Travel with Purpose // Angie Park

Travel with Purpose // Angie Park

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

We’ve always been on the move.

Since we were hunters and gatherers in search of food.
Since we began to build roads that allowed us to travel and caravan through continents.

We moved and travelled for the purpose of trade, commerce and religious convictions that took people like Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo to foreign parts of the world to encounter new strange lands where they were confronted by people who spoke different languages and believed in other types of deities. Our movement spread stories, expanded minds and changed the way we view others and ourselves.


Travel” derives from an old French word “travail,” which means, “to torment,” “labor,” “strive,” and “journey.”  It used to be linked to the difficulty of traveling back in the ancient times when there were lack of accessible roads, foods, and dangers in new lands. It is incredible how much travel has changed, with the invention of wheels, boats and flying mechanisms that allowed us to explore far and beyond— surpassing our greatest imaginations.
Today we travel for many different reasons— it may include holiday vacations, business trips, weekend getaways, backpacking journeys, volunteer travel, commuting, etc. Whether our travel is long, short, and alone or with people, our motivations are not so singular anymore. We possess different needs and wants that entice us to travel.  We are also barraged by lots of options—we see magazines and instagrams full of top travel destinations, places to see, things to do, and foods to eat. With bountiful information at our fingertips and never enough time, how can we travel with meaning and purpose?


How can we continue to enhance ourselves
through travel in a truly meaningful way?


To rewind.
In my early twenties, I travelled as an extreme tourist. Being a tourist is great if you want a condensed version of the world. At certain times in your life, it makes sense. I spent a lot of time “touring,” which means that I jammed everything I could based on a list I saw in a Lonely Planet book. It reminds me of my first trip to France, when I spent couple days running through the streets of Paris, taking photos underneath the Eiffel tower, in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and next to the Arc de Triomphe. I was exhausted and in a way, there are a few things I remember from that trip except that “I saw what I needed to see.”
According to the English journalist, novelist, and essayist Gilbert K. Chesterton:

"The traveler sees what he sees, 
the tourist sees what he has come to see."

I had come to see what I had to see.
I did not know that there were other ways of traveling till years later.
Over time, I felt something lacking from my travels. I felt a gaping hole. I continued on, but I kept hearing myself saying “So what?” “What does it mean?”  “What am I seeking?” My travels began to feel aimless and I felt a lack of ownership in my experiences. I was lost in the “idea” of travel, instead of truly traveling. 

Zakopane, Tatra Mountains, Poland  (captured by film camera)

In 2004, I decided, on a whim, to head to Krakow, Poland. I took an overnight train from Prague, Czech Republic and sat in a car with a bunch of old men drinking their way through the evening. When we reached the train station, a kind, old Polish lady offered a room in her apartment and I stayed with her and her family for several days. I remember that she played the piano all day and all evening— and the music felt sad with the dreary weather of Krakow. While I was there, I spent time exploring the city and took a long bus ride out to Auschwitz and Birkenau, where the most notorious concentration camps were built by the Third Reich during World War II.  

It was also the first time I remember having a different understanding of travel. I took a train and bus ride out to Zakopane, at the extreme south of Poland to the Tatra Mountains. I'm not sure what took me out there. I did not intend to hike, but I ran across a solitary hiker who carried nothing but a bag of bread for an overnight weekend hike. He told me that the mountains were special and would be an important experience. Indeed, it was. 

I was dressed inappropriate for a long arduous hike. I climbed the mountain for four hours in thin sneakers with a large wheeled backpack on my shoulder. I remember reaching my peak destination point and looking out into the wide and majestic landscape and thinking "Why?" "Why are you doing this [traveling]?" And though it seems like a simple question, it was the most profound, and it continues to be my driving force today. 
Why are you traveling?

At that time, I used to write long journal entries on sheets of paper— some of which I've kept over time. So much of my writing earlier on is about the loneliness of traveling alone, and also trying to figure out what I'm taking away from it.

Why am I on the journey and what am I learning?
We all travel for different reasons. Each of us travel to enhance different parts of ourselves, whether it be to enhance our mood, our life, our joy, our relationships and our clarity. It’s about enhancing a part of ourselves by immersing into a new environment that may foster new feelings and experiences. So, the big question is…what is the purpose and motivation of your travel? What is it that you’re seeking? It is pleasure? Relaxation? Discovery? Exploration? What is it that the ‘inner you’ needs?

As I grow into my thirties, one things I've noticed is that I think of why I want to travel before picking my destination. Once you know the why, everything else falls into place and the inspirational yield becomes tenfold. Here, some of my purpose-driven travel stories:

Location: Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Around 7 years ago, after three months interning in the frenzy of New York, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience. I've always been interested in Nova Scotia, and I knew that the journey there would allow me to process my thoughts in the way I needed to before heading back to California. I rented a car and drove for 10 days up New England into Nova Scotia and towards the prehistoric views of Cape Breton Island where I stayed a couple days at a charming but isolated bed and breakfast run by an old German lady. I spent the time hiking, and driving around the island which was tremendously vast and untouched.

Location: The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
A good friend and I met in Texas from opposite sides of the country to spend time together. We've been living apart and wanted to hit the road with two destinations in mind—Marfa, Texas and Zion National Canyon. Whatever happened between point A and point B was a combination of luck, a bit of research and where the road took us. We knew that there's no better time to spend together than long car drives through the country where our only distractions were each other. Travel feels meaningful if you focus on your goal, which in this case, was spending time together.

Location: Hongdae, Seoul, Korea

After my Dad passed away, I really wanted to spend some time in the country he was born and raised in.  I wanted to reconnect with my uncles and aunts. I spent most of my time just hanging out in coffee shops and walking around without a destination in mind— soaking in his presence (which was omnipresent).

Location: Wakayama, Japan
After a rough year, I needed time to heal. I ventured on a week long walk on the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage with sacred sites along with route. Along the journey, I also spent time by the Yunomine Onsen, which is known for its legendary healing effects. Regardless of beliefs, there's something undeniably mystical in this mountainous trail. I knew that walking would provide me the healing I needed.

Location: Joshua Tree, California
A quick weekend getaway from the city at the end of the year! Traveling doesn't always have to be a big enormous adventure. It can be short, quiet and close to home. What I wanted was a time to relax and take a step away from the chaos of the day-to-day. 

Sometimes, the "why," is an easy question to answer, and other times, it takes a bit of reflection. But regardless of what “type” of trip, it’s important to assess what you want from your travel to help give the experience purpose and meaning. Once you recognize that, the goal of the travel stops being a “check list of things,” but a way in which we can recreate ourselves by breaking out of our old mindless routines and patterns. To bring our senses back to life and to reconnect with the people and world around us.

Bon voyage.

Wishing you fair winds and following seas!

Written by: 
Angie Park

1 comment

  • Echo: June 01, 2016
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    These travel stories (and the purposes behind them) are so beautiful! Thank you for sharing them, Angie.

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