Travel to Seek Insignificance

July 13, 2016

The last leg of my Peru trip was spent in Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of a desert just outside of Ica. During the late afternoon, we took a buggy that looked like it was straight out of Jurassic Park, on a roller coaster ride among the sloping sand dunes that we would later be boarding down. That night, after purchasing a couple bottles of cheap wine, a group of us clambered barefoot up the steep incline of sand. Already a majestic sight during the day, the desert looked unreal bathed in moonlight. All you could see in every direction were mounds of sand that met a night sky, filled to the brim with stars and a low-hanging moon.

It’s moments like those, when I am in the presence of great and awe-inspiring forces, that I am keenly aware of how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things; as inconsequential as a speck of dust…and I LOVE IT.

Have I lost you? Then you are in the majority because the statement “I like to feel insignificant” is met with more than a little confusion. Stick with me…

We can get so busy with our day-to-day lives, absorbed with our careers, errands, chores, commitments; our noses to the grind that we don’t realize that our perspective has blurred.

It’s like when you go to the movies and the only seats left are the first couple rows at the front. You’re too lazy to go refund the tickets so you reluctantly sit down and tip your head all the way back to look at the screen. You can’t really immerse yourself in the story because you’re too close to take in the full scene. Also you’re distracted by the painful crick in your neck.

We become so deeply entrenched in the minutiae of daily life that what’s really important becomes obscured and we fixate on the petty details and decisions that don’t merit as much energy that we give it. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. Should I go to dinner or watch a movie? Should I buy or rent? Helvetica or Comic Sans?*


Travel is an escape – from work, monotony, routine, but it’s also an escape from ourselves.

It gives us a chance to step back and give our outlook on life room to breathe. It provides much needed distance so you can see with more clarity what is truly important.

Venturing beyond of our bubbles of self-absorption, also provides context. When I stand in the face of a sprawling rainforest or at the edge of a violently crashing sea that has existed long before and will continue to exist long after I’m gone, I am confronted by my own insignificance.

Far from depressing me, the realization that I am relatively a speck on dust is liberating! I am comforted by the reminder that I am not the centre of the universe; that the sun does not revolve around me and the choices I make. While my decisions are important to me and have impact, knowing that the world does not hinge on me is freeing.

Feeling insignificant also has the contrary effect in the sense that instead of making me feel small and isolated, it makes me feel more connected to the rest of the world; like I’m part of something greater than myself. Kind of reminds me of when schools of small fish swim together to seem larger to scare of larger predators. When you are not the whole world, there is room for people to be in it and to know you’re in this thing together.

So that’s one of the reasons I love to travel: to chase the feeling of insignificance and to get some perspective on my “troubles”. In the glory of Machu Picchu, it’s hard to fret over whether I paint my room Sublime or Snowy White.