5 Reasons Why You Won’t "Find Yourself" When You Travel

5 Reasons Why You Won’t “Find Yourself” When You Travel

The notion of "finding yourself" when you travel is frankly overrated and maybe even flawed.

The year was 2014 and it was a chilly night in early March in Nottingham, United Kingdom. Seated in my chair, staring at the lifeless screensaver of the laptop in my comfortably warm room, I couldn’t help but notice the deafening silence around me. My soul was restless and my friends in the UK were busy preparing for their various exams. Bored out of my mind, I did the unthinkable. For the first time in my life, I went online and booked myself a one-way trip out of town. The next day, I packed my bags, left a note on my door, and left.

It was my first time travelling alone, and the first time I had done so on impulse. It was liberating, exciting, amazing. I returned from my trip brighter and happier. One could even say, I found myself during my solo adventure. That is usually the case, isn’t it? You find yourself when you travel? I mean that’s what everyone says.

Well, not really.

As romantic as it may sound, you don’t always find yourself through life on the road. Here are five reasons why it will not happen to people in general.

1. The world alone can’t change someone

You see, it’s a dangerous thing to believe that whenever you feel lost, you’ll find your way in life after taking a long trip halfway around the globe. Yes, travelling is amazing. It opens your eyes, mind, soul, your entire being to new experiences and it helps inform you of different cultures, customs and lifestyles. But there’s a difference between knowing and understanding.

On its own, travelling can do nothing to help change the person who boarded the plane way back at the departure gate. One has to be open to accepting these new experiences. In other words, one must first be able to allow the sense of vulnerability to wash over. If you travel with an overly defensive attitude, then regardless of how long you spend meditating in the Himalayas, don’t expect to come home and suddenly find yourself in a state nirvana or to find that everything in your life has somehow been resolved while you were gone.

I’ve always been an advocate of travelling alone as a way to know yourself better but truthfully, you could travel for as long as you want and still be uncomfortable with your own company in the end. So if you think that travelling equates to a definite life-changing experience, think again.

2. They pay too much attention to detail

This may come across as elementary, but finding your inner self is not something that can be planned out in detail and slotted into an itinerary. You can’t say to yourself, ‘Right, I’m going to visit the Parthenon, and by the time I take the southwestern exit, I will have figured out my life’. One of the worst things to do to your travel experience is to prepare a detailed to-do list and then travel with the idea that accomplishing the things on the list will somehow enable you to form a deeper connection with your inner self.

And yet, one can’t help but plan meticulously when one is preparing to go on a trip. From charting a travel route, finding the right modes of transport and accommodation, getting to know the best places for food and activities, there’s quite a fair bit of planning to do. In the hustle and bustle of all this preparation, you probably wouldn’t notice a life-changing experience if it had stared you in the face for a good 5 minutes. If you really wish to find yourself, then be willing to ease up on control. Allow some leeway for spontaneity with your time.  

Getting lost is as part of the process of growing as it is a part of travelling. Some things can’t be forced. You know how when you really want to find something, you can’t find it but then you stumble upon it when you’re not actively looking for it? That’s exactly the same with this notion of finding yourself through travel. It simply won’t work if you’re actively pursuing that goal by following a list too strictly.

3. They travel with their friends in mind

Shots fired, I repeat, shots fired. No, it’s not what you think. I’m not saying ditch your friends or don’t travel with friends. Remember, this is all about you.

We live in a world where social media is so deeply intertwined with our lives that we couldn’t possibly fathom how life would be like without them. It is an age of ‘social connection’, of ‘a world without borders’, a ‘global community’. And with apps like Facebook and Instagram, it is also an age of ‘show and tell’.

Most of us post our travel photos online in hopes of getting affirmation from our friends and family. ‘Wow, you made a wish at the Trevi Fountain? You explored the ruins of Machu Picchu? You climbed to the top of the Acropolis? That’s amazing! I wish I could travel like you.’ Sometimes, when we travel, we somehow become more concerned about impressing others that we tend to forget who we’re travelling for in the first place. And why. I’m not saying to never take a snapshot of yourself posing with Lady Liberty and uploading that on Instagram. But when you take a photo or check in somewhere on Facebook, just remember that you should be doing the things that make you happy and not showing something to a friend that will make them THINK that you’re happy.

Travelling is the best way for us to break away from the person that other people make us out to be. It’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to be weird, it’s okay to not want to take THAT picture which everyone else takes when they’re at that place. And to illustrate my point, here’s a photo of me trying to work a photo shoot with a cow in Ngong Ping Village, Hong Kong.

4. They travel to run away from responsibilities

Consider these two scenarios.

Jack had just resigned from his previous job where he had to deal with a hostile workplace and a boss who seriously undervalued him. He’s hopeful for the future but he’s not quite sure whether he wants to remain in the same field. And besides, he feels jaded and thinks it would be a good idea to take time out to reflect. So, he decides to take a vacation to clear his mind and hopefully figure out his next course of action.    

Jacky (forgive my lack of creativity) is being pressured by her parents to enroll in medical school which she has zero interest in. Jacky has an impatient temperament and so instead of talking it out with her parents, she decides to travel as long as possible to avoid the seemingly unavoidable.  

Which person do you think is more likely to come back from their trip with a more positive outlook and a deeper understanding of themselves? It’s one thing to travel to recover, and to view life on the road as a reprieve or oasis, but it’s completely another thing to take travelling as an excuse to shy away from the difficulties of one’s life.

It’s easy to say, ‘let’s take this trip and forget all about [insert problem here]’. But the problem will still remain when you come home. In fact, the problem stays in the back of your head even whilst you are away. With all that weighing on your mind, you’re as likely to enjoy your trip as you are to find yourself on the journey.

5. The road simply won’t change people

The bad news, you simply won’t find yourself through travelling. Ever. The good news? It’s okay. You see, the dream of finding yourself through travel is a novel idea. In fact, you could even say that it almost resembles that of a fairytale ending. But maybe that’s all it truly is.

Not everyone will find themselves through travelling. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not travelling the world that changes you, it’s the experiences that you encounter that will. And these life lessons aren’t necessarily only found on the road. You could be sitting at home one day and suddenly, boom, you reach an epiphany.

Different people have different ways of absorbing life’s lessons. Some may do it through travelling, but some others find it in music, in a good book, or simply, a good friend. So don’t worry if this is your seventeenth trip to Tibet and for some reason you still don’t feel like you’ve ‘found yourself’ among the monks in the monastery. You’ll find some other way to develop a deeper understanding of your inner self.

So instead, ease up a little bit and take travel as it has always been meant to be taken: a chance to relax and to enjoy life.

About Author

Darren Yeoh
Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.


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