When studying the ancient scriptures, we discover a love-hate relationship between the Stoics and travel. So, is there a Stoic way to travel? And how can Stoicism benefit those who engage in traveling? In this video, I want to present to you the beginner’s guide to Stoic travel.
The travel bug is a common phenomenon nowadays. For some people, travel has become an addiction. I think we shouldn’t forget that today’s recreational traveling is, for the most part, a luxury. People pay large sums of money to board expensive and polluting flights, going from hotel to hotel, from mountains to beaches, and jungles to deserts, just for the purpose of experience. Others travel with a specific goal, like work or charity, while enjoying the change of scenery that comes with it.
I would like to explore two questions. The first one is ethical, exploring how and for what reasons we ought to travel according to Stoic philosophy. The second one is practical, exploring Stoic wisdom to make travel in general more enjoyable.
Now, let’s start with the first question: (1) is there a Stoic way to travel?
Knowing that the main focus of Stoicism is living a life of virtue and that so-called preferred indifferents are secondary, we can safely say that the Stoics won’t support the massive decadence that goes hand-in-hand with several forms of travel.
Another common occurrence is the usage of travel as a means of escape, or to find peace and resolve emotional turmoil.
The Stoics don’t see travel as a valid method to find tranquility. Seneca argues that travel is no solution if we aim to improve ourselves emotionally. He states that instead of leading our emotions, we are carrying them. I quote:
What benefit has travel of itself ever been able to give anyone? No restraint upon pleasure, no bridling of desire, no checking of bad temper, no crushing of the wild assaults of passion, no opportunity to rid the soul of evil. Travelling cannot give us judgment, or shake off our errors; it merely holds our attention for a moment by a certain novelty, as children pause to wonder at something unfamiliar.Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 104
Seneca ensures that no matter how far we travel; it will not resolve the emotional state that we were in before we departed. The constant change of scenery will not change anything within us.
During the time I created this video I was traveling myself, spending a while abroad, and I noticed exactly what Seneca said. When the novelty of being away from home or a new location wears off, we will be confronted by ourselves again. Our anxieties, negative thinking, personality traits: not much has changed just by moving from one place to another. When traveling, the external circumstances may change, but we will carry ourselves everywhere we go.
According to Seneca, it is essential that we fix ourselves to truly enjoy traveling instead of expecting our traveling to fix us.
If you would enjoy your travels, make healthy the companion of your travels. As long as this companion is avaricious and mean, greed will stick to you; and while you consort with an overbearing man, your puffed-up ways will also stick close.Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 104
Even though I agree with Seneca, I think it’s also possible to travel and fix ourselves along the way. Without expecting that the change of scenery will solve anything, it surely is possible to do some inner work during our travels. Traveling can give us unique opportunities to expose ourselves to what we fear or learn new skills.
In some cases, changing location can benefit us in becoming better people in the form of seclusion. For example: in his letters to Lucilius, Seneca seems to value spending time in solitude and tells us that we should stay away from crowds:
To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 7
So, a valid reason for travel could be the avoidance of bad company; something that Epictetus also advises. When we live in a toxic environment at home, travel gives us the opportunity to escape that and find a better company that is more aligned with our own values, or to simply spend time in solitude.
Withdraw into yourself, as far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, 7
Simply put: Stoics can travel when it supports or cultivates their ability to live virtuously.
Another example would be to travel for a specific cause. When duty calls, or we have another good non-recreational reason to pack our bags and change location, our traveling contributes to the common good. So, when this is the main purpose of our travels, and we happen to encounter some preferred indifferents on the side, so be it. Some examples of travel with purpose are:
- Traveling for work
- Traveling to teach
- Traveling for environmental issues
- Traveling for charity
The second question: (2) how can Stoicism benefit those who engage in traveling?
Okay, let’s forget the ethics for a few minutes. Regardless of the reason of your travel, what can Stoicism teach us that can make our traveling more enjoyable? Quite a few things, actually.
When we engage in our journey, we’ll be more intensely confronted with the fact that the world is completely out of control. We don’t control the weather, the delays of air traffic, taxi drivers that try to scam us, or if our hotel room looks kind of different from the picture in the travel catalog.
In Stoicism, the dichotomy of control tells us that it’s better not to care about the things beyond our control. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to stand up for ourselves, but a healthy detachment towards preferred indifferents will make the journey more enjoyable. The key is to lower our expectations.
If we care too much about everything that could go wrong, we let the tranquility of our mind depend on the unpredictable experience of travel, which isn’t a very smart idea.
Caring too much about external things boils down to desire and aversion. We might have a strong desire for beautiful, white beaches and light blue water, and a strong aversion towards rainy, cold weather and missing our flight. We might say that when we incur the former that our journey – or vacation if you will – is a success. But when we incur the latter, our journey is a failure.
Imagine tracking every taxi ride using Google Maps because of the fear of being scammed or being irritated when a train arrives too late and angered when the local people aren’t as friendly as we wish they should be: how horrible would such a journey be! Instead, enjoy the good and make peace with the bad. And definitely don’t let either of them disturb your equanimity.
A way to lower our expectations is doing the negative visualization by Marcus Aurelius, which I have made a separate video about. Another idea is to keep a journal or travel log, so you can write down the daily experiences because travel can be very overwhelming and evoke anxiety.
Aside from the practical tips that Stoicism has to offer that may enhance your journey, I think it’s still essential to mention that a Stoic puts virtue first. In short, this would mean that, while traveling, we ought to consider wisdom, moderation, courage and justice.
I think that moderation is an important one to prevent the decadence and focus on fulfilling the passions like lust and delight. Even though this might be exactly the false concept of happiness that travel agencies are trying to sell you: indulging the senses like stuffing ourselves on all-you-can-eat buffets in luxurious resorts, or the sight of palm trees and tropical beaches may be fun for a while, but will never satisfy us in the long run, nor will it make us better people.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying these things. However: because finding contentment, inner peace and the improvement of character is an integral part of Stoicism, incorporating these pursuits in our journey is the priority.
Thank you for watching.