Find out who you are through travel
Diving into the mysteries and benefits of travelling.
Text: Aina Masood
We have all watched movies or read books where people going through turmoil take a vacation, unearth facts about themselves and come to shocking but very grounding realisations. One such example is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The author going through a divorce, a crushing depression, and a failed love, embarks on the journey of her lifetime, spending a year in three different countries and eventually making her way back to her authentic self. Witnessing these self-discoveries through travel has always made me question this magical quality of the mere act of going to another place that makes it so potent, so enchanting that Michael Crichton writes in his autobiography, Travels.
"Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am…. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, friends, daily routines, and a refrigerator full of your food… you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That's not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating."
I understand this is not a simple task. You cannot make an authentic version of yourself appear from thin air with a swish of a wand with a magical phrase. It takes time. Research suggests that because travelling and/or living in a new setting, we experience enhanced creativity; attempting to adapt to a new environment gives us self-concept clarity and helps us examine ourselves, our lives, and our culture from a distance to see better.
"Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am."
We, Homo Sapiens, are creatures of habit. We love the known, and we crave what's familiar. Moving to new places, experiencing new cultures, and being in different surroundings strips us of life's comfortable trappings and reduces the anxiety of newness. We strive to learn and adapt to have our beloved state of comfortable familiarity, and in the process of doing so, we reflect on parts of our identity and question if they truly define who we are or merely reflect our cultural upbringing. Growing up, we are surrounded by people who behave, primarily, in similar ways, and we don't feel compelled to question if the norms and values of our culture coincide with our personal beliefs. However, when we travel, we interact with novel cultures that allow us to reengage with our beliefs, which are then either strengthened or discarded.
Research suggests that with clarity of who we are, we are better at building sound social relationships and have improved chances of making better career decisions. In addition, travelling also helps us feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Connecting with different cultures broadens our horizons and gets us real-life education. With a less worried brain, we have more space for new ideas and creativity. This happens because when we plan or take a vacation, we feel excited. Our bodies release happy hormones, and cortisol levels decrease, which is the hormone released when stressed. Travelling, in this regard, can be therapeutic*.
In conclusion, even without the magic words, travelling does have a magical impact on our lives. It enriches our lives and fills us with joy. It helps us have a new lens to look at the world in a different light. It can help us be more tolerant, more empathetic and reconnect with our original selves. So, when you plan to travel next, remind yourself of these reasons and reflect on what travel means to you, how it impacts you and if you want, you can share it with me via email because I would love to learn with you vicariously.
*In no way is travelling an alternative or substitute of therapy. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or stress, please seek help from a mental health professional.