Culture

Don’t Buy Into The Lie That You Have To Travel To Discover Yourself

By Ramsha Afridi··  6 min read
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People travel for various reasons – relaxation, tourism, work, or even education. This isn’t surprising, as the world is a big, beautiful place and there is so much to explore.

Traveling is an exciting experience, and it has become an important part of modern life. In fact, in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began, an estimated 1.46 billion people traveled across the planet. This means that one in every five people did some sort of traveling. 

However, our modern society now places a certain pressure on us to travel. Our social media feeds are routinely bombarded with hashtags such as #travelgram, #travellifestyle, #traveltheworld, and #travelwithme, with influencers jet-setting around the world, flaunting their adventures of wanderlust.

It’s often also said that traveling is one of the best ways to discover more about yourself, to give your personality more color and life. This is true in part – we may have more interesting stories to tell and memorable photos to share from our trips.

But the excessive focus on the need to travel only makes many of us feel that we’re missing out on life, that we need to escape our mundane routines as much as possible, by catching a flight to an exotic part of the world to live our “best lives.” It seems as though a monetary value is being placed on our sense of self, by the need to cultivate “new experiences” as a commodity. 

It’s clear that some people view traveling as a mandatory “obligation” in order to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. Over the years, we’ve seen magazine and newspaper columns dedicated to guiding people to expand their horizons by taking trips abroad. For example, the New York Times once published an article titled “How to Find Yourself Someplace Else.” The article states, “If you’re not sure what you need to find yourself, lose yourself someplace that just seems cool.” Though such sentiments are thought-provoking, the question we should ask is, is traveling something we must do in order to find ourselves, or does our sense of self come from elsewhere?

I Have Traveled Extensively, and It’s Not an Easy Answer 

From the young age of 16, I was fascinated with the idea of traveling as much as I could, and as of today, I have traveled to at least 28 countries across Europe, Asia, and America.

As a teenager, I took on various part-time jobs and saved enough money to make short trips to nearby foreign destinations. By the time I was at university, I was saving any money I had to regularly make trips to some of my favorite countries during the summer with my closest friends.

But here’s the kicker – as a teenager, I was already obsessed with the idea of thrilling adventure and having new experiences; it was already ingrained in my personality. Ultimately, my desire to travel came from me knowing that wanting to explore the world was a part of who I was, rather than using traveling as a means to understand myself. I knew this path was for me because I had already identified it as a core characteristic of my personality, not because I thought it would help me grow as a person.

My desire to travel came from me knowing that wanting to explore the world was a part of who I was.

While the thought of seeing the world is appealing to many, the act of traveling somewhere far away is not as easy and simple as it sounds (especially if you have a career, home, or kids to take care of and nurture). And in hindsight, my decision was a huge risk, and something which isn’t suitable for everyone. If it was so easy to simply pack our bags and jet-set off somewhere in the sunshine, wouldn’t we all be doing this all the time? 

In my experience, traveling doesn’t just come with immense responsibility, but it comes with its own drawbacks and dangers, which a lot of travel and women's magazines don't typically highlight. Female travelers are under a unique risk when it comes to traveling, alone or with a partner. Statistically, women are more likely to experience issues concerning security and safety compared to men, which is something I also felt during my travels. According to a 2019 survey from SAP Concur, an American SaaS company, which is a service for expense management and travel services to businesses, 42% of female respondents said that they have had a bad experience when traveling due to their gender. 

There are other drawbacks as well. Each journey abroad means a significant hit to the wallet, along with extensive planning and organizing for the trip. In my experience, not only did I have to arrange each trip under a budget, but I also had to plan an extensive list of activities for my trip, which was an exhausting process and a slight mistake could mean a disastrous result. If you're watching your budget, saving for a home, or investing in your future, taking an expensive and indulgent trip may not be in your best interest, no matter how much FOMO you feel. 

Traveling Isn't the Only Way To Help You Grow

While traveling is thrilling and can help us challenge ourselves and bring much-needed mental stimulation, it’s not the only way to help you grow as a person.

Travel doesn’t automatically provide you with a stronger sense of self. 

There are countless ways to explore your true self, and these can be done by focusing on the simple things in life like learning something new, building new friendships, identifying your strengths, and becoming more self-aware. When was the last time you tried a new hobby, or read an interesting book, or better yet, immersed yourself in solitude to give yourself time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Try a social media detox or begin a gratitude journal to allow yourself to focus on what truly matters.  

Self-growth is not as straightforward as throwing your clothes in a suitcase and taking a flight to a pretty destination in a foreign country. Travel, whether domestic or aboard, doesn’t automatically provide you with a stronger sense of self. For many women, traveling is only a temporary solution to a deeper problem. 

Closing Thoughts

This summer, you’ll most likely see numerous headlines telling you to take a spontaneous trip abroad, to unleash your true potential and fly with your wings in a random corner of the world. Such sentiments are for the most part out of touch with many young women today.

Contrary to this cultural trend, you can find yourself by exploring your true passions and identifying what you value about yourself – by looking inwards, not outwards. And don’t forget, true meaning and purpose are often found in the simplest things of life, so don't overcomplicate them. 

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