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?
38 thoughts on “Why Travel Won’t Solve All Your Problems (and Why it’s Still Worth it)”
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.
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.
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 =-.
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 =-.
Ah, funny, my mind immediately wanders to travel when I’m distressed about something. You’re so right though, running isn’t the answer, but damn it helps. 🙂
.-= Candice´s last blog ..A different Remembrance Day =-.
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 =-.
That sounds like a perspective changing experience. I love when travel alters the way i see the world.
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 =-.
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.
.-= 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! =-.
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.
10 thumbs up to that! Travel has seriously changed my 20’s for me! 🙂
.-= Elysia´s last blog ..The Petronas Towers of KL: Not A Highlight =-.
.-= Kirsten´s last blog ..kirsten_al: @KatieArdner That was my 1st choice too. Too many options. Sure is overwhelming to try and plan, even though I LOVE to travel! =-.
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 =-.
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!
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 =-.
Travel really does put all those everyday problems in perspective doesn’t it? Great for figuring out one’s priorities.