Newsflash: Not everyone to takes off to travel around the world for six months, or a year, or six years, is selfish. Not everyone is just trying to get a break from their reality so that they can play instead of work. Not all travelers are out to check off just the landmarks and hit every full moon party they can in between. Some of us travel with purpose. Some of us travel with a purpose, on purpose. Then there are others whose purpose has found them as a result of where their journey has taken them.
It may be that you are one of those rare, centered people who can step back from a moment, observe objectively and think in a forward manner. In which case, you’re already thinking about how to take this round the world adventure you’re planning and use it for the greater good: either for yourself, or to change the world in some capacity.
Some of us travel with a purpose, on purpose. Then there are others whose purpose has found them as a result of where their journey has taken them.
If you’re not that person, the one naturally predisposed to using every opportunity to educate yourself or empower others, may I suggest a little mid-trip-planning time out to explore the possibilities?
We’ve debated on this site whether or not it is better to travel long-term or get your MBA. Whether your time is better spent self educating in an outside the box way, or pushing through to get your formal education out of the way before launching out in new directions.
May I submit that it need not be one to the exclusion of the other? To my way of thinking, a gap year is not a year of “wasted time” between high school and university, or BA and MA programs, it’s an absolutely essential part of the educational process. We must get beyond the rigid, Three R’s approach to education and return to a more holistic approach to the developing person. There are some vital aspects of our education that cannot happen within the four walls of any classroom, and the road is a beautiful teacher on many of those subjects.
Of course you could get all formal and organized about designing educational travel by signing up for exchange programs or internships. You could put together a “curriculum,” of sorts, for yourself by lining up educational experiences and planning learning time into your travel routine.
There are some vital aspects of our education that cannot happen within the four walls of any classroom, and the road is a beautiful teacher on many of those subjects.
Or you could just change the way you are thinking about your impending adventure. Instead of longing for a “break” from all things schoolish and educational, choose to recognize that this time that you’ve set aside to explore the world is a gift to your developing self. Intentionally open your heart and your mind to the possibility that your real education has not yet begun and that the world has been quietly waiting for the opportunity to take you by the hand and teach you about all of the things that matter most: internally, interpersonally, culturally, nationally, and internationally.
It could be as simple as the paradigm shift that causes you to wake each morning and ask the world one question, “What would you have me learn today?”
Often, the best way to learn is by doing.
You want to learn about sustainable farming? Take an internship on a hydroponic farm. Are you interested in exploring a career in healthcare? Partner with an NGO doing health and hygiene education in a remote part of the world.
There are no shortage of organizations looking for helpers. There are the ones you can find online: well oiled machines that crank volunteers through carefully selected (and hopefully well vetted) projects. Another approach is to simply turn up in a place that grabs you by the heart strings and start asking around about what needs to be done.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to be organized. Sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up with a “can do” attitude.
Almost everywhere you’ll find grass-roots level projects happening, lead by locals who are doing their best towards community development, or longer term expats who have a vested interest in supporting those local efforts without the muddying waters of making their money through the Voluntourism industry.
Be ready and willing to dive in and fill sandbags, build a road, cook food for hungry people, or simply be present and engaged. Rolf Potts approach was simple and effective: walk up to the local high school and ask if they would like a native English speaker to engage with their classes. It doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to be organized. Sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up with a “can do” attitude.
One word of caution on the Voluntourism front: Think carefully about the footprint you are leaving. Short term humanitarian efforts are not always as “helpful” as we would like to think they are, especially where orphanages and children are concerned.
CNNGO wrote an excellent article about the moral ambiguity of the best of intentions on this front; it’s well worth a read.
There is a growing segment of the longer term traveling crowd that are mid-thirties or older and taking a career break. There are as many reasons for this as there are mid-lifers making the break. By the very nature of your life experience to this point, you’ll be looking at this round the world adventure differently than the twenty-something crowd does.
It’s likely you’ve got one eye fixed on your eventual reintegration to “real life,” and you’re definitely thinking about your “what’s next?” in a way that a 19 year old gapper isn’t yet. Why not build a component of professional development into your journey?
- Take a class at a university abroad that intrigues you. The student visa you’ll get for that purpose may allow you to live differently and more deeply in that country.
- Participate in a work exchange through your company.
- Take the entire time to travel to read deeply about your industry and the emerging ideas from the movers and shakers.
- Take online classes.
- Do something entirely different. Are you a writer? Learn to program. Are you a tech guy? Study day trading. Are you a teacher? Become an entrepreneur!
Open your eyes
I was talking with a friend of mine while I was writing the first paragraphs of this article.
“Whatcha writing about today?” he asked in his intriguing accent, that I can hear when he types; British mostly, a touch of South African, a hint of Irish. He’s been around.
“How to make your RTW meaningful,” I replied, before clicking off the chat window to get back to work.
“Round the world… trip… and how to make it educational, or philanthropic, or, you know, meaningful in some way.”
“That’s shite! Why you Yanks think you’ve got to compartmentalize everything? You’re traveling. You’re out there doing something other than being a drunk ass in Cancun. Good enough.” He insists on lumping me in with “the Yanks.”
I laughed. Of course he’s right. There is a western tendency to over think these things; although, for the record, I do not believe it’s limited to the “Yanks.” We are so mired in our own narcissistic need to create meaning, to live in every moment, to make it all matter and count in some grander cosmic scheme that we miss the whole freakin’ point.
Sometimes, it’s simply about taking your trip, pleasing yourself and keeping one eye open towards the rest of the human race.
There was once a vocal critic of my brother’s 5 year solo circumnavigation in a little boat called Lorcha. He voiced his disdain for this “waste of time” when so much good work needed to be done in the name of the Lord. My Dad replied that there was a verse somewhere that indicated the value of running a race for god’s good pleasure, and that was what my brother was employed in doing: making a journey that pleased him and was a good use of the days he’d been given. What god would not be pleased with that?
Sometimes, folks, it’s not about filling every second of every day, or of every journey with “meaning.” Sometimes, it’s as simple as living your life, traveling well, keeping your eyes open to the meaning that’s already there, instead of cramming it full of something contrived. Sometimes, it’s simply about taking your trip, pleasing yourself and keeping one eye open towards the rest of the human race.
So here’s your question of the day to ponder: What will make your journey meaningful?
Does it have to be “about” something? Your education? Your career, or lack thereof? Philanthropy or humanitarian efforts? Or can it just be what it is and still be meaningful?
Do you have to create a purpose for your journey? Or can the world be trusted to deliver you to her own purposes in your own good time? Is it possible to make your travels, which are, after all, just another chapter of your life, worthwhile simply by showing up in a mindful manner?
There will be those who design impressively meaningful journeys and who can articulate their “why” with passion. That, in no way, negates the value or diminishes the meaning of the path chosen by more serendipitous means.
So, talk to me: How do you create meaningful journeys? Comment below to share your thoughts.
Read more about digging deeper as we travel:
- What is Your Why?
- Immerse Yourself in a Culture While Learning
- How and Why to Learn a Foreign Language
- 10 Things I’ve Learned from Life and Travel
- MBA vs. RTW