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.
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!
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?