Why Travel Won’t Solve All Your Problems (and Why it’s Still Worth it)

A few weeks ago I got in a discussion with a good friend living abroad about some personal problems she was experiencing. After a thorough analysis she sighed and told me “it’s really true, no matter where you go, there you are.” While long term travel might seem like a way to escape the troubles of your life; the truth is more complex than that.

On the superficial level it makes sense. Don’t like the choices you are making? Unhappy with your marriage? Raving kleptomania problem? Why not pick up and start over in Spain or New Zealand where nobody knows you. Vacations are often referred to as “escapes,” so it’s not that great a leap to view a change of scenery as a viable solution.

north shore
Creative Commons License photo credit: baxterclaus

The problem is that an escape is not the same thing as a solution.  While this tactic might allow you to shove your problems aside for a week or two, in the long run it’s not an effective life strategy. You will still be the same person in Morocco or Thailand that you are at home. Without some serious introspection, it is almost certain that your mistakes will play out again and again.

In fact, if you are struggling internally with something serous, going abroad may actually intensify your issues by compounding them with alienation or loneliness. Not only will you feel like crap, you will hurt your hard earned travel experiences as well by spending all your time in your own head instead of appreciating your external surroundings. If you feel miserable inside it doesn’t matter how pretty everything outside is.

All this being said, I still believe that travel can play a role in self-improvement. Although running across the world is not going to automatically solve your problems, it can give you the tools to tackle them on your own.

Travel gives you a unique kind of perspective. When you are embroiled in an issue, it’s often difficult to see the forest for the trees. Distance from a problem, even physical distance, can allow you to decompress and look at a situation dispassionately. This is one reason I advocate travel as a cure for a bad break-up!

*Mountain Light*
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rietje Swart

In addition to allowing you to look at a problem in different way, travel also affords you a unique opportunity for
self-examination.  A strange place, a variety of new interactions to deal with and an abundance of free time seem to facilitate introspection.  I know that I’ve learned so much about myself, and how I interact with the world, from traveling abroad.

In the end, it all comes down to your own state of mind and your willingness to work on yourself. You can use a vacation to run away from your problems, only to have them sneak up and bop you on the head when you lease suspect it, or you can use your travels as an opportunity to re-examine your life, choices and priorities.  You just can’t expect travel to do all the hard work for you.

What do you think? Has travel helped or hindered resolving major issues in your life?

Steph

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.

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37 thoughts on “Why Travel Won’t Solve All Your Problems (and Why it’s Still Worth it)”

  1. While traveling shouldn’t be treated as a means of escaping problems it can be an awesome way to gain a new perspective. Getting distance can sometimes be the thing you need to get clarity and see the issue for what it is – and then move forward.

    Traveling has opened my eyes to so many things but one lesson I’ve really taken from it is how LITTLE so many of the things we spend our time worrying about really matter!

    Experiencing different cultures and different lifestyles has allowed me to focus in on what truly matters to me (and my partner) and shed all the excess “ick” from our lives!

    Thanks for such an awesome post 🙂
    .-= Elysia´s last blog ..The Petronas Towers of KL: Not A Highlight =-.

  2. Travel usually gives me back perspective – and makes me realise how lucky I am to be able to go travelling while most of the world worries about whether they’re going to eat again tomorrow.
    That doesn’t (obviously) solve whatever problem I’m dealing with but it does tone down the drama 😉
    .-= Abi´s last blog ..Twilight at the Alamillo, Seville =-.

    1. It’s true, if you have the health, money and means to travel you are already doing significantly better than much of the world’s population!

  3. Some people think when the travel they might find themselves; i disagree – when you travel (and of course, stay adventurous in mind) you have the opportunity to create oneself. And you can take that home, that is the beauty of it.

    stay adventurous,
    Craig
    .-= craig zabransky´s last blog ..StayAdventurous: @TravelDesigned everyplace makes it differently….slightly different. all part of the charm…but when you find a good one…que bueno! =-.

    1. Well said Craig! That’s a big part of why I advocate travel for twenty-somethings. The whole decade is all about defining yourself, and travel is a great mechanism for that.

  4. This reminds me of the Avett Brother’s lyric, “Lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you down.”

    It’s true; you can never outrun your problems. However, travel can offer a way to gain perspective and be mindful of your reactions in a more powerful way than being at home. I’ve become a different person due to traveling, and I’m thankful for that.

    Thanks for the though-provoking post.
    .-= Nancy´s last blog ..Photo Essay: Cinque Terre, Italy =-.

  5. I love this post! Very interesting ideas. I agree completely with Elysia. While travel isn’t a good way to escape problems, it can change your perspective greatly (and thus change some things about you). But you’re right — if you have certain issues in one place, it can very easily carry over into another. If you’re already feeling lonely, like you said, traveling somewhere new can definitely intensify the situation and make you feel worse. On the other hand, for some people is liberating, empowering, and exactly what they needed. It’s definitely different for everybody. Travel has really helped shape me…I spent two weeks in two different summers building homes in the slums of Mexico. Those two weeks didn’t solve any of my major problems, but it put so much in perspective for me and changed my outlook on life. Great post, Steph!
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Maiden Voyage Must-Read Monday + Carnival =-.

  6. Travel and living elsewhere will offer a different perspective that one can capitalise on.

    A new place will engage one in getting to know it, so one is occupied and kind of ‘forgets’ the problems one came with. It is after the ‘settling in’ period that the ‘there you are’ can return.

    Possibly having a set of ‘new’ people in a new place that one can relate to, share and bond with might help mitigate the issue better.

    It’s anybody’s guess really.
    .-= Anil´s last blog ..The Mystery Woman =-.

  7. I really enjoyed this. Travel will not solve all of your problems. It can help some people, but many problems won’t just stay behind once you board a plane. Regardless, travel is awesome so get out there!
    .-= Casey´s last blog ..Swimming with Sharks =-.

  8. Great post, Steph. The interesting thing is that I think a lot of couples think that travel will solve relationship difficulties. You think, oh, we’ll go on a trip to Hawaii and come back and everything will be great. But, that’s not how it works. If anything, traveling puts a great deal of strain on a relationship because you are constantly with that other person.

    1. That’s a great point I didn’t really touch on (probably because I mostly travel alone). I can’t imagine the stress of traveling would do anything good for a troubled relationship.

  9. Great post!

    Travel is invaluable to your own personal development, but it is not going to solve your problems.

    People prone to picking fights still do so abroad. People who complain about everything will find reasons to complain in paradise as well. People who drink themselves to a stupor every weekend will find even more opportunities for alcoholism away from home.

    If you really want to get the most of your travels, solve your personal issues first. Stop the long standing feuds between friends and family before your leave. Get your finances in order. Eat healthy and exercise. Stop watching so much TV and invest in your personal development.

    Then when you travel, you can focus on personal growth rather than an escape from your old life.
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..Interview with Digital Nomad Carmen Bolanos =-.

    1. I think you have it exactly right. Whatever your personality issues or flaws, they aren’t going to magically disappear once you get one a plane. Self improvement begins at home.

  10. Speaking from my own experiences, working and traveling abroad has helped me become more self reliant, extroverted, and humble than if I’d just stayed home.

    However, some observations both from my experience during Peace Corps and just traveling in general. People who signed up to get over a bad break-up or divorce tended to bring that baggage with them. And usually instead of moving on with their life, the experience of being in a foreign culture did tend to intensify whatever issues they were ducking back home. Not surprisingly, there was a higher drop-out rate from that group.

    Also some people are just so far into their own heads or egos that a change of scenery (no matter how radical) isn’t really going to shake up their perspective. Or worse, the people who assume that they’re “enlightened” and are therefore oblivious to how rude they’re being towards the people they interact with. I’ve seen this not just during Peace Corps, but as part of a delegation for Global Exchange.

  11. great post!!!
    you are so right – we have to do the dirty mental work ourselves, but traveling brings out new things in ourselves, so it´s great to know how we deal out of our comfort zone. Plus – acquiring new culture never harms!! 😉
    .-= Adriana´s last blog ..green olive, black olive =-.

  12. I love to travel and I think I learn something new about myself almost every time I go somewhere new (even if it’s just down the street).

    I’m currently planning a BIG trip for next year. I’ve wanted to do it for a while (to escape Boston), but now that I’m actually planning it, I’m realizing how much I do actually enjoy my life as it is now. So I’m definitely excited to be travelling at a point in my life that I know I like who I am and where I’m going.
    .-= Adam ´s last blog ..Birthdays as Deadlines not Holidays =-.

  13. Just yesterday a fellow traveler told me that he used to explore the world in search of something external, when he realized that the search was really an internal one. He continues to travel, but is acknowledges that his physical location has very little to do with his personal growth now.

  14. I think it depends why you travel. I like the changing pace of working while getting to see different places. Travel has taught me that people are fundamentally the same and that if you’re searching for something by traveling you won’t find it. A good way to solve a problem is to look inward; and a good way to create one is to do the opposite.

  15. Like all have said: great post. Well-balanced. And I agree that travel has endowed me with a certain resiliency and self-reliance that I wouldn’t otherwise have–I know I’m capable of figuring difficult situations/languages/street maps out and getting through it. Some people do wilderness therapy to tap into these inner resources; I’ve done it through travel.

    This Brave New Traveler post taps into some similar issues: http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2009/12/01/lost-and-found-when-travel-is-not-the-answer/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20MatadorNetwork%20%28Matador%20Network%29
    .-= Lauren Quinn´s last blog ..Hipsters Vs. Homeys: Oakland YouTube Travel Guides =-.

  16. Great post, Steph, and so true. I had a lot of things on my plate before I left for Oz, and I knew I had to be conscious of that and not forget that I had stuff to work through/on when I got here. I’m happy that I can agree with the other posters who said that travel can often be good for that. It has given me room to reflect and grow.
    .-= Lauren´s last blog ..On Having it All =-.

  17. An older post but a good one. I definitely agree with this. Travel is a part of who we are and as we travel, part of us emerges during that adventure. We see good and bad sides of us that we couldn’t see at home. Travel is well worth it but anyone not willing to examiner themselves should stay home. Travel is not an escape from reality – just a greater awareness of it.

  18. Great post. I think this is one of the things I struggle with most when I go on vacation. The problems are still there when I get back. It’s nice to read about it objectively. Gives me some things to think about!

  19. Yes, I do think that travel opens up a world of opportunities for introspection, but sometimes it raises more questions than it answers! I’m currently “dealing” with feelings of what I found to best jive with my idea of “home” in Hawaii, but when I returned to my home with my family in Chicago, I felt confused. My time away has brought force some fundamental questions about the life I led previous to traveling and gave me a unique perspective I might not have otherwise discovered. This of course opens a can of worms of questions. I know all the intentions are good, but sometimes wrestling with these philosophical discoveries about the variety of life out there and adapting to one so unlike your own can be difficult. Traveling is hard work. Going solo and abandoning fear, throwing caution to the wind and absorbing other ways of life takes patience, time and a strong will. Eventually, after time these life decisions and predicaments will start to make sense, and they are overall positive growths. But as we all know, growing can be confusing and painful.

    Travel certainly won’t solve ALL your problems. Some of your old problems will become clearer and you might be able to come up with solutions. But suddenly you are presented with a whole new problem set you never anticipated. Luckily, most people who travel, especially solo, are equipped to manage these changes, whether they are drastic or not. But with the opening of perspective comes a slew of new, often unforeseen questions. It is my hope that over time, the most difficult or confusing realizations will become clear and the answers will manifest themselves positively in my future.

    1. Very thoughtful comment, thanks! Maybe travel can’t solve problems, but the problems it raises short term can lead to greater clarity in the long run.

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