Finding yourself through travel is a rite of passage today. Once that’s increasingly prevalent as travel becomes more accessible to more people.
Movies and books like “Eat, Pray, Love,” “Wild,” “Tracks,” and “Under the Tuscan Sun” have sparked our adventurous spirits, inspiring us to travel with the hopes of discovering happiness, love and purpose.
A single scroll through Instagram can flood your brain with images of floppy-hat donning Instagram travel influencers living their best life (and never seem to have any other tourists around either).
With so many cultural narratives around finding yourself through travel, it’s no surprise that people think that simply being elsewhere will magically change their life.
But do you really find yourself through travel?
Having traveled to 60+ countries over the past 15 years (some long-term travel, some short) I can say, in my experience, travel doesn’t help you find yourself, it helps you lose yourself. It’s up to you to create something out of what you uncover. That’s the tricky part.
What nobody tells you is that travel shows you new roads but leaves you without a map.
In other words, travel is simply a tool that gives you access to new perspectives and new connections. It helps you slowly shed the layers of what everyone else has decided for you.
Travel unravels. It sparks questions. It breeds uncertainty. And all of these states of mind bring a new level of openness, mindfulness and awareness of what truly matters—if you allow them. Those are the life-changing gifts of travel. Checking off a sightseeing bucket list is great, but it’s not the sights, it’s the insights that are transformative.
Tips for finding yourself through travel
You may be one of the lucky ones who experiences a life-changing ah-ha moment on your travels. Or maybe you’ll notice the shifts after you’ve returned home. You might face the post-travel blues too, but that’s all part of the finding yourself process. Don’t hate on it, learn from it.
Regardless, to have a transformative travel experience, pay attention to the inner journey as much as the outer journey—before, during and after your trip. Here are a few things to remember on your next adventure.
Journal and self-reflect. The act of writing itself (vs digital documentation) serves as a mindfulness exercise and powerful memory-maker. No matter where you are or whom you’re traveling with, you can almost always take a few minutes out of the day to journal. Simply writing down what you did and saw is a good starting place. But to foster self-discovery, dive into what you’re feeling and experiencing as a result of your travels.
Also read: The Ultimate Guide to Travel Journaling
Travel slowly and with intention. There’s no right or wrong way to travel, however, the faster you move from sight to sight or place to place the less time you have to actually process your reflections. Stay in one place longer to give yourself a chance to have downtime, meet people and have authentic experiences.
Connect with others. Perhaps the most transformative part of travel is meeting people from other cultures. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group, take time to talk to the local people and understand what their life is like. Timid about talking to strangers? Bartenders, hotel staff and cab drivers are a good place to start.
Travel solo. Traveling alone is powerful. It’s hard not to discover, or uncover, something new about yourself. It allows you to have your own thoughts and reactions, to show up as your true self with nothing familiar to compare yourself to—and that can be life-changing. If you can’t or don’t want to travel alone, try spending a day or even a few hours away from your fellow travelers.
Wherever you go, there you are
It may be cheesy bumper sticker wisdom, but the adage “wherever you go, there you are,” rings true. No matter how far you travel, or how often you move to a new city, or how long you stay on the road, one thing remains constant: you. Once the newness of a place wears off, that’s when a lot of people find themselves chasing again, looking for answers outside that come from inside.
Want happiness? Act like a person who is happy. Want to have adventures? Be an adventurous person. Want love? Learn to love yourself first, then share it with others.
Explore, travel, move, expand your horizons, take it all in, learn, change, grow—yes, yes, yes. Just don’t forget to come home to yourself, wherever you may be.