I’ve written before about how travel can cause us to get to know people better. What I didn’t say was that travel can help us learn to know ourselves better.
This fact is perhaps why I care about travelling so deeply. Because all those things you can find out about your traveling companion? If you’re paying attention, you can also discover them about yourself.
Travel forces us to exist in liminal spaces, pushes us into in-betweens. We are no longer inhabiting our familiar landscapes, no longer in our comfortable personal worlds. We are past the comfort zone, pushing boundaries, encouraged to see what is around us with new eyes. Grocery shopping becomes glamorous and the tenth art masterwork we’ve seen today becomes mundane.
Travel is taxing. We are often tired from long sits on airplanes, the passage of too many time zones, making our way from point A to point B in stifling heat or numbing cold. Our bodily needs become complicated as we try to manage our hunger, our thirst, our exposure to the sun, or our aching feet. The food may be different. The language may be different. Things go wrong and fall apart, and we are left feeling simultaneously buffeted by a large, impersonal world and lifted up by strangers’ acts of kindness and generosity.
It is because travel can be so uncomfortable that it is so rewarding. We find edges we didn’t know existed inside of us. We run headlong into our assumptions. Many of our outer trappings are stripped away even while we experiment with creating personal narratives for the people we meet. And meanwhile we are surrounded by brain food or soul food or the seeds of creative inspiration, or all three at once.
Sometimes we lose ourselves, and travel is one way to begin searching. Sometimes we crave change, and travel is one way to explore the possibilities. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are alive, and travel is one way to find peak experiences.
Travel is an active doing and a passive waiting. Travel is discomfort and pleasure, sublimity and boredom, a pain in the butt and the best time ever. Travel is flinging ourselves into the world and asking, Will you catch me? Which sometimes turns into, Can I catch myself?
We often think about travel as an exploration of the world. But it can also be an exploration of the self. In removing ourselves from our routines, our comforts, and our surroundings, we gain fresh perspective.
I had a friend ask, “By traveling, aren’t you running away from your problems?”
But sometimes traveling is running directly into our problems. We take ourselves wherever we go. The question is how serious we are about creating change. And traveling is one way to do just that.