For a girl only two and a half years into her twenties, I feel I've seen a fair share of the world. I've stood on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I've raced to the summits and caught the most spectacular sights in Banff. I've watched the sun set deep in the countryside in Finland. I've been blessed with many of these experiences, and worked for many of these opportunities. And honestly, I have a hundred more trips I'm planning to take.
But I also know that, while my travels have gifted me otherworldly experiences, I am my own person without them. I am a full being – not a full passport – and I worry so many people fail to understand this.
Wanderlust is a business. A thriving one, at that. There are companies and movements that depend solely on the young person's belief that if they do not see the world, they cannot live a fulfilling life. I think there are many good intentions behind these movements. People SHOULD expand their palates and horizons by going abroad. You learn of culture and tolerance and that's something no textbook will ever teach you. But it's also wrong to believe that you'll remain uneducated or inexperienced if you DON'T travel. It's wrong to believe that, if you cannot afford to go abroad, you won't live a happy and satisfying life. So while I don't condemn these articles, travel companies and sponsored photographers for advertising destinations out of the average person's reach, I do think it needs to be put out there that you do not need the luxury of travel to explore.
Exploration is a wonderful learning method that could very well be taken in our own backyards. History lies at our doorsteps, in the dirt outside our homes, in the architecture of our offices. Traveling to Oslo or Peru will not feed you an education richer than one obtained locally. It is simply a different education. A common saying is that knowledge is power. No one ever stated where that knowledge had to be obtained. No one ever declared the right tools for an education. As much as higher ed drills in the opposite direction, education is a personal process; exploration is a personal journey.
But stepping aside from formal learning, the main concern behind this article is the misconception that if you travel, you will find yourself in the process. And I get it. Kind of. In each experience abroad, I learned new things about myself. My solo trip to the Canadian rockies taught me, in more ways than one, to be fearless. My time spent in Stockholm opened my eyes to a handful of fresh perspectives.
But the ever necessary, internal happiness that comes from accepting yourself entirely and knowing that you will be okay no matter what life throws at you – that won't come from another location or timezone. Finding yourself is an internal journey. Placing yourself in a foreign place with foreign people and customs will be a learning experience for sure, but it will not answer the vital questions you need to address in order to live a fulfilling life.
If you believe that going abroad will help you find yourself, all you're really doing is running away from a question veritably local. It's innate; you know who you are. It's a matter of facing that person. Maybe it's easier for some people to face their own being when they don't have familiar eyes or places distracting them. That makes sense too. My most recent trip was taken largely to escape my own workaholism. And I had that rather sweet moment of being on the outside looking in. I stepped outside the confines of my "real" life and realized that there were bits and pieces that were really doing me no good. So I came home and removed those pieces from my life.
I didn't need to jump timezones to have this realization.
It wasn't travel that prompted me to identify my demons and face my long lingering doubts. It was the fact that I finally just stopped everything I was doing. I am the person that, if you keep me in the city, I will work. I don't care what time of day or what day of the week. I've worked through holidays and through many, many sunrises. I pride myself on to-do lists that do not have to exist. My two and half week trip was my way of stopping. I needed to get to a place where I knew I couldn't access emails for a brief period of time. I needed an excuse to leave my laptop at home.
And that's what did it for me. It wasn't travel that aided in my reflection. It the was the temporary "divorce" from my laptop.
And that's just one small example. That's what we need to talk about more: Not the best places to go to find ourselves, but how to stop and reflect. How to take in a new perspective and get outside of our own heads. That's another thing I wanted to touch upon: perspectives.
Yes, culture shocks are great tools in expanding our minds, but why do we underestimate the fact that we can learn so much from the people in our own cities? Just because they may speak the same language or have similar mannerisms does not mean they think just like you. It's wrong to assume that by spending time with a monk in Chiang Mai, you'll learn a better lesson than from the man supervising the bodega on 58th and 7th. It's wrong to assume that hiking a mountain in Alaska will give you a greater rush than hiking one in Montana.
These assumptions and plainly ignorant ideologies are placed in quotes that flood Pinterest boards and Instagram bios. Here are a few that really get under my skin:
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page."
Well, that's rather obnoxious. Some people can't afford the book, or to read every single page. That doesn't mean they don't have a story to tell. The context isn't dependent on how much they've seen (or how many pages they've read) but instead, what they've seen. It's a matter of opening your eyes to all things in your path, not just the things you paid to see.
Pin drops on a digital map do not automatically denote the richness of your experiences, or the depth of your journey.
"To travel is to live."
So is to err, to breathe.
"Travel far enough, you meet yourself."
Well, this entire post is me condemning this quote.
You do not have to travel far, or anywhere, to meet yourself. Or rather, let me put it this way: You have to travel far through yourself to meet yourself. Sail away into your own intuition. Learn to understand your senses. Collect your memories and identify your mental placeholders and timestamps. Sit and meditate on your own personal processes: why you make the decisions you make, why you react the way you do. Hike to the peaks of your own vulnerabilities.
You do not need a plane, train or cruise ticket for this journey. You don't have to spend a dime. And you come out a happier human because you finally found and fell in love with yourself. And it's an incredible feeling – to really meet yourself for the first time.
And the sooner you take that journey, the sooner you can actually go out, travel and enjoy the experiences of being abroad with an unflinching, internal happiness that no one can take away from you. A happiness not restricted to a particular timeframe. Because don't forget the thing about vacation: there always comes a time when it has to end – when you have to come home... to yourself. It will always be there – YOU will always be there. And you cannot run away from it.
We romanticize travel because we tire of familiarities and we want the luxury of exotic cuisine and natural wonders hours and hours away from us. It's not wrong. But we need to accept that if we're unhappy here, we will be unhappy anywhere. Spending thousands of dollars on plane tickets, hotel rooms and excursions will simply be overpriced bandaids on wounds better healed with the local air.