The Hunter-Gatherer Gene of Travel – my exploration

Here is some insight for traveling. No, it is not the clickbait 5 reasons why you should travel or the witty quotes about why its the best thing. Nor is it the dramatic life of the modern digital nomad or gap year person.

The main reason or reasons why you should travel are not because foreign shores are calling or your passport visa pages are empty. Also if you are gap year eligible its not to reboot your life and spend a year moving to another drumbeat.

There is no real or main reason to travel other than our anthropological nature was to travel across geographies and hunt and gather slowly in accord with the seasons. We perhaps moved to the climate and found a new place with game and plants aplenty. We did not need good wifi to make a difference then but we did paint on cave walls and some would say drew maps showing a place to hunt or a map of travels or a social experience.

I ask you all not to name the reason why you travel. You all have those. Maybe its one of the ones I named or perhaps you feel the yearning from those yesteryears of life beckoning to you. We all have indomitable spirits no matter how we try to quell them with work, relationships, money, even travel. We believe that by going at a pace or calling ourselves something we satisfy some innate urge, some basic need to hit the road. Perhaps a later thing is to quantify it on twitter or instagram with the never-ending tribe photos of your pursuit. Its all good! We all travel because we do but I think the reason goes far back in time. Back when we were hunter-gatherers and to travel meant to travel slowly. We grew used to each place we would stay in. Game trails and clear and clean water. Perhaps trade with other groups would enrich our lives by introducing new things like seashell beads or food that was unique.

My hypothesis is that we travel because we must. Its in our human spirit to want to see what is over the horizon but now we do it not because we need food or water or the game or the plants. The basic need is still there to travel but here’s the thing,

Traveling Slowly

That’s the thing folks. I talk with a friend who does business travel around Asia and the US. I feel for him. Its not the travel itself which makes him happy. That is just an instrument to get him to the next business meeting which is timezones away. Its the flights that connect with other flights that feed a meeting in a city in another country and then business needs say you must be “over there” on X day next week. To me, this sucks at our indomitable spirit of travel. Its a bastardization of what travel is and it does more harm than good. I think its harming his physical life and his mental. Its the antithesis of travel when its only the destinations that count and not the means. I think the final thing that happens with cruel business travel is burn out or illness or both.

Lets step back though and look at my hypothesis which is antithetical to business travel. My belief is our human ancestors traveled slowly to meet the seasons and to meet their needs not just for food and plants but for social and cultural reasons as well. Places were lived in for months. See the basic broad stroke of patterns here? The reasons why have changed folks but the need is there.

So how do we meet the need that is so ingrained in our personas? When we feel by not doing it somehow we are missing or not achieving or not finding? Its simple to me. Its that ancestor desire but we have evolved to a point where the travel itself becomes the thing; not if we are a digital nomad or a gap year or a round the world traveler. The main difference is speed of execution. I believe we are meant to slowly see the world roll out before us and by traveling more slowly we take in more of the wonderful tapestry that each place has for us. But the other part, unlike my friend and his business travel, is the travel itself. That becomes a thing for us. Its the moving and not the arriving. Perhaps that too was in those hunter-gatherer genes. We don’t know because only a few societies remain that practice the lifestyle. Can it be we are “schooled” for slow travel that maximizes the word “travel” and not always “destination”? Sure. Can business travel with all its needs and requirements and limitations actually hurt the need rather than feed it? I hope my friend finds his balance but I don’t think he will. Rarely do company needs meet individual needs.

Look at your own travel style. Is it 35 countries in 90 days you tick off on a map and your visa pages fill up quickly? What would it be like I posit to slow way down and only see, really see, two countries in 90 days? There’s an incipient goal to “do it all”, make it to magic number that coalesces your needs with the year you have on the road. I wonder if some other travel tribe acquaintances would have gone slower if things would have been better for them.

Just like the hunter-gatherers of yore did not rush the places but lingered to find the required items or cherished items or family or sexual or other items; what if we lingered?

I always ask myself in reading twitter accounts of their travels some questions:

  1. What is served by the mode and speed you go?
  2. Who defined that speed?
  3. Why are you going so fast or trying to see so much at a time?
  4. When its all over in a year what will you have to show?

Consider if you are considering a trip. If you spent a year in Vietnam which can be done easily I think, what you would gain. Vietnam, a cheaper place to live day by day, to meet people, just spend time with the camera or the work doing the things you love. Or maybe Cambodia or Malaysia or Thailand? What if you spent 6 months in a place cheaper and 2 weeks in a place more expensive? Even more what if it ceased to matter at all and the moments started mattering?

Give some thought to it. Your hunter-gatherer genes are telling you a barely discerned thing. Its both the destination and the way that counts. You impose some sense of order and perhaps limitation but what if you stayed longer? Could it work to make you something else?

Do you even want to be something else?

Author: Michael Perry

I've been blogging for over 20 years and now am living in Southeast Asia. The blog is about my slow vagabonding wherever I want to go. My home base is in Cambodia but I'm rarely there.