Why We Travel

Candice Gaukel Andrews August 3, 2009 9

It took me a long time to fall in love with travel; to like “getting out of town,” in author Barry Lopez’s words. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Ask anyone who travels why he or she does it, and you’ll get answers that usually revolve around the theme of seeing something new or experiencing something different. I think I travel for the opposite reason: to see and understand the familiar—my own home—a little bit better.

I came to this conclusion when I was on an airplane, 30,000 feet above Amsterdam. I was reading a book by nature author Barry Lopez, in which he’d been asked what advice he’d give to would-be writers. He said there were three things, one of which was “to get out of town,” meaning to get away from the usual so it could be all the more appreciated upon your return.

That struck a chord with me. It had taken me a long time to fall in love with travel, to like “getting out of town.” I had never even stepped foot outside the United States until I was in my late 40s and had rarely ventured beyond my county line in southern Wisconsin. Then, in one, two-year period, I had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand, Newfoundland, Patagonia, the northernmost isles of Scotland and Churchill, Manitoba, Canada (twice).

Once you see what’s “out there,” you learn to appreciate what’s at home. ©John T. Andrews

While I was blown over by New Zealand’s rugged, wild and wet West Coast, I came back home to relish the delicate, feathery and intense green that jumps out at you from a fern-filled forest floor in a Wisconsin spring rain. I stood before Chile’s Mount FitzRoy and marveled at the way the sunlight paints the peaks pink and gold on a summer morning, and then returned to my home state to see the unbelievably vivid, burgundy color of the cascading waters in south-central Wisconsin in June. And after searching for the northern lights in the sub-Arctic on a February night, I have subsequently hiked several Wisconsin trails in the deep of winter and found towering, snow-covered pines and a wintry solitude like nowhere else on the planet.

So by taking Mr. Lopez’s advice, I can honestly say that within those 24 months I started to appreciate my home ground all the more. I came to believe that my backyard held some of the most beautiful places on Earth. But I wouldn’t have known that unless I had traveled to those other beautiful places on Earth.

In the following weeks, I hope to bring you stories about how travel has guided us all to finding our own, true places in nature and how transformative discovering our real “natural habitats” can be. In the meantime, I’d like you to ask yourself why you choose to travel. Then post your answer below. We’ll talk about those reasons in future columns.

Which brings me to the other two things Barry Lopez advised would-be writers: write from your beliefs; and read, dear reader, read.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Travis September 3, 2009 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I seem to write well when on an airplane. I dislike flying AND physically being on the plane. I suppose it’s a fortunate byproduct. Another reason why we travel…

  2. John Howard Gaukel August 17, 2009 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    I choose to travel to see whats on the other side of the mountain or find my future shangrila , so to speak . The actual act of traveling to and from my destination I find for the most part unenjoyable . However usually my destination is everything or more than I expected . Am I more aware of the wonderful things in my back-yard when I get home ? In time I am . However at first I”m a little depressed because I known I”ll be going back into my old routine . But I do escape ,in my mind ,with the help of my pictures to those wonderful wild places . John Howard

  3. Art Hardy August 12, 2009 at 5:19 am - Reply

    Interesting travel insights. I think ultimately we travel if we can and if we have a desire to experience something new. For a few days or weeks we can experience another land or culture and we often return home feeling somehow changed or renewed. This positive feeling is what keeps us traveling.

  4. Paula Apfelbach August 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Well said! Travel always leaves us richer for the going away, and richer in the returning home.

  5. Joan Campbell August 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    My mother always told me that travel was the best investment she could imagine. “Once you’ve taken a trip, it can’t be stolen or lost, and you can’t be taxed out of it: it’s inside you.” And, I would add, travel keeps paying dividends in the form of insights one gains about oneself and about the rest of the world, not to mention the continuing pleasure of remembering places, experiences and fellow-travelers.

    Plus, it’s so darn much fun!

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