I always wondered why so many people were afraid to admit to themselves one of their biggest fears in life: the fact that they’re lost. The reality of this fear made fact is that it’s a feeling, but it is very real. Amateur psychology aside, the real reason that travel means so much to me is my journey of unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, losing myself to discover myself.
Idealism Leads to Escapism
Going off to explore the world to find yourself is like trying to find Waldo when the joke is that he found himself through Zen meditation all along. You are your constant, and wherever you go, your thoughts, feelings, and worries will still travel with you.
There is still truth in the idea of finding yourself when traveling, but the process is much rougher in reality. Buying into idealism too much risks a journey off into escapism without any real growth.
Like any eager college student, I was ready to backpack my way through Europe, and a semester abroad did open my eyes to new and interesting places. Yet, that was covered with a veneer of tourism, stressful studies and trying to remain smiling when my heart was breaking (when someone I loved broke it). You can zip line and climb as many mountains as you like in different regions of the world, but your heart will still break.
When standing on the precipice of a mountain, you must also stand on the precipice of your pain. You must let the war of standing between two different places, rooted and yet rootless, burrow deep into you. You have to feel the pain, the freedom and all the little frustrations and joys of traveling to explore the world and life.
New sights and new exposures to differences in culture are essential parts of traveling, but in order to grow from it, you have to take it in and chew on it, mind, body, and soul.
Taking in Your Own Beauty and Company
Whether you’re trying to fit all the street food possible into your stomach at a night market in Taipei or experiencing a true Oktoberfest in Munich — you are still your own gloriously awkward, messy, beautiful, silly and truly unique self. Sometimes, your mind just goes dark or numb when you feel lost, the lights go out and you want to explore what others do in the night in Taipei.
It makes sense, but when you give a moment to yourself, appreciating your own company in a scary and thrilling new environment, that’s when you begin to understand yourself.
You will keep poking the compass of life wondering where the heck this True North is supposed to be, or if it even exists at all. It does, but it shifts. The compass has been inside you all along. So, it’s never really lost.
In the start of life, there is many milestones that act as markers: sweet sixteen, high school graduation, achieving drinking age, college graduation, getting married, having kids and landing a promotion. Then, there’s the odd big number birthday before retirement. In the vast middle of aging, how do you live life when you’re constantly seeking a milestone to fill it, looking for the marker in front of you like it’s been there all along?
That’s why Millennials more or less coined the phrase “quarter-life crisis.” When you’re traveling, to find yourself you’re often stuck between a rock and a hard place. My own quarter-life crisis spanned a series of years as I wondered if I was doing this whole “adulting” thing correctly, and the maturity gained from traveling helped. If I could plan a whole trip across an ocean, and by the same measure let spontaneity rule the majority of another, I could do this thing called life.
This is why travel means the world to me. The “Aha!” moments don’t often happen on the top of a mountain, but sometimes it’s when you’re stuck between flights or feel like you’re dying after a long, yet rewarding, hike. A well-traveled life is fully embraced in your mind, body, and soul, and it’s okay to feel lost. You have to lose yourself to discover yourself.