The packing, the airport, the new foods, the beautiful vistas, the amazing people you meet along the way; all ample reason to go travelling. But none of these things top the list for the reason we travel, according to new research – rather it’s the self-discovery, the finding purpose in our own lives, that counts.

In a recent survey by Capital One, three in four Americans, “travel to discover something new about themselves or the place they’re visiting.”

While the most popular places Americans visit range from the United Kingdom to India, it’s the desire to have that sense of discovery that 83 percent of Americans crave when they’re on the road.

Meaningful travel experiences

When Americans leave home, their travel goals include having time to themselves and exploring passions and interests.

But, more importantly, it’s the feelings of fulfilment, self-development and discovery that matter most, with travelers wanting to come back knowing the “trip was meaningful” and that it was a “purposeful experience.”

The actual means to get those emotions can vary for people. It could be to de-clutter the mind, meeting new people (or local people), or taking a career break. Some may find that goal by pushing their comfort zones by going to a festival alone or others might reach new heights by hiking the Everest Trail.

No matter what your sense of fulfilment or self-discovery may be, the escapism of travel is a natural path to that goal. It’s no wonder 70 percent of those surveyed said it’s important to have a purposeful experience integrated into their travels.

Exploring new cultures

solo travel

The term “local” has started to become buzzier in recent years, thus sparking that need to travel overseas to immerse yourself within cultures in a way you can’t do so from afar.

After all, self-discovery aside, the other main reason we love to travel is to learn something new about the destination we’re going to. Eight out of 10 Americans who’ve traveled to “experience local culture” said that they hope to take another trip soon with the same purpose.

That can come in the form of trying the local foods, learning the language, or simply becoming a more culturally-rounded person.

“I love to go to a place and just have wander… and find a local restaurant — hopefully they don’t speak English — and try to communicate because there are other ways to communicate, and tasting things you wouldn’t taste otherwise,” actress-singer Zooey Deschanel said at the purposeful travel panel where the Capital One survey was released.

That feeling of being “fulfilled” by a purpose-inspired trip was important to 87 percent of American travelers surveyed, with 82 percent aspiring to describe trips as more meaningful in the future. And self-discovery goes hand-in-hand when you travel with purpose.

So, stop worrying about the “how” on your next trip and focus more on the “why.”


Try these three adventures for some purposeful self-discovery:

Take a leap into the stunning salt flats of Bolivia

Explore this trip

Escape the daily routine in Vietnam

Take me there

Find your Zen in Morocco

Morocco surfing

Whisk me away