The Most Important Question to Ask Before You Travel

Yes, it’s time for some introspection…

Whether you realize it or not, every time you travel you leave behind a part of yourself. Though this includes the impression you make on others both as an individual and as a representative of your home country, there’s something more as well.

Warsaw, Poland

The more time you spend somewhere, the stronger your ties to that place become. Stay long enough and it can even become difficult to leave when the time comes. With certain places there is a very acute feeling that part of you stayed behind when the rest of you left. That part belongs there now.

Belgian Waffle

In return, the places you visit fill that missing part with memories, impressions, and of course food. Always with food.

From my experience, the most rewarding trips are the ones in which you take something with you when leaving. Often the best souvenirs are free. I’m not saying go and nick something! Rather, stuff your rucksack with knowledge, lessons, contacts, etc.

Dog Sledding

Leaving a part of yourself behind is easy; it’ll will sneak up on you while you’re queuing on the tarmac waiting to set off for your next destination. But taking something requires effort if you’re doing it right. Which brings me to the most important question to ask yourself before you travel:

What do you want to learn?

I was debating between this and “Why do you travel?” I decided on the former because it is more specific while simultaneously informing the latter.

You don’t need to go so far as to have an agenda or checklist for your trip. Travel, especially when it’s for leisure, is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Pondering this question shouldn’t get in the way of that. Rather, it should help you to get the most out of your trip.
Czech Republic

The answer doesn’t have to be overly specific, such as “I want to go to on the Wooden Architecture Trail and learn about the influence of Christianity on Polish culture.” That’s not travel; that’s a term paper!

While the exact answer depends on you and your interests, here are some which resonate with me:

“I want to know how people live in different countries.”
“I want to try all the local food.”
“I want to find out what others think of my country.”
“I want to see if what everyone else says about that place is true.”
“I want to learn to speak the local language.”

Gion Festival in Hita, Japan
“I want to take chances and make friends.”

Of course, the answer can also technically be “nothing.” Although even with fingers in your ears and eyes looking at the ground, impressions of your destination will force their way in. It’ll be your call whether to leave them as they are or to learn the meaning behind them.

This question won’t dictate necessarily where you’ll go or even what you’ll do when you get there. But it will help guide how you’ll interpret your experiences.

Mt. Fuji in Japan
And remember, the best experiences are usually free.

3 thoughts on “The Most Important Question to Ask Before You Travel

  1. Interesting thoughts. It’s sometimes difficult when the ‘real’ place is hard to stomach (ear splitting music in almost all of China e.g.), but I agree just hanging out in a bar or a cafe or public space is the best way to get a feel for it. And eating everything! I’m not sure leaving part of you behind means losing something, just changing maybe?


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