I don’t know about you, but I had the completely wrong impression of travel before I started actually doing it. I had this fantasy that an international trip would completely revolutionize my life in an impossibly romantic way. I’d set out abroad an anxious, neurotic ball of nerves, and somehow, within two weeks, magically come back a serene, easygoing and relaxed person. I think most of us can relate to this fantasy -- movies like “Eat, Pray, Love,” “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Eurotrip” (yes, even Eurotrip) have sold on this false idea that travel is the key to instantly changing our mindsets and behavior patterns. Julia Roberts heads to Italy a divorced, unhappy mess, and over the course of eating, loving, and apparently praying (still don’t know where that fits into the movie), completely transforms her personality into a serene and at-peace version of her supposedly unlikeable self.
And hey, I’ll admit it -- I went on my first trip 50% for this sort of transformation, and 50% for the bragging rights. I thought that if I ditched the normal, status-quo life, I’d find something untapped and profound that other people were missing. I thought I’d become worldly, interesting and calm. But mostly, I thought I’d be able to ditch the parts of me I didn’t like -- the anxiety, the meticulousness, the nerves -- in exchange for new, more desirable qualities. And four years later, I can tell you with confidence, it didn’t work.
Travel is no doubt a great and unique way to improve your perspective, see how others live, and incorporate those experiences into your current worldview, but it will decidedly not revolutionize your personality for one simple reason -- You are still you when you travel.
People (including me) have this vision that while they’re away, they’ll be carefree instagram versions of themselves without any issues or complexities. The truth is, however, that your mind remains your mind regardless of where you are in the world. You’re not going to magically enjoy partying if you never have; you’re not going to become a skydiving adrenaline junkie if you’ve always been afraid of heights; and you’re not going to come home spiritually refreshed and fundamentally different because you had a bowl of Italian spaghetti. Improving your relationship with yourself is an important and insanely beneficial prospect, but it’s a long, difficult, lifelong process that isn’t magically altered by your location in the world.
So why am I telling you this? It’s not to bum you out, and it’s not to dissuade you from traveling. I’m telling you this because if you want the best possible travel experience, you need to set your expectations in the right place -- and those expectations stem from your intentions. Why do you want to travel? What’s driving the desire? It’s important to ask yourself these questions, because if your intentions are unrealistic, your expectations will be unrealistic. And if your expectations are unrealistic, you’ll set yourself up for failure. So, tell me, why are you traveling?
Is it to see real cultural difference in the world?
Is it to try new authentic foods?
Is it to meet new, diverse and interesting people?
Is it to see incredible natural, architectural and sights unavailable in your neck of the woods?
If so, you’re setting yourself up for success, because those things are concretely available wherever you’re going. The food, the people, the sights -- they’re all there. The Eiffel Tower is in Paris. Incredible pasta is in Italy. There’s no expectation that won’t be met. However, it's much too easy, especially in today’s connected age, to fall into traps of other, less guaranteed expectations:
I’m going because I want my life to be like those picture perfect instagram models
What people know, but often ignore, is that instagram models take about 52,643 pictures before posting one on instagram. Their lives are far more complex and messy than we see, because all we see is that one, perfectly filtered and perfectly curated picture. When I was at the Angkor Wat, for example, everyone was scrambling to capture that perfectly serene iconic sunrise picture. To people sitting at home looking at their instagram feeds, the Angkor Wat will now appear perfectly calm, still and magical. But I flipped my camera so that I could show people the reality as well -- that literally hundreds of people were chaotically pushing and shoving their way to the front to get that exact same picture. Things online are never what they seem, so don’t use social media as your impetus for planning a trip. It will never fully compare to the highly filtered versions you see online, precisely because those don’t actually exist in the real world.
I’m going so people will think that I’m adventurous and interesting
Okay, so no one would say this out loud, but everyone’s thought it just a little when planning a trip. Yes, people will think you’re adventurous, and yes, people will think you’re interesting. You’ll get the typical “wow, you’re so brave. I could never do that on my own!” and the “my life is so boring. I can’t believe you did that.” But I guarantee you, the feeling wears off, and at the end of the day, that adventurous glow fades as you settle back into daily life. I am an adventurous person, and I do feel somewhat more interesting now that I’ve traveled, but it doesn’t change how anxious and neurotic I am. When I came back from my two month trip to South America, I bragged about it to everyone who would listen. They said their piece, and after a week, things returned to normal. So please don’t use this as the driving force of your trip, because at the end of the day, all it does is try to convince others that you’re something you may not be, and makes them feel bad about their own lifestyles in the process.
I’m going because travel is going to mold me into a fun, carefree and relaxed person
Like I’ve said, a trip doesn’t fundamentally change your personality. If you travel to change yourself into what you think nomads are like -- carefree, careless & easy going hippies-- it won’t work, and all you’ll do is beat yourself up for not being able to fit that mold. When I was at the Thai islands, for example, it seemed like everyone was a free-spirited, adventurous partier, and all I could think the entire time was that I didn’t fit in there. Rather than enjoying the beaches, the diving and the jungles, those feelings crept into my mind and dampened my time in an otherwise stunning paradise of an island. Embrace your uniqueness -- find the adventurous spirit in that ball of nerves, and allow it to be what it is.
I’m going to find love
Okay, so I know this has less to do with personal growth than the others, but it’s worth mentioning because I truly think it’s in the back of every single travelers mind. The prospect of finding love in an exotic part of the world is so damn tempting, and is entirely fueled by those insta travel couples that we secretly hate. But let me be frank with you. The likelihood of you finding love on a trip is so incredibly and crushingly low. The likelihood of you hooking up with a stranger and then exchanging “hi’s” and half-hearted emojis on Instagram for two weeks? Quite high. Long lasting romance doesn’t really exist on trips because the very nature of travel is temporary. Think about it — if you’re only in town for a bit, so is everyone else. Unless you happen to find someone from your hometown and hit it off, it’s not likely you’ll find anything substantial. In fact, of the dozens and dozens of people I’ve met on my travels, only one of them has actually created a substantial and lasting relationship - and it took a lot of luck, honesty, and international paperwork. If you’re looking for an exotic and high intensity fling, go ahead and book the flight, because hostels are riddled with them. But please don’t book a trip with the intention of finding your soulmate, because unless you happen to be really lucky, you’ll for sure set yourself up for disappointment. Go with the flow and be remain open, but don’t make finding love a criteria for a good trip. If you do, that’s genuinely awesome. But if you don’t, don’t sweat it. The chances are so slim anyway.
Travel isn’t perfect. It isn’t going to magically turn you into the you that you want to be -- and that’s okay. The you that you are is probably pretty great regardless! At the end of the day, there are really no shortcuts to self-love, so find your reason for travel, allow yourself to be yourself, and let the rest happen organically. I understand if you're a little bummed after reading this, knowing that travel won't result in the real permanent change you may be after, but you really shouldn't be. There are literally thousands of truly worthwhile reasons to travel, whether it be to dive in the Great Barrier Reef, climb Everest or even just relax in a hammock in Guatemala. Find your reasons, set your intentions and just go with it. And if you still need more, get in touch. I’ll be happy to provide you with an non-exhaustive list.