philosophy travel

The idea of a trip across the United States has become somewhat of an American institution. Something like a New American Dream, this one maybe a bit more accessible than that house, happy life, and nuclear family with 2.5 kids. It’s something that is undertaken by both the young and the old, with the former perhaps hitchhiking or sleeping in their cars while the latter leapfrog between National Parks in their expensive and comfortable motor homes.

It’s something that can be undertaken alone, along a lonely journey which becomes a sort of vision quest to find one’s purpose. Or it can be undertaken with friends and family, and turned into more of a quest to check off bucket list destinations and to experience America.

Whatever the circumstance, the thought of the American Road Trip hangs in the back of every American’s mind in some way. I can’t help think that there is daily at least one person stuck in a cubicle or trapped in a job behind a computer screen that isn’t tempted in some way to recklessly abandon their current situation and make plans to hit the road. Even if the trip amounts to nothing, and no progress on a sense of life purpose, at the very least there is a thrill of escape, of running away from the daily struggle. What a thrill, like escaping a prison - a prison we’ve willingly signed up for.

And why not take a chance? It’s like the escape of running off to travel the world, except much less expensive and with far less communication barriers along the way.

Of course I should say that anyone lucky enough to be in circumstances to even entertain these thoughts is privileged. I’m sure some shake their heads in disgust that such spoiled people aren’t content, and feel the need to escape from their comfortable life.

Maybe the person wanting to make a jailbreak is a millenial such as myself, somewho is spoiled, never had to truly struggle as generations past, and all through life lead along nowhere-in-particular with a carrot-on-a-stick, a buildup to the glorious present. The present, which turned out to be the mundane grind of a meaningless job that happens to pay well, and maybe continues to spoil you with free food and other perks, in the hopes to stifle those existential pains.

We have all this and then still complain? I know why folks are outraged at the thought, but this struggle isn’t new, and the American Road Trip has always been a cross-generational outlet to find one’s purpose in the face of mundane reality. I’m not sure how far back you have to go to be considered a “millenial”, but stretching it back to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road would be reaching.

A bit of a side note: but I thought I was Generation Y, not Millenial? Or are they the same? I never really liked being lumped into a category, especially one based on a time period in which I was born. Next thing you know, folks will be analyzing personalities based on their birth month. But I guess we’ll leave that to astrology and other bunk.

In any case, why not explore the possibilities?

If I stayed in a good but meaningless job where my ego was stroked and my belly and wallet fattened, that would be a sure way to come out in ten years as a bored, unfulfilled, fat, entitled individual. And ten years older at that, probably with debts and a mortgage to pay off for life (the terms of the sentence). Perhaps I’d become lazy and never challenged myself to get out and explore different possibilities, different ways of making a living. Perhaps I’d never considered that I could make money doing other things, that I could seriously consider and try other modes of living, or at least observe them in others as I sped by their world in my car.

What better way of doing all that, than on a trip across the country? Where you could get out and see how different folks existing and living in various ways? What a taste of all the options, all the possibilities. At the very least you could figure out if the air smelled differently in different parts, if people talked differently, if folks were kinder in some parts or had different attitudes. What a shame never to experience it.

Many folks may be comparatively well-off to be able to undertake such an adventure. But what a truly great adventure it must be! What a truly great opportunity, and what a privilege to have the option to look at these possibilities and to turn them over in one’s mind for days on end, to take them seriously and try to understand them.

Socrates once said:

Besides, it is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.

αἰσχρὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ διὰ τὴν ἀμέλειαν γηρᾶναι, πρὶν ἰδεῖν ἑαυτὸν ποῖος ἂν κάλλιστος καὶ κράτιστος τῷ σώματι γένοιτο

(from Xenophon's Memorabilia)

This can also be applied to our mental life, and our way of living. We have the opportunity to push our bodies to its limits to test it and know how much we are possible of.

How much can we push our comfort zone and know other ways of living, and to explore those possibilities? What a shame to grow old and never have experienced those limits.

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