Intrinsic vs Purposeful vs Mission-Driven Traveling


What is your style of exploring the world? Do you prefer to plan or you go with the flow? Normally, I would just get excited about a place and would go there. It’s cool to be carefree and spontaneous. There are, however, two main drawbacks of traveling without any plan: 1) missing out on unique opportunities, and 2) wasting time on figuring out what to do next. I contemplated various reasons for planning and I would like to share them with you. I also advocate for experimenting with mission-driven traveling.

This week I spent a little bit of time planning some of my trips for the upcoming year.  Then I realized that the style of traveling is related to motivation, i.e., figuring out why you want to travel to a specific destination. Have you ever heard of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? Let’s take a look at definitions from Wikipedia:

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward.

Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated.

Let’s link the two definitions with the two styles of traveling; we end up with:

  1. Intrinsic traveling (going with the flow). If you travel for the sake of traveling, then you are intrinsically motivated. You simply enjoy the process of exploring new places and you don’t care much about specific stuff to see there. For example, when I went to Barcelona, I was enjoying the city a lot and didn’t bother to see the famous church of Sagrada Familia. For majority of tourists, on the other hand, this is a must-see venue.
  2. Purposeful traveling (planning trips). If you travel to see a specific place or to perform a specific activity, then you are extrinsically motivated. You care about the location, because it offers something unique that is unavailable in other locations. For example, if you go to Paris to see the Eiffel tower and take a selfie there, then that’s the source of your motivation.


I think that most of my travels, so far, have been mostly intrinsically motivated. I loved the activity of exploring new places, regardless of whether it was Paris or a shithole in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps, the only extrinsic motivation was to meet people and party in each and every place. On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun. On the other hand, I spent a lot of time searching for cool people and interesting activities. Unfortunately, many unique (e.g., artistic) activities turned out to be unavailable, because I didn’t schedule them in advance.

Now, I think that a little bit of planning may make traveling more meaningful and may help to maximize the richness of experience. It can certainly help to take advantage of the unique things that the place offers. I’d say even more, you can use it to get immediate benefits. You can acquire or upgrade some of your existing skills. Let me give you some examples:

Place Venue Skill
Dominican Republic Dance school Bachata
Brazil Carnival Kissing
Fiji, Aruba Beach Scuba diving
Japan Local artist Origami
Portugal Summer camp Surfing
Italy Local artist Painting

The idea of purposeful traveling can be taken even further: you can go to a place to focus solely on a single activity. For example, you can go to Dominican Republic for two weeks to master bachata skills; dance lessons, 12 hours a day, every day, to supercharge your skills. I would call this extreme mission-driven traveling.


This year I would like to try this approach. Before going to some place, I would be clear about my goals and would design a mission. Ideally, it should be somehow measurable to validate whether I’m making good progress. Of course, the schedule cannot be completely rigid, as it may make traveling less enjoyable. It seems that the best is to have a default plan, but be flexible as new opportunities show up.