But travel is the zeitgeist of our time, say Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness, and people delay marriage and children in order to go on grand adventures, put off college and jobs for it. And they make “The Hobbit” into one of the sacred texts of Travel. But the McKays point out that Tolkien himself didn’t make an idol of travel and in fact rarely traveled himself. That’s because the journey he advocated was an interior one:
In other words, books like The Hobbit are not necessarily supposed to inspire trips to far-flung lands, but rather to restore the freshness of familiar surroundings right in front of our faces. Once you discover this doorway to realms beyond, you’re able to see the world through a mythological lens, and find that there are hidden dimensions even within the walls of one’s hobbit hole. Once you’ve been there and back again, your perspective is forever changed; you begin to see things as they really are. Everything from the view outside your apartment to your commute to work can become more meaningful, even magical.
I enjoy seeing new places, but as I get older and have traveled more places I realize that it’s hard for any place to live up to the hype, the carefully composed Instagram photos and the breathless travel articles. This is why pilgrimage isn’t merely travel or vacation. It has a purpose and a meaning rooted in the relationship between me and God. The travel to other places is about helping me grow in ways unrelated to the physical location. I go on pilgrimage not to find myself, but to encounter God in a new way that is only possible if I enter the journey cognizant of this necessity.
There is a uniquely American virtue of travel. Our mythical heroes were inveterate wanderers: Daniel Boone, Lewis & Clark, Johnny Appleseed. Even today, if you go to a social event, people will often discuss their latest travel adventure and the subtext is that those who don’t travel are boring and conventional.
But travel for its own sake is ultimately empty unless it is tied to a deeper purpose, a pursuit of enduring virtues, a desire to love others and to love God above all.