Along with shower flip flops and tiny bottles of shampoo, people squeeze a lot of overused ideas about travel into their backpacks. But here’s one of the doozies:
The idea that travelling is synonymous with “finding yourself.”
Now, I admit that before heading off on my first big overseas trip, I was pretty sure I was going to have a sort of “Aha! There you are!” moment, in which I suddenly saw myself in a new and clearer light.
“How can that not happen?” I thought. “I’ll be in a place where others think it’s perfectly normal to take siestas / chain smoke in berets / live in renovated warehouses with other artsy types / run across busy avenues in Jimmy Choos / do their grocery shop in a floating market / insert other stereotype here…”
Everything will be so different…so obviously, I will too. Right?
You don’t automatically exchange yourself along with your foreign currency.
Stepping foot upon the ancient cobblestone laneways of Europe, white sands of the Caribbean or busy avenues of New York won’t suddenly reveal Your Purpose to you.
The Truth of Life isn’t waiting for you in the Colosseum, atop the Himalayas, in the curves of a perfect Hawaiian wave or the floor of a Turkish bath house.
Your Divine Motivation for All That is Awesome won’t be served up alongside your taco, yaki soba, frog’s legs, buffalo wings or kimchi.
But this doesn’t mean you won’t learn. Oh honey, you’ll learn. But be prepared to – at least at times – learn yukky things about yourself as well.
Maybe you’ll learn that you’re insanely neurotic and suffocate the plans of all your travel partners. You might get pick-pocketed at every turn. You could have a real tough time picking up new languages. Or find out that your pheromones are particularly attractive to guys over 80.
On the other hand, wonderful things will reveal themselves. That you’ve got guts. Are generous. Go with the flow, say “yes” to new opportunities and get stronger everyday.
You’ll learn from the bad moments; the cases of street food-induced gastro, money troubles and bad love affairs.
You’ll soak all this new info up and gradually piece together a more complete idea of what makes you, you.
But was travelling the secret?
I’d venture that collecting passport stamps isn’t an automatic ticket to self learning. Travel will show you different cultures and shake you up, but the good news is that if you never leave your home city, but choose to listen and learn from your experiences, you’ll grow as well. That’s because learning about who your are and what you have to offer this crazy planet is a process reserved for people who take the time to contemplate what’s happening in their lives, think critically about the lessons they’ve learned and apply those findings to each new experience. (It’s kinda like being a scientist.)
So don’t make “finding yourself” your travel be-all and end-all.
Instead, make it saying “yes” to new experiences, meeting people and extending your comfort zone…