What Motivates Us to Travel

Originally published in my Medium blog.

I recently found an interesting article from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the concept of flow.

Csikszentmihalyi proposes a model for understanding why we travel, which I found exciting as it helped me to understand my recent travel experience.

The Model

Here is the simplified model:

The model is straightforward.

There are two elements: motivation (horizontal axis) and purpose (vertical axis).

Motivation can be external or internal. External means you go for a business trip, anything work-related or because you follow the desire of your partner (we have all been there, I guess). Internal motivation means you go for the sake of travel because you want to relax.

Purpose can be self-development or pleasure. Self-development has to do with personal growth, say, when you attend a conference, learn new cultures, etc. Pleasure…well, pleasure is a pleasure! You have a good time, enjoy the food, and meet new people.

How To Use It

Now, place any of your trips (past or future) on the chart based on its purpose and motivation.

For example, below is an example of a trip with external motivation and self-development. This could be a conference or a yoga trip to India organized by your partner (because you’ve been intolerable lately):

Now, say, you go for a beach holiday because you’re tired and need some rest. The green dot would appear in the right lower area meaning that there is internal motivation, and the purpose is pure pleasure.

You got the idea, right?

So, naturally, when I learned this, I thought I need to see what was the motivation for my recent trips.

Here’s what I found:

Oh no!

The first thing that shocked me is all of my recent trips had the external motivation (these were either conference of trips planned by my wife). The only exception was Genoa, which was a two-day trip I planned completely myself, and that involved self-development (I learned the history of the city, visited the place where Columbus was born, and saw a great deal of beautiful architecture).

The second shock was that I didn’t make any trips with internal motivation and the purpose of pure pleasure. The right lower part is entirely blank. I didn’t go on a beach holiday since forever! I mean, could it be the reason why I was so exhausted throughout the last year?

Of course, you can argue that even a trip with the external motivation and the purpose of self-development can be a pleasant one. And I would agree. I did enjoy all of them. However, what’s really important in this model is the initial motivation.

In my case, I had not a single trip within the last few years with an initial motivation of pleasure.

I didn’t need Csikszentmihalyi and his model to remind me that I wasn’t on a lazy holiday for ages. However, for me, it was like a revelation, and I think, in the future, I will use this chart to plan my next trips and reflect on the ones I made.

The reason I’m low on traveling for the sake of traveling is I always tried to kill two birds with one stone (“hell ya, I will go see the city on a free day and then go whale spotting on Saturday”).

But what we all need to do from time to time is to allow ourselves to enjoy a relaxing holiday. You can always continue self-development (with a book or an audio course), even on the beach.

At least, that’s what I’m going to do next.

I hope you will find this model useful too, and understand your motivation for the next trip!

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