Are these the 5 secrets to “meaningful” travel??

Flipping through my collection of random travel stories last week I came across an interesting (and older) interview on NPR about “Five Tips For Making Travel Meaningful.” It is an interesting interview with two travel writers who have plenty of experience in the area, and I do agree with some of their views. But, in the end, I cannot help but think that they’ve missed a bit overall.


The five points are, in short:

  1. Pick a destination that raises more questions than answers.
  2. Leave the technology at home.
  3. Rely on yourself.
  4. Visit a charismatic place, not a pleasant place.
  5. Just go!

I get the idea, that travel should be a trip to somewhere as well as a journey inside yourself and I like that. I spend a decent amount of time traveling on my own such that the soul-searching is probably more than it should be, especially where language barriers limit other interactions. Still, I think that two of the points above – numbers 2 & 3 – are not necessarily the best advice for everyone, at least not in absolutes.

I do like that travel lets me get away from technology a bit. At the same time, being connected is why I can travel. Yes, I still work even when I’m traveling and that means being connected to get my work done. I suppose I could come up with a way to be less connected as I traveled but that would also mean fewer opportunities to get out and see places so I’m not sure that completely works. I do think that I have figured out pretty well how to not be consumed by technology when I travel. I still try for paper maps where I can as I wander a new city rather than GPS for everything, for example, but even that depends on getting a decent map, something which is harder and harder to come by.

Number 3 – Rely on yourself – is a tricky one and it is probably the point which raises the most internal conflict for me on this list. I like to think that I’m a pretty smart guy who can figure out how to get through most any challenge placed before me. I think I’ve been pretty successful in such scenarios over the years. And yet I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to travel (or live in general). There’s something to be said for knowing what resources you have available and learning when and where it is appropriate to leverage the skills of others rather than trying to be completely self-reliant. Sure, I might have found my way out of the Mdina in Marrakesh eventually, and I tried. But I also very quickly came to realize that being too self-reliant meant that I wasn’t actually going to get where I needed to be in a reasonable amount of time. It might’ve worked eventually, but not reasonably. There’s a big difference there.

Of course, there’s also the flip-side of that same problem. I certainly don’t go for fully guided/escorted/curated experiences very often. And I know that means I’ve missed things along the way. When we spent 6 days in Sri Lanka we had a private guide/driver the whole time. From arrival in the airport to check-in for departure he took care of us. I’m sure that was the easy way out and that we missed things because of it, but I am also certain that we got to see much more than we would have without his help. Self-reliance is great, but part of that is knowing where to draw the line on your own skill-set.

Regarding items 1 & 4, I certainly like the idea of always being challenged – either mentally or physically – on a trip. But doing that every time can wear you out. I guess that means some of my trips are less meaningful, though I don’t know that unwinding should be considered such. It is a necessity to staying alert and “on” the rest of the time.

Of all the points in the list it is number five which is most dear to me: Just go! There is nothing more important towards meaningful travel than actually taking that first step and traveling. Anywhere, any time. You have to start somewhere. Even the places you think might not be so great. Odds are you’ll find something along the way to change that view.

What are your keys to making a trip have meaning? Is it about the people, the place, the sights or the smells? Or something else entirely?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Wait, I thought the secret to meaningful travel was stealing a rubber duck from an airport lounge bathroom after having walked for 20 minutes to an out of the way terminal and then posting the photo on your blog? NPR must be wrong…

  2. It’s like a bad episode of “Somethings Considered from NPR. Just enjoy that fact that our US tax dollars paid for this. I can sorta agree with the points but I think to many people try to be trendy. Like I’m not cool if I’m not stealing wifi at Starbucks and telling people how I can travel all over Europe with nothing but my backpack and $20, couch surfing and eating street food. Sure you can but that isn’t everyone’s motivation. I say what ever motivates you to travel. To many of the Boarding area follks it’s simply to experience the service and the aircraft. I enjoy cruise ships so that same trip to Europe for me wouldn’t involve many hostels but might involve MSC or Costa swimming pools. Also I hate to be mean but “just go” that weak journalism. Sure you could have added that to the end of the article but it should not have been point #5. It makes me feel like they didn’t have valid #5 so they tacked it on.
    I do agree with your analysis of this. Thanks for the post.

    My top 5 secrets for meaningful travel:
    1. See something new that I’ve always wanted to see (like Rome for example).
    2. Spend time with my family or wife.
    3. Experience the aircraft, airline, airports, etc.(the joy of planning the trip also).
    4. Taking photos to share with others when I get back home.
    5. Learning a bit about history or new places and people.
    Oh yeah and “Just Go !” duh

  3. I didn’t read the NPR article, but I think for the vast majority of people out there, the kind of advice they’re giving out is beneficial. Too many people book boring, turn-my-brain-off tours to “safe” places like London, Paris, and Rome. Nothing wrong with London, Paris, and Rome, but if all you do is visit Westminster, Notre Dame, and St. Peter’s, you’re missing out on so much. Are these people going to launch headlong into a trip to Burma or Kenya or even Iguazu Falls? Not likely, but they need to be encouraged to expand their minds and go outside their comfort zones. Any advice to that effect is good advice.

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