling to me is all about learning, growing, creating and sharing. On each journey, I’m adding to personal experience and development. I feel I should share with you an amazing course I did while I was in Cairo, Egypt – Sarah Merron of Fire Dragon Coaching teaches strategies that really helped me focus on getting the best out of myself and others around me, for both my work and personal life. She runs courses all over the world, so it’s a fantastic way to combine travel with self improvement. Here’s the link, I found it had a very powerful effect on my life: http://egyptnlptraining.com/

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 27, 2010 at 11:21 AM

I like your benefits of traveling list. Thanks Donna.

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AshleaNo Gravatar November 22, 2010 at 6:09 PM

To dive into the unknown and push myself beyond that I thought I was capable of.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 22, 2010 at 11:02 PM

Very cool. Me too.

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CharuNo Gravatar June 23, 2011 at 9:24 AM

To start by known the rules (ie. spotting the authentic from the fakes). This takes time. I’m still learning. Then going ahead and breaking them.

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TimNo Gravatar July 20, 2011 at 5:49 PM

My Motivation to travel is to escape from America for one,secondly I want to see as many places,speak as many languages,and immerse myself in as many cultures as I can before I depart from the realm of the living.

Tim

Webmaster at http:www.worldwiderx.org

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Rizzi Alejandra E. TabaleNo Gravatar July 13, 2012 at 12:45 AM

For myself motivation I want to travel all along the world, because I want to know what cultured had the country around the world and I proud of my self that i will be soon travel around the world

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Zoe ReedNo Gravatar December 27, 2013 at 8:40 AM

My motivation is to live a life not to exist between work and home

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