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?

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

  1. Despite being several years old, the advice offered in the blog appears to be relevant today as well as in the future. Thanks for sharing your travel experience with us.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

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