Through travel, our feet learn how to form their own paths and our heart begins to beat to a different rhythm. The more time we spend away from familiar routines, the more we learn to embrace the unknown and abandon ourselves into the great vastness of the universe.
Thus, it is no surprise that in the wild, crazy shuffle of travel, we let go of who we were and re-emerge as new individuals. Amid all of the lost luggage, buses, socks, and memory cards, you find places to find yourself. Not a bad exchange, huh? Lose unnecessary baggage and stress and, instead, stock up on good character and new thought patterns.
Whether it is a summer semester abroad, a volunteer placement, or a long weekend away at the beach, getting on the road forces us to step outside of previous boundaries and see the world (and ourselves) from a new perspective. Before we know it, we stand a little bit taller and start to think a little bit differently. Discovering oneself abroad is an act that begins hundreds of miles from home, yet stays with us for the rest of our lives and expands to every sphere of our day-to-day life.
Anyone discovering oneself globetrotting, knows there are several things that experience abroad has led us to understand.
1. There are always new passions to discover.
Whether is it photography, slow cuisine, new languages, philanthropic causes, or travel itself, we find new interests in new territories. Exposure to new cultures brings entire sets of new traditions, each with their own quirks. Who knew that the operatic lyrics of Italian plays makes your heart soar, that your adrenaline reaches new levels when hiking through fjords in Norway, or that nothing resonates as deeply with us as wine cultivation in Mendoza?
You certainly didn’t— at least, not until you went somewhere new, stumbled upon it unexpectedly, and fell in love for life. And, best of all: it’s totally okay to flirt with several interests at the same time. The world is big; there will always be something new that steals our heart.
2. Life does not have to progress in a linear manner.
The outdated notion of college → marriage → career → children → retirement → death seems even more ludicrous when traveling. While none of the above are negative concepts by themselves, the mentality that there is one formula and life’s timeline is depressing and limiting. Things and people fall into place when the time and place are right; by focusing on what gives us most fulfilment in the present moment, we built a solid foundation for whatever life will throw at us next.
There is nothing wrong in trying out a dozen different lifestyles in two dozen different countries before settling down with conviction and without regret. Enjoy the ride and stop worrying where you are; you will get to where you need to be. Every detour and shortcut is there for a reason.
3. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to strangers.
How often were we sitting on a street corner, bulging suitcase at our feet, studying a map upside down, too overwhelmed to look up? Or, wandering in deserted barrios at night, searching for hostels that don’t exist? Or, just wanting to buy that ice-cold watermelon juice on a hot day, but clueless as how to ask for it (who knew that your pantomime skills had limits?!).
Cue helpful stranger that swoops in to save the day; the nameless friend that carries our bags, lifts our spirits, and points us in the right direction. More likely than not, they will not cross our paths again- although, there is the chance that they become our best friends for life. However, it is undisputed that they saved our day.
Whether we are volunteering to build a library for kids in Kenya, picking up a hitchhiker on the side of the road, or simply taking a few seconds to explain how to get to the train station, the effort put into helping others can improve someone’s life more than you will ever know.
4.. “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
Remember that time you hopped off a cliff in Peru or swam with sharks in Australia? Sure, you had butterflies big enough to feel at home in the Amazon, but then you jumped off or dived in, had a mini heart attack for a second, and felt more alive than ever before. Suddenly, the fall wasn’t long enough and nothing could stop you from Round Two. It may seem extreme, but this is a great start to discovering oneself through travel.
To get the most out of travel, we need to place our doubts and insecurities at the top of our luggage and step out of our comfort zones on a regular basis. In order to leave behind old fears, it is a constant desire to grow that should mandate our day. This mentality might be more fun to practice while abroad, but it is equally important to adhere to it back home. To be the person we want to be, we need to tackle each day full-on.
5. Sometimes, we say more by listening.
Everyone has a story to tell in this world; not everyone takes the time to listen. At first, the more we see and do, the more we want to share our adventures with others and impress. Then, we realize that every individual has experiences that are not ours— none of them any less important than our own.
Since we don’t know everything and will not experience everything first-hand, listening is sometimes the only way we can learn new facts and old tales. Stop, exhale, and welcome the new lesson that come your way. One day, you will be the wise elder entertaining youngsters around a bonfire, but, until then, soak up ancient wisdom and remain humble.
6. Serendipity is not scarce.
Perhaps we enter a new realm when traveling (for I have never even run into someone I know in my own hometown, yet bump into friends all the time on the other side of the world) or we just align more with the flow of the universe, but there comes a time that we cease to be surprised (but never amazed) by the constant good occurrences and lucky chances in life. We don’t question all of the crazy moments of serendipity anymore, but we do accept them with a smile and without hesitation.
It seems that when we most need it, help falls into our laps: we run into people we met three countries back at the local market, we befriend doctors-in-disguise when falling ill with pneumonia, we make the last train right on time without consulting timetables. When we understand that the world knows and provides better than we can plan ourselves, we let go of worry and trust that the best will always come. That’s how one begins discovering oneself.
7. Most beliefs are mandated by circumstance.
People believe what they believe due to their lifestyle; conviction is based on experience. However, none of these opinions are written in stone. New experiences can bring new thoughts, and the more we see, the wider our picture is of the world.
Understanding that everyone has a different upbringing and sees the world differently expands our acceptance of others. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong; there is only all sorts of different that need a little bit of comprehension. Try to see the world through other people’s eyes; you’ll be surprised at how similar different mindsets really are.
8. Relationships should be easy.
On the road, it’s not rare to make a best friend overnight, spend a magical week together, then go separate ways and, ten years down the line of minimal contact, meet up again in another country and have it seem like no time has passed. We come into contact with hundreds of people abroad, and it is those that click effortlessly and don’t need constant maintenance that become parts of our lifelong social circle.
This quality of meaningful relationships is not based on how much time is spent together or how many text messages are exchanged; instead, it is the depth of the experiences and the value of conversation that bring two strangers together. Even better when they are scattered all around the world— lots of new places to find yourself!
9. Every day is a chance to learn.
Travel is the best teacher as to the world around us and the powers within ourselves. When on foreign land, every instance is an opportunity to pick up a new word, taste a new flavour, observe a new tradition, learn a new dance. When back home, it’s equally important to take each day as a chance to grow.
Where To Go To Find Yourself
Ready and raring to explore the world around you, but not quite sure exactly where to go to find yourself? Your journey of a thousand miles begins with this first, single step:
- Watch baby sea turtles scamper off into the ocean sunrise in Ecuador.
- Leave a note for Juliet in Verona.
- Master Arabic while bargaining for trinkets in labyrinthine souks in Morocco.
- Wear a big goofy grin as you take a selfie with a llama in Machu Picchu.
- Reflect with a cup of green tea as you gaze across still waters at Mt. Fuji in Japan.
Now I Want to Find Myself Through Travel
Life’s gurus are often found in the least expected people and circumstances; thus, it’s vital to have an open mind and take each moment as a step to higher awareness. The more places we see while traveling, the more we realize we haven’t seen; the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know.
The mindset we adopt abroad stays with us long after we return home and unpack our bags, and that is perhaps the best souvenir we can ever give ourselves. Show it off proudly and inspire others to go forth into the world and bring back the same.