Traveling for the Majesty of Nature

In Setting Off, The Travel Habit Fall 2014 by Lia Masur1 Comment

Why do people travel? Erskine Caldwell asserts a strong hypothesis about the purpose of travel in Some American People, stating,

“What is worth traveling thousands of miles to see and know are people and their activity…The majesty of nature is a trivial sight when it is not viewed in relation to man and his activity. Merely to see things is not enough, only the understanding of man’s activity is satisfying,” (4).

I do think the motivations Caldwell is defining hold true in some ways, but as a person very passionate about traveling, I also strongly disagree. People are interested in people, and they are very interested in people who are different from them. It seems that these writers, reporters, and artists of the Great Depression had an obsession with the migrant travelers that were different from them, and learning about these differences is what motivated them to travel the country.

I can relate to this. While living in Spain earlier this year, I did a lot of traveling in Europe and have very fond memories of meeting people all over the world. The Australians I met in Barcelona, the Dutch woman I met in Vondelpark, and the Brazilians I met in Lisbon all taught me more about their home countries, as well as the places I was visiting. Caldwell would call these social interactions me reaching for the satisfaction of “the understanding of man’s activity”. And I agree, there was something amazing about understanding someone else’s world, even if it was just a second within a short conversation. But I do not understand how Caldwell can say that when traveling the majesty of nature is a trivial sight independently. This is where I strongly disagree.

Something stirs within me when I am surrounded by nature. Nature’s beauty is enough motivation for me to want to see everything in America. I know that the oceans are used for trade, the mountains are used for coal, and the forests are used for wood; all things natural have a human interaction. But when I am surrounded by each of these natural elements, that is not what I’m thinking about. That is not why I was attracted to the ocean, the mountains, or the forest in the first place.

After living in New York City for over three years, I often find myself feeling disconnected to nature, and always surrounded by people. I recently traveled to Colorado, and went on a beautiful hike at Red Rocks Open Space in Colorado Springs. The sky, the mountains, and the water all made me feel refreshed, open, and connected to the land I was standing on. Maybe it is because I often feel over stimulated by human activity in New York City, that I am looking for quite the opposite while I travel. When I travel I want to find freedom within nature, and I am often not striving to connect with “man and his activity”. I’m sure Caldwell would argue that I am doing this unconsciously, but I truly believe that there is a huge satisfaction in being immersed in unfamiliar nature while traveling, without always relating it back to people.


  1. Hi Lia!
    I really liked your interpretation and explanation of Erskine Caldwell’s quote about what motivates people to travel. I totally agree that there are definitely people who can go out into nature to appreciate it for the sake of nature itself. But here’s another point to consider: in this technology age, do you think most people are going out to just enjoy nature, or are they taking it as a photo opportunity to later blast on social media and share with friends? And if this is the case, do you think that detracts from the essence of going out into nature itself (by bringing your iPhone, camera, etc. into the picture)?

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