Why Travel Works When Nothing Else Does

A scene from the old plateia (square) of Monastiraki in Athens. 

A scene from the old plateia (square) of Monastiraki in Athens. 

Paul and Stacy, a dynamic and affable Australian couple, were recently at an agrotourism hotel and farm in southern Greece. Over organic farm-grown stuffed peppers, fresh feta and biodynamic olive oil, we talked about life, meaning, work, and sustainable living as the sun set behind the olive trees. 

A few days later, Allyson, Jane, and Kathryn - Americans on retreat - and I talked about yoga, food (it's Greece after all and all talks eventually turn to food), plus what it means to have a sustainable self-care or spiritual practice. 

With brilliant Dimitris, with whom I co-authored a short book on socially responsible investing years ago, visiting from Brussels, our conversation explored life, death, whether time can actually fold in on itself, consciousness and the engineering and marketing marvels of Tesla Motors. 

In each of these examples, something extraordinary happened.

We all took the time to talk.

To really talk. 

The kind of talk teenagers who are fascinated by Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" engage in high school literature classes, or that philosophy undergrads explore. The kind that makes you want to stay up all night, talk, drink, laugh, argue, and converse until the sun rises. 

We live at a time when most people are hungry for connection. The more I look at the world, the more people I see in more places staring down at a device or a phone and missing out on that most beautiful human experience: the chance to authentically connect. 

It's a challenge for me, too. 

Most seasoned travelers will often talk about how they love the colors in India and the smells in Istanbul, the sounds of Athens and the tastes of Peru. They - we - readily talk about the obvious sensory and cultural experiences that travel affords.

What isn't spoken of though is the real reason I'm convinced most people travel: getting outside of ourselves, being in the present moment and genuinely connecting with others. 

Think about when you were a teenager and went on your first trip. You talked to everyone, whether you spoke the language or not. You had to. 

You were authentic (maybe authentically clueless about how to speak Spanish) and it made all the difference. 

And decades later, when you think about why you want your online business to succeed (to have the freedom to take your young daughter around the world to travel), you harken back to those conversations: the unexpected, deep, serendipitous ones you had that made their mark on you many, many years ago. 

Travel - and especially the kind of travel that creates an opportunity to retreat from the diurnal demands of life where you aren't running from airport to meeting to hotel - creates a chance to peel back the superficial layers of our conversations, to uncover something much richer, deeper, more primal even. 

That need to authentically connect that goes beyond language barriers, cultures, religions, economic class and color. That need that reminds us what really matters, the universality of the human experience and what makes life worth living. 

I'm wrapping up my time in Greece for this year.

I've had important, sacred personal projects and work to do here. I've served amazing clients, collaborated with leaders in their fields (more news about this later in 2016), and spent time just being. 

But one thing I know is for sure is that, no matter how much we love to travel, the wanderlust in our hearts can be expressed anywhere, at any time someone is willing to take a risk to be vulnerable and ask a question:

Who are you?

What matters to you?

What do you love?

And that's something we can do anywhere, anytime and whenever we are ready to let our authentic selves lead the way.