Traveling can be an incredibly enriching and life-changing experience- there’s no doubt about it. Exposure to life in a different country not only broadens your perspective by exposing you to brand-new cultures, but it can also simultaneously put you outside of your comfort zone which often leads to tremendous amounts of personal growth. Sounds great, right?
Don’t get me wrong- I am all for planning a trip, booking a plane ticket and setting off to explore the world. But what I’ve realized through countless long-haul flights and adventures abroad, is that it’s the reason behind our desire to travel that really counts.
I speak from experience when I say that personally, the urge to wander is always strongest when things aren’t going how I had planned in my life. Be it a job I am unsatisfied at, an unhappy relationship or simply boredom with my life, travel has oftentimes become a form of escapism. Rather than traveling with the intention to expand, grow and explore, it has instead at times become a way of running from life’s hurdles.
In the current era of social media, when our Instagram feeds are dominated by one travel blogger after another roaming the world on eternal vacation, it can be easy to idealize the idea of traveling and how it could magically solve all of our problems. But I’m here to tell you that while you can run to escape outer conditions and external factors, you can never run from yourself and the internal issues that most need your attention. Wherever you go, there you are.
So how can we tell the difference between traveling with the right intentions of creating a better self, versus traveling as a form of escapism? Below, three questions to ask yourself before making any extended travel plans.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain
There is no better way to simultaneously broaden your mind, expand your understanding of the world and gain perspective than to travel to new places. By immersing ourselves in cultures and ways of life unlike our own, we are thrown into a world where everything is different. Meeting people from different countries and hearing their stories can inspire openness, tolerance, and understanding that you simply cannot gain from staying in the familiar.
Traveling through Indonesia last year was an eye-opening experience for me because it immediately put my (what I now realize to be) first-world problems into perspective. Seeing people smiling, laughing and enjoying life regardless of what little means they had was a game-changer in how I looked at the problems in my own life. Not only was I able to take a step back from my obstacles and see them from a different angle, but it also allowed me to be grateful for all that I already had in my life that I tended to overlook.
So, before hopping online to look at seat sales, ask yourself, “Will this broaden my perspective?”
One of the best lessons I have ever received from traveling solo is learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You’re probably thinking, “Why would I travel to be uncomfortable?!” But hear me out on this one.
Traveling (especially solo) pushes you to be uncomfortable because you’re forced into the unfamiliar. From navigating foreign streets to mustering up the courage to chat with the stranger next to you, to dining alone, traveling puts you in situations you’re likely not used to, let alone comfortable with. It’s an invitation to roll with the punches, adjust to new conditions and go with the flow.
When I moved to Byron Bay, Australia on my own, I was met with that uncomfortable feeling many times. From living in a hostel dorm room with complete strangers for two weeks to going out to a bars solo and chatting up strangers, to an unexpected emergency room visit with nobody to depend on, I was met with a number of situations that were uncomfortable in varying degrees. But you know what? Those were the moments that challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone and offered the opportunity to gain confidence in my own self-reliance. Which leads us to question number three-
Anyone who has traveled internationally (or seen Eat, Pray, Love for that matter) can attest to the fact that travel has the ability to develop character and help us grow into the best version of ourselves. By experiencing the world outside of the bubble you live in back home, you may become more resilient, more resourceful, and/or increasingly independent. Your confidence can increase in many areas of your life, your social skills are likely to improve, and you’ll undoubtedly be inspired in many ways to learn, grow, and become an eternal student, soaking it all up with the mind like a sponge.
Travel alters everyone in some way. Whether it inspires you to be more present and live in the moment, to value experiences over things, or to unearth resourcefulness through successfully arranging the logistics of travel, your character will be altered in a way that hopefully inspires your best self.
By asking if this trip will help you grow into the best version of yourself, you can go in with the intention of doing just that.
Even with the previous questions in mind, it can still be tempting to listen to that voice in the back of your head screaming, “JUST LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND!” Okay, so maybe the voice in your head isn’t as aggressive as mine. But whatever it sounds like, it’s a good idea to take a step back when these thoughts come to mind, rather than acting on a knee-jerk reaction and booking the first one-way flight to Australia you can find.
As previously mentioned, the urge to wander can be the strongest when things aren’t going as planned. Be it the search for a better job, a better relationship, or a better life, leaving it all behind can feel like a way to take control of the situation and change things on our own terms, rather than staying put to deal with the issues we’re faced with head-on. We idealize leaving it all behind and abandoning the situation as an answer to our struggles, yet we all too easily forget that our problems, well...they travel with us.
In other words, travel simply delays the inevitable. Whatever deeper problems you hope travel will solve will run alongside you, no matter the location. Just as people turn to drugs, alcohol or sex as a means of avoiding deeper problems directly, travel too can become a form of escapism.
At times like these, you must evaluate why staying in one place makes you so uneasy. Step back and evaluate why the urge to be on the move has hit. Are you fearing a big change in your life? Feeling threatened? Running away from something? Whatever it is, ask yourself if you could handle it, or maybe even grow from facing it head-on. This is also good time to consider your values and your goals. What is going to bring you in the direction of the person you hope to be?
Personal values (AKA: core values) determine our priorities. Essentially, they're ways of being that we value above other ways of being. Our values highlight what we stand for, and, if we're in alignment, guide our behavior and decisions. Your values are what you hold most important, and they're an efficient guide when saying yes or no to choices, big and small. Your personal values provide clarity, and are the prerequisites to making intentional decisions that are aligned with who you want to be.
Traveling can be an incredible tool for broadening perspective, becoming uncomfortable in new situations, and for personal growth, granted your intentions are coming from a place that is aligned with your values and goals for your life.
To be able to differentiate between traveling for growth versus traveling to escape comes down to taking inventory of your intentions and any possible deeper issues feeding your urge to wander. Link back to what you value, what your goals are, and whether or not your decision to flee is bringing you towards the person you want to be. By asking yourself some tough questions and answering honestly, you can go into your next adventure knowing it’s for all of the right reasons.
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