The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ― Marcel Proust
The woman sitting beside me let out a small sniffle and held the stuffed animal in her arms closer to her chest. I gave her a sympathetic smile. My own emotions were already building into a small hurricane inside me as the propellers began to twirl and the plane slowly moved forward. What the hell was I doing? Was I completely insane? I couldn’t possibly make this journey by myself. I had been trying to push these thoughts back in the weeks, days, hours before this moment but suddenly they burst from their confines and arose in my mind.
This time it was me receiving the sympathetic smile from my neighbour.
At various points during our fourteen-hour flight, the woman and I shared our fears and our excitement. I was travelling on a long-haul journey for the next two months by myself, she was returning to her home country after a year abroad.
I was nervous about my outer journey, she was nervous about the inner journey. She loved her family and friends back home, but had found a new side to herself during her travels. She didn’t want it to be put into a forgotten box when she returned. “I feel so much more whole now,” she confided in me, “but everyone is expecting the old me.”
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. ― Ursula K. Le Guin
When we landed, we said our goodbyes and continued on our respective paths. But her words stayed with me as I walked through the airport to my next flight. I wondered if I too would come home different from when I left.
And then I realised I didn’t know where I was going, and no one spoke my language, and where was the train to the other terminal, and those signs make no sense, and how would I get my luggage up all of those stairs, and ooops I set off an alarm, and sh*t my suitcase broke, and I’m going to miss my flight … I felt vulnerable, alone and filled with anxiety.
The following seven weeks were filled with moments like this, where I struggled in various situations and questioned if it was all worth it, yet these thoughts drifted easily away with each new experience, each moment of awe, each new friend and each joyous laugh.
I saw sights that I had seen many pictures of, yet none did justice to what I witnessed with my own eyes. I went to places that could only have been created by a mystical being steeped in Irish mythology. I saw clouds catch fire over bare hills. I heard stories, both ancient and contemporary, which expanded my mind into new worlds. I was forced to ‘come out of my shell’ and realise I was so much more capable than I thought, and then relish in the beauty of just that simple realisation. I made life-long friends who live thousands of miles from my geographical home. And with the golden ring of each new day, I changed a little more, stretched a little more into my new skin of experience.
Almost everyone who has travelled will know the profound impact it can have. We all have our own experiences and are touched in different ways by travel, not everyone will come back feeling profoundly changed. Yet studies prove travel can alter our minds, our perspectives, our invisible prejudices, our hearts and ability to empathise and connect to what we once perceived as ‘other’.
One of these benefits is creating distance from our ordinary lives so as to see more clearly what we already have. To create gratitude for our life back ‘home’. To redefine and establish what ‘home’ means to our sense of belonging and identity. Thanks to modern technology we now have the ability to move at inhuman speed, to outrun the sun, and in just one day witness a culture on the other side of the world. Aspirations and gratitude perspectives are irrevocably altered.
Travel brings power and love back into your life. ― Rumi Jalalud-Din
When we contemplate things close-up our thinking can be narrow (see study here). We often cannot see the wood for the trees. This obstructs our imagination and creates an inability to see both obstacles and potential more objectively. When we take a break from the places we spend most of our time (usually home and work) our minds are naturally filled with fresh ideas. Different possibilities are suddenly in front of us, new ways of thinking and seeing the world emerge like an oasis in the desert.
Humans generally have a bias of ‘functional fixedness’ – which means in general, most of us are not naturally good at coming up with new ‘out of the box’ solutions. Researchers have found this is less so for seasoned travellers. When we travel to new places, we throw out the thinking habits we use at home as they do not necessarily serve us. Instead of being on autopilot we need to be more aware of the unfamiliar environment and customs around us. We start trying to work out if we should tip at a cafe; if it is polite or rude to leave food on the plate; the best way to get to the airport; are we dressed appropriately or any other of the countless queries which arise. In short, we are reminded of all the things we don’t know and the vastly different ways of viewing the world around us. This is good news for recognising that we may not be who we think we are!
Along with the many easy and enjoyable times we have when travelling, the more difficult experiences like the one I had in the airport at the start of my journey, also make a lasting, and important impact.
The experience of another culture endows us with a valuable open-mindedness, making it easier to realise that a single thing can have multiple meanings. – Jonah Lehrer
Sitting on the plane on my return journey I reflected on the conversation I’d had on the way over. Like my flight-buddy, I now felt like a different person to the one who had left home. My core and essence were still the same. Yet now I felt able to shine through without the confines I’d had just two months ago. I had literally dropped a lot of old baggage. My mind had also expanded, and the vast road it looked towards now seemed limitless. I was not scared about going back home, instead, I was excited to continue exploring myself and the incredible world we all share.
I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there. ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Have you been altered by a travel experience, whether it is near or far? Travel brings new connections with both self and others, with philosophical horizons as well as geographical horizons. We’d love to read your stories in the comments below. How has travel helped you evolve?
Travel well and journey home …