“Escape through travel works. Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life [at home] became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up, problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken hearts. By the time the plane was airborne I’d forgotten [home] even existed.”
– Alex Garland, The Beach
Do you ever find yourself fantasizing about a tropical beach or an exotic destination when something seems to be going wrong in your life?
Do you ever feel inclined to book a flight and get lost somewhere foreign when you feel overworked, heartbroken, or just plain uninspired?
Do you ever just want to run away?
I did. Which is why I booked a flight to Costa Rica four years ago. I had lost my job, two of my best friends, and my boyfriend and I didn’t have any idea what I wanted in life. (You can read more about that here.) So I decided to get on a plane and go.
On that trip, I discovered that truly, escape through travel works. But it doesn’t always work in the way that we expect.
The “problems” in our ordinary lives do seem to disappear once we put physical distance between us. However, what surfaces, are the deeper questions that led us to want to leave in the first place. Sometimes the further we run, the more we face.
By confronting us with these bigger questions, travel can instantly fix many of the limiting beliefs and behaviors that get us into these “problems” in the first place.
If you’re considering running away to travel the world, here are the problems that I’ve found travel can instantly fix:
Traveling the world, it’s entirely necessary that we adapt to our surroundings for survival. We change when we wake up and when we go to sleep. We change the way that we eat. We change our daily activities. We change our entire routine.
Those changes help us get out of stagnant patterns, which is the first step in making deeper changes in our lives. While travel itself doesn’t necessarily make you change your life, it can be an extremely effective catalyst, offering you the strength and inspiration to take the next step.
When I first left to go travel, I was stuck in all sort of ways, most notably in an on again off again relationship. Simply stepping outside of my routine and the habits I developed as a result of that routine, opened my eyes to possibility of another way. I realized that I was capable of being happy outside of that relationship. Seeing that possibility can make all of the difference.
If you’re feeling stuck right now, read my post 10 Ways to Get Unstuck and Create Change Now.
I spent three years going in and out of a relationship that I knew wasn’t right for me. However the thought of letting it go was devastating. Yet as soon as I found myself in Costa Rica, that devastation turned into a slight sadness, and after a week that sadness disappeared.
What exactly changed? I was living in the present instead of dwelling on him.
I meet so many women traveling who decided to take the leap after ending a challenging relationship themselves.
When we’re traveling it’s much easier to connect with present moment experience. We stop and smell the flowers, we linger over breakfast, we sit in silence and watch the sunset. Worries about past problems or fear of what might happen in the future becomes less of a concern because we’re focused on what is actually happening.
The possibility of “surviving” without someone in our lives becomes less frightening, because we realize we can in fact be happy without them.
Dealing with your own heartbreak? Read How Travel Taught Me to Mend My Broken Heart.
So… what do you want to do? I dunno, what do you want to do? I don’t know, what do you want to do?
Probably my least favorite conversation of all time.
I remember when there was never anywhere good to go to eat, or there was never any bar that would be fun to go to on a Friday night, or there never seemed to be something to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Since I started traveling, that “problem” has been eliminated. Whether it’s eating weird street food and healthy green smoothies, doing the Texas two step and swiveling to Salsa, or hiking to a gorgeous summit and diving with sea turtles, there’s always something to do. There’s always somewhere to explore, someone to meet, and something to try.
I’ve also gotten back to understanding what I actually like to do. Without the busyness of work or routine days become about playing and exploring. I didn’t have many hobbies before I started traveling. Now I love yoga, dancing, hula hooping, hiking, snorkeling, diving, photography, writing, skiing, and that list continues to grow.
When you know what you love and you focus your energy there, it’s impossible to be bored.
Have you ever noticed how easy it can be to blame others for our own unhappiness? If we feel stressed, it’s our boss’ fault for giving us too much work, or our partner’s fault for not helping out more, or the cable guy’s fault for not showing up on time, and on and on and on.
We’ve created a culture where someone always has to be at fault, and it’s much easier to displace the blame than it is to look inside of ourselves.
It’s not quite as easy when you’re navigating the world on your own. If you don’t like where you are, there’s no one to blame. If you miss the bus and are stranded, there’s no one to blame. If you feel like you’re having a really bad day, there’s no one to blame.
You have to sit with yourself to process your uncomfortable feelings, understand where they come from, and grow from them.
It may not be easy to take responsibility for your happiness, but it’s the most empowering thing you can do.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but before I had ever traveled overseas, I actually assumed that most people in the world wished they were American. After all, it’s the best country in the world right? The thought even came to me, that it must be so strange to NOT be an American.
Then I left to study abroad in Rome. It took all of one hour before I realized that no one else actually thinks of America that way. They also don’t despise us like many people might have you believe. Rather, they don’t see us as any different from anyone else.
Over the years, whether traveling alone as a woman in Muslim countries or in places where people didn’t speak a word of English or in the North Pole in the dead of winter, my level of understanding has expanded exponentially.
Travel lifts the veil of ignorance that comes from creating stories and immerses you in real life experience instead.
And removing ignorance, ultimately leads to greater acceptance and compassion towards all other beings.
Being a Control Freak
Many of us live with the delusion that we have control over everything that happens around us. Consequently, when life doesn’t happen the way that we wanted it to, we can completely fall apart.
Traveling in developing countries will kick the control freak out of you. Immediately.
Like when the bus breaks down and you’re outside waiting in a torrential downpour. Or when the taxi tries to scam you and you end up lost on the other side of town. How about when you don’t speak a word of the language and you’re trying to make a negotiation.
Your only option is often to surrender. You realize that not only do you not have control, but you don’t want it. You can let it go, allow the experience to happen, and relax knowing that you can’t change it.
I believe that the root of all unhappiness comes from wishing things were different than they actually are. When we find a way to feel gratitude for what we have, instead of what we wish we had, it’s impossible not to smile.
Seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world and some of the most impoverished places in the world, gratitude comes easily. You recognize how blessed you are to be out traveling and really how blessed you are to simply be alive.
Traveling in developing countries, I’ve met so many people who seemingly have nothing, yet radiate happiness and generosity. They teach me gratitude on two levels: by reminding me of how fortunate I am to have all that I have and by expressing true gratitude for all that they have.
When I first arrived in the jungle of Costa Rica, I turned my nose up at the dive bars and wooden shacks. I was used to wearing high heels every day, eating haute cuisine in trendy restaurants, and living in an impeccably styled apartment.
I quickly realized that my snobbery wasn’t going to fly, because these were my choices. I could think I was “better” than that, or I could let go of my snobbery and just have fun.
Since then I’ve had food poisoning in stalls with squat toilets, slept with snakes and tarantulas in my bedroom, taken countless thirty hour bus rides in hundred degree heat, danced barefoot on beer soaked floors, and divulged some of the most embarrassing things about myself on this blog.
I’ve never felt happier or more alive.
I may flutter like a social butterfly, but like anyone, I have my moments of shyness. It’s common to feel awkward or hesitant when you step outside of your element, but I find it’s so much easier to meet people while traveling.
In a world where so many of us spend our days behind a screen, traveling reminds us how to connect with other humans. Because when you’re sleeping in a shared dorm room or trying to figure out which bus to take or sitting on a long boat ride with other strangers, you rely on others for help.
People also tend to be more accepting and open when they’re traveling. Most are interested and available for friendships, which makes approaching strangers far less scary.
If you’ve ever believed in one right way of doing anything, travel will dissolve that belief immediately. Seeing the world opens you to the many ways of living in this world, some of which will shatter your pre-existing beliefs about right and wrong.
I once believed that relationships had to look like a committed married couple, that a career had to look like a serious job for a company, and that life had to look like the images I grew up seeing on TV.
When I went to Costa Rica and met people who were content giving surf lessons on the beach, and I met people in Indonesia who lived outside in hammocks, I reassessed what I thought life (and essentially MY life) had to look like.
I realized that in truth there is no one way to live. There are actually endless ways to live. I get to choose what that looks like for me.
Fear of the Unknown
All fear comes from the uncertainty of what might happen next. Which in essence, is another way of saying that all fear is actually a fear of death, the greatest uncertainty of all. We fear the unknown with such dedication, that we can get trapped in cycles that keep us from achieving greater happiness. Including preventing ourselves from traveling.
Flying to a place in the world where you’ve never been, and you don’t know a soul, can actually feel like jumping off of a cliff. The wide-open space feels at once exhilarating and terrifying.
But as you begin to let go, you notice yourself grow wings. With wings you begin to take flight. And as you feel yourself soar, you experience peace. In those moments you remember that you can never actually die. You just become born again.