A better sense of self through travel, do you believe in this?
When I say sense of self, I mean to gain and understanding for who we each are individually. Sometimes when we are surrounded by friends and families that “know us” based on how society has shaped us and what we have chosen to show people, it is not the truest form of who we are. We sometimes hide our real selves knowing who we are. Sometimes we really just don’t know who we are because the behaviors we have are all we know, and what people expect from us.
Travel is a form of education. It is needed in order to become wholesome and to continue our learning about life outside the 4 walls of our comfort zone. The constant exposure to different sights, smells, languages, sounds, and norms will essentially lead us to view life a little bit differently. We will begin to understand that our lives as we thought can shift into something different if we wish. It’s the perfect opportunity to see how we can live under these different elements, and function. Through this, we can attain a better sense of self.
Traveling as a child back and forth to Mexico to visit family, studying abroad during my undergrad in Greece and Turkey, and teaching English in Spain post graduation for a year, as well as traveling throughout some parts of Europe, have all allowed me to visualize myself under the scope of different elements and cultures. They were all unique opportunities that allowed me to get out of my comfort zone by asking locals questions, taking the public transportation from one point in the city to the next, weaving my way through legal visa processes, traveling on my own and finding comfort in my own companionship, and the list can go on.
The value of what we learn when we’re “out in the real world” abroad, is absolutely priceless, and I will never get tired of telling high school and college students the value in that – it’s where we really start to get a better sense of ourselves.
Picture this: it’s the end of your college career, you’re about to graduate (congratulations!) however, now it’s expected for you to find and be sure of the next step you’re about to take. As if finishing off those finals and projects towards the end of the year allowed you any time to self reflect and research your next move (rolling eyes emoji). The truth is, life goes by way too fast, and while here in our American society, where we are driven by consumerism, societal pressures to become as quickly independent as possible, and constant comparison, it can be hard to be mindful of the next move; is there even any time to think about it as you should? So graduating college, one may think it’s time to either settle down with your significant other, or possibly work for a year and then apply to grad school, or even just applying to grad school directly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these are the wrong choices, but which one of these options says anything about giving yourself time to thoroughly think and reflect on who you are, and what you see yourself happiest doing? Not even just what will get you to “success” quickest, but what will actually make you happy? How will you know, if you don’t have a break in between to think without pressures? Some may argue the working a year and then grad school may give you the time to think, but why grad school? Why not travel? Why not give yourself the cultural exposure and insight into what the rest of the world is like, get some inspiration, and meet others who may also be contemplating life and life decisions?
What I am trying to get at here is that a break in between so much schooling, and so much constant commands from others to the point where it’s almost zombie-like the way we live our lives, is so necessary. There is no room to even consider getting to really ask ourselves what we want; we lack getting a sense of self. Travel can give us the opportunity to see that there is more than one way to live life, that there is more to life that what we see in the States (or your home base). That possibly our dream jobs are out there, and we wouldn’t have known that had we stayed in our home bases and didn’t meet the people we met abroad. It’s a time I think that will really allow us to reflect on everything we’ve done, and how to start connecting the dots between what we’ve done and what we feel. It’s time to catch a breath, and finally gain that stronger sense of self.
For me, travel, aside from the experience of living even if for a short time in a foreign country, gave me a year to simply stop. To stop a fast paced life that I have been living all my life, and that often times felt like I was living for the “next big thing.” All really without even really understanding what was happening before my eyes. After I started traveling a little more frequently, and I saw how closer I started to get to getting to know myself under different “lighting” so to speak, I wanted to make sure that my “next big thing” was not going to be directed by society. I was going to separate myself, and really get in touch with what I even wanted to do. I know, it may sound very cliché, and very Eat, Pray, Love, but trust me, sometimes in order to get breathing room and a clear mind, we have to physically put ourselves elsewhere. Throughout the year I lived in Madrid, I constantly questioned myself what even were my passions? What did I stand up for? Where did I envision myself in the future, and was I happy with that? My time traveling and living in Europe allowed me the time to dig a little deeper.
So, how have my travels helped me get a better sense of self?
My travels abroad gave me a lot to experience and reflect on for the rest of my days. I’m not exaggerating. How can I best put into words how these experiences shaped my perceptions?
- Like many people that have gone through an education system, travel has allowed me to stop dwelling on the level of my intelligence based on a standardized grading scale.
- I stopped stressing over tons of work that took away time for me to enjoy life and being more in touch with it.
- While I travelled and I saw the different ways in which people dressed, acted, accomplished goals, and even moved throughout the world confidently being themselves, gave me various examples of what success was and how it was determined individually. Seeing that there was always someone who accepted them and someone who didn’t, this experience interrupted the comparisons I would make between myself and other people’s successes, as if their successes were my failures.
- Another thing that goes hand in hand with the previous point? I stopped giving a flying sh!t about societal norms – my own success is found in doing what I want when I feel is right, not when everyone else feels comfortable.
- Also, finding out that being alone is different than being lonely – it’s ok to be with yourself in public, and do things that you could do with friends – it’s even better sometimes when it’s just you 🙂
What happened when my sense of self started to increase?
- I relied on my own abilities and resources to solve my own problems
- I learned to be empathetic towards people and cultures, especially those I didn’t know much about.
- Eventually, I started to create my own happiness in understanding myself a little bit more.
- Learning to value my own self-worth – no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said – she wasn’t lying.
- Finding gratitude in the essential and “basic” things, like being alive and having the luxury to have a choice over many things in my life.
- The realization that I don’t need many material objects to be happy, and that decluttering is the second best thing to traveling.
- The confidence boost when I learned the extent of my capabilities and seeing for myself how capable and how determined I can be when I want to do something, like finding a way to travel, no matter the adversity.
and the list can go on…
One very important point I want to mention is that I do not mean to share this to brag. More than anything, I want you, the reader, to see these examples and experiences, and to start to visualize that this is a possibility for you. You don’t have to stay in the same space, doing what you think is right because that’s what’s around you. In the end, it’s about making sound, and personal decisions all on your own, what you decide to do with your life is up to you, but in the end, it should be one that is taken with much time, consideration, with that stronger sense of self and what you want in mind. I know that for me, I would not have ever realized all of this had I not literally left my comfort zone, and placed myself in situations where I had to figure it out, essentially. I simply wouldn’t have. Like mentioned above, we are living based on what’s already been “proven” to get us to succeed. What’s been tried and tested by someone already is handed down to us, but it’s not a one size fits all. We won’t know that until we physically leave the comfort to prove to ourselves what we can do on our own. To see how we can adapt to different and constant changes we aren’t used to back home. Only then, do I believe that we can have a better sense of ourselves. When we travel, and especially young, we get to face different lifestyles and how people and other societies prioritize other matters. The concept of time as well as human interaction and perception. It is imperative I think to leave and give ourselves that break to find our sense of self. As one of my favorite quotes say, “Don’t listen to what they say, go see.” If you can, I ask you to please just go see for yourself. See what you find and realize all on your own.
Hasta la proxima,