I’ve explored cobblestone streets in Peru, white-water rafted in Australia, snowboarded in Canada and hiked in Indonesia. I say with great gratitude that I’ve been lucky enough to have done it all and more. Yet to this day, I wonder if travel was the biggest form of self-betrayal.
I was a shy, introverted girl with few friends when I desperately booked my first solo trip abroad. I was deeply unsatisfied with my life, and I thought travel would make me a better and more confident person that everyone would finally love and adore.
To some degree, it did. Venturing out on my own gave me the confidence to strike up conversation with new people, and I did indeed make some friends that are still part of my life today. I discovered new layers of my personality, learned how to look after myself, and became comfortable with the uncomfortable. But travelling to go find myself came with consequences.
Travel eventually became a drug I heavily relied on. The high made me lose myself in the vision of a better life and the comedown lasted for months at a time. I was stuck in a codependent relationship I couldn’t escape from, nor did I see anything wrong with it. I relied on it to make me happy, there were no healthy boundaries and I was very much addicted to chasing the feeling of adventure every day.
I was happy until I had to face reality. I came home to a world I was alienated from. The symptoms of travel withdrawal left me feeling lost, stuck and without purpose. The deep craving to return broke the bank and buried me under thousands of pounds worth of credit card debt.
Go travelling and all your problems will be solved. They most definitely won’t be waiting for you when you return home.
The sad part is that you believe it. You believe that travel will change you. You feel a sense of relief as you hear stories of people that found themselves this way. You fall in love with the idea of running away to Italy to eat your body weight in pizza. You dream of finding the love of your life in Bali. Eat Pray Love along with many other books, films and social media has convinced you that travel will solve all your problems. The weight pulling on your chest tells you this is the only option, you just want to be happy.
At the end of the day, it’s just the most accessible form of escapism.
Travel while you’re young and able. Travel before you start your career. Travel while you still have no responsibilities. Book the flight and worry about the details later. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. The money will always come back, the experience and time won’t.
That’s the narrative that was pitched to me, and I bought into it, but no one talks about coming home.
I returned to the same broken relationships, self-image issues and financial problems. The memories I had now haunted me. The constant replay of better days spiralled me into depression. My problems didn’t disappear, they came with me wherever I was, and they returned back with me as well.
If you hate your job, if you are going through a midlife crisis or feeling heartbroken after a breakup, then I’m here to tell you that travel is not the cure. The problems you are attempting to run away from will still be there when you come back. Travel is only a temporary escape and distraction.
Sure, travel teaches you to appreciate the present moment, allows you to see the world through a different lens and challenges you to figure out your own way through a foreign country, but I promise you, it’s not how you discover your soul.
The only way to find yourself is to travel within. You discover your soul in the quiet moments you spend alone. You find yourself through your daily habits and routines. By spending time with the ones that matter most. You find yourself by making peace with the thoughts that keep you up at night. By unlearning years of conditioning that teaches you that happiness can only be found in people, products and places.
Finding out who I was came from the pages of my journal. I leaned into self-awareness and self-discovery through my meditation practice. I understood who I was within the four walls of my bedroom, not by sharing a dorm room with twelve complete strangers. The answers you are seeking are within you, its society that’s taught you to look for those answers outside of yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, traveling was never the problem itself, rather, the way that I (and many others) have used it. The illusion is that your soul resides in another country. The problem lies within the belief that travel is the magic fix to your anxieties and imperfections. Travel has the power to change you, but only when you first have the courage to change yourself.