In 1953, when asked by a journalist “Why must you climb Mt. Everest?” George Mallory, the expedition leader of Sir Edmund Hillary's team, famously replied, “Because it’s there.” I would delve even deeper and suggest that George Mallory could just as easily have said, “Because we are here.”
Mt. Everest exists whether we know about it or not, but it’s our existence that changes with a summit attempt.
We travel because of what exploration can teach us about ourselves.
Fortitude - through the lens of grit & teamwork (mountain climbing, expeditions)
Empathy - through the lens of “the other” (immersion into foreign cultures, cuisines and customs)
Humility - through the lens of time (visit to historical sites, revisiting place you’ve once seen)
Exploration is one of those things that you don’t always know what you’re going to learn but you do it anyway. You do it because you will ascertain something about yourself or the human thread in general.
And we keep exploring places we’ve already been to, to see how they’ve changed, to see what we might have missed, and to remind ourselves that the world doesn’t stop when we’re not around.
What does it mean to explore in an age when everything’s been “found”? It means everything because for most of us, what we’re looking for isn’t a dot on the map, it’s who we’ll find inside of us when we get there.
(More on this topic on a recent podcast interview I did for Where There's Smoke. Check it out here.)
Travel is as much about self-reflection and self-actualization as it is about seeing Angkor Wat with your two eyes.
To travel is to re-sign the contract of life that says, “I don’t know all there is to know.” It is a promise to always be a student, to always be curious, and that the best experiences come at wind-whipped heights of a kite named “vulnerability.”
As Brene Brown once said, “Our experiences in this life cannot exceed our willingness to be vulnerable.”
And as Dr. Kevin Fong once said, “To explore you have to survive but to survive you have to explore.”
We are the curious ape.
To explore is to be vulnerable.
To explore is the be human.
The day we stop exploring (even the nooks and crannies in our own neighborhoods) is the day we stop asking questions, the day we cease to try to understand, the day we become stagnant in an ever-fluctuating (political & geological) environment.
If survival is anything, it’s adaptation.
I explore, therefore I am.