off to Italy, and why do we travel?

I’m off to Italy tomorrow for 11 days, travelling by train to different regions after 3 days in Rome. I’ll post a travel report when I return. Here’s a text I wrote a few years ago, entitled ‘Why Do We Travel?’

I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing-only area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I self-consciously ate a slice of pizza while eight pairs of eyes watched hungrily. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men. It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe. At the next station they were escorted off the train. What awaited them?, I wondered. A detention camp, maybe, and deportation. I felt sorry for them.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity and destiny and danger of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.

Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine (I hate routine). It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up. Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.

To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still, to feel inspired. To connect with humanity. To converse with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we normally wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.

Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.



Zeppole, custard-filled deep-fried balls of dough; photo by Antonio Gravante


Eleonora Grasso photo


5 thoughts on “off to Italy, and why do we travel?

    • Thanks, Lori. I’ll give you a list of addresses. The best gelati, for example, and pastries, pasta and pizza places. I’m throwing my diet out the window for 11 days …

  1. Great post, am on holiday now and catching up on all the greats posts Ive missed. You are right, totally agree that we travel to see the world in all its ‘splendour and misery’ so well put. As I get older there’s no other ‘to dos’ in my list but to keep exploring.

    • Too many places to explore, and too little time (and money.) That’s my problem. I have the feeling that I’m always working …

Leave a Reply to Juliet in Paris Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s