Traveling, if done right, isn’t just going on a great big bender to distract from the problems of normal life. There are tangible benefits to your person by going traveling – personal growth, expanding and varying your friends, career growth, etc. In short, if you have been contemplating getting on a flight but have hesitated, just book it. Once you get to Phuket, the worst regret you’ll have is that you didn’t do it sooner.
A perfectly reasonable response to this is that it is possible to do all of those things re: personal growth, without traveling half way across the world. You don’t necessarily need to go traveling to be committed to personal growth. To find more diverse friends, you can join social clubs and groups. Clearly going on a course might be a more efficient way to advance your career than going traveling. It’s not obvious that jumping on a plane is the best thing to do if those things are your goal.
They might say too that traveling has enough downsides. I agree, there are risks and problems associated with traveling. You will have to sacrifice some element of structure and routine to your life, put other aspects and people on hold, risk leaving a gap in your resume. There are also some who go traveling that truly regret it and wish they had never left home.
Bearing all that in mind, all good points I should mention, what I’m really doing is recommending traveling to a select group of people who have been particularly tickled by the idea. I’m not saying it’s the one solution to all of your problems, or the only means by which you can achieve the goals I mentioned above. What I am saying is that those are your goals, traveling is one underappreciated means of attaining them.
Let’s say for example you want to get fit and you hear of a group that’s forming where people do runs together in your local area. You think it’s a good idea and you’re about to sign up until someone pipes up, “Ah, but you don’t have to join a group to do that! You could easily do the same thing on your own whenever you wanted. Plus, then you don’t run the risk of hanging around people you don’t like.” Which is all technically true. Technically speaking, we don’t have to structure any of our activity the way we do, and you could come up with all kind of downsides for that structure.
But why get technical? In the real world, people find pragmatic motivators for their activities. They may be sub-optimal, but they’re good enough. You might find that the possibility of a social situation is sufficient motivator to get you fit. There are some risks involved, sure, but there’s the equal or greater risk of doing nothing and not getting fit at all. We do the best we can with the resources we have, and with our limitations as humans. If the carrot of a good chin-wag motivates you, then why not?
That’s how I see traveling. Yes, it’s technically true that you can achieve everything you want in life without ever having to go traveling. But I’m not saying it’s the only or best solution, I’m saying it might be one solution that’s good enough for you.
Tidy your room (or go traveling)
The thing is, it’s all fine and dandy understanding the need for self-reflection and improvement and all that. It’s entirely another thing to put together a practical plan of action. It’s extraordinarily difficult to mesh the philosophical world and the practical world.
I have a secret weapon for you: pragmatism!
It’s quite a surprise for early followers of Jordan Peterson to be following on with the philosophical justifications for discovering meaning in your life, taking on responsibility and not being a tyrant to yourself, only to find his practical advice to be things your mother would tell you:
Tidy your room
Eat a good fatty breakfast
Set a damn schedule, bucko. And stick to it.
Is that it? Boy…
This is brilliant, in fact. It’s distilling all that philosophy into the most tangible practicable thing you could achieve right this minute. Not to say that doing all of those things will guarantee success in becoming the alpha lobster, so to speak, but is something you can touch and point to to say: yes, I did that today. Above all, since you know why you’re doing it, you start to form connections between your ideas and the world in front of you.
Are you an adventurer, or a deserter?
The ideal form of traveling is something that interrupts your regularly scheduled programming. Something that resembles your normal life, but enough things that are different that it forces you to reassess the world around you. Doing so compels you to reassess your thinking patterns too. It’s enough to simply your ingrained habits. All of a sudden, you have to think about every action you make. You begin to form new connections between ends and means, and most importantly, why you do things.
Traveling also gives you plenty of new and interesting problems to solve. They come so thick and fast, you have to think quickly. It acts as a trial and error system and allows you to test more varying versions of yourself in a shorter amount of time. One example: since you meet perhaps five times as many new people when you’re traveling as you will in normal life, it gives you more social battlegrounds in which to test your mettle. They’re different kinds of people you’re used to, too, so it’s yet more neural connections that have to be formed.
The reason why people say travelers are more open-minded is not through some virtue-signaling douchery, but because they’ve had a wider range of interaction and are simply used to different people. Of course, not all of these new cultures you’re going to be experiencing are equally wonderful. But it allows you to reconcile the fact that these people, these modes of understanding, exist. They’re things in the world to be reckoned with.
The nay-sayers will point out that traveling is not going to be the magic pill that solves everything. No matter what happens, if you go away with no intent and willpower to change, traveling will just mean you’re “running away from your problems.”
God knows there are plenty of these people out there. I’ve met many on my travels who use traveling as an escapist device. Every traveler knows a one-time companion who ditched their job and girlfriend because they couldn’t cope with their worldly responsibilities (that said, there might be some small value in that if it cuts off destructive habits). Some people who want to avoid self-knowledge play fantasy role-playing games. Some dive into drugs. Travelers are not immune to denial enabling activities.
It’s easy to make fun of those who claim they went to Peru and “found themselves,” whatever that means. Most of the time, they’re just being Travel Wankers and showing off. Many talk of the amount of personal growth they’re going through, yet the only tangible result is an increase in Instagram followers. They think Socrates was a soccer player.
As a counter to that, I’m saying that provided you know what you’re doing it for, traveling is a great pragmatic means to get your life in order. Traveling is going to suck a lot of the time, but that’s part of the reason you go. You don’t read a great novel to have all of your assumptions about the world reaffirmed, but to be disturbed and inspired. So too, you don’t go on an adventure for everything to just go swimmingly well for you (although some travel Instagrammers like to give off that impression). There’s going to be an element of discomfort in any true learning experience. If you’re feeling comfortable, you’re not traveling, you’re on vacation.
It’s no magic pill, but it’s something. It’s an actionable thing to begin or continue your path to greater integration and self-knowledge. Of course, this only holds if you know why you’re doing it. As long as you go into the experience knowing that you’re going to have your life rocked, or at least open to it, you’ll be fine.