So, you’re setting out to somewhere far away in the hopes of finding something inside? Good on you. I’m not being even remotely sarcastic here — I’ve done it. It helped me a lot. But I know plenty of people for whom flitting about the world didn’t illuminate any kind of deep searchlight into their own soul.
Like all experiences, traveling can help you grow, or it can leave you stagnant. If you’re traveling in the hopes of finding yourself, I can’t tell you necessarily what will work for you. But I can tell you what worked for me.
1. Go alone.
There are already hundreds of articles out there about traveling alone safely and meeting people while traveling. Both can be done. Bite the bullet and go solo.
Being alone allows you to learn yourself in a way being around others doesn’t. Spend quality time with yourself. You will get lonely sometimes. You will find amazing people sometimes. But if the goal is to dig into yourself, choosing alone time is the shovel you need. You will learn to provide things and feelings for yourself that you’re used to getting from others, and you will find that giving them to yourself is so much more stable and reliable than trying to find them in others.
2. Let the “wrong” people fall away.
The same goes for experiences. The people and experiences that affirm you will find you when you make space for them. The ones that don’t, you’ll have less time and energy for. You’ll likely have jarring moments of realizing how many relationships in your life were built on what you got from someone, or what they got from you, not who either of you are. Letting those relationships fall aside will give you space for yourself and truer relationships that will help you on your journey, not inhibit it.
3. Be vulnerable.
Be open. Be honest. Leaning into the things you fear is one of the best ways to strengthen yourself. Do the things you’re afraid to do, say the things you’re afraid to say, feel the ways you’re afraid to feel. I don’t just mean go skydiving or swim with sharks. I mean talk to people honestly and openly, tell people how you feel, and allow yourself to feel however it is that you feel. Breaking your comfort zone will make you stronger.
4. Spend time in nature.
It’s a cliché, but nature doesn’t judge you the way people do. Take space from people. Take space from “society.” Take space where there’s no one around to tell you what you should be or how you should live. Even if you’re in the woods and still judging yourself, at least there’s no one around doing it for you to make it all the worse.
5. Most people won’t understand.
They also don’t need to.
You’ll find people who do understand, or who respect what you’re doing even if they don’t quite get it. You’ll find plenty of people who judge you too. They’ll judge you for having money or not having it, for working or not working, for being anything and everything. Some of their judgments will get to you. But as the old adage goes, people will love you and people will hate you, and it will have nothing to do with you. Even if their judgments affect your feelings, remember that other people’s judgments are their attempts to feel something in themselves. They are not really about you, and they are not your responsibility.
6. The places you go don’t actually matter that much.
You may think you need to go to the Ganges to find a sense of truth, but maybe the most spiritual experience you have will be outside a pub in Dublin.
Go to the places that feel right. Traveling is a state of mind, and traveling alone even to another town in your own country can change you. You don’t have to fling yourself halfway around the world to escape what you’re used to.
7. Curate your comfort zone.
Remember what I said about leaning into fear and vulnerability? Nothing will help you grow like consciously choosing to do what you’re afraid of until you’re not afraid of it. But the thing is: your comfort zone won’t just expand, it will shift. You will open yourself to all kinds of things, and doing so will close you to others. Things that used to feel comfortable, the kinds of bland and shallow interactions you used to stomach, will itch at you. It won’t be like it was, and you will be better for it.
Your thoughts and your feelings, your fears and your memories. Write them down. Take space to feel them, to think about them. Keep a journal, keep a diary, keep a blog that no one reads. Go back to it when you feel you’ve stagnated, and you’ll see how far you’ve come.
9. Let go of the grand idea of “traveling.”
You may spend half your nights alone in bed. You may spend a week of mornings on SkyScanner trying to price cheap flights. You may eat the same food and listen to the same playlists, but you’re still changing. Every moment might not be full of elephants and river boats and exotic markets. Some of it will feel dull. But travel is about you, about changing your state of mind, and that is the key to going on a journey far more than what you do there.
10. Going home will be weird.
You’ll feel yourself slip back into old habits and old patterns of being. You’ll also feel yourself not do so. You’ll feel how different you are, how much you’ve grown, around people who knew an earlier you. Some of them will have grown as well, and many of them won’t. It will not be comfortable. It may be painful. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake.
11. You will change.
Even when you don’t feel like you are. If you throw yourself out of your comfort zone, dive into yourself to new depths, confront yourself and learn to find a home inside you, you will change. You’re already doing it from the second you set out, even before. You chose to travel because you already were changing. Be kind to yourself. You may not feel on the cusp of enlightenment every step of the way, but you are on your way up.
12. There is no wrong way to find yourself.
…and no wrong self to find.
This is a process and not a goal. It is the act of questioning, not the answer.
You may come to a space of feeling fuller and truer than before, but moments when that space slips do not mean you have failed. Maintaining a present sense of self in the world is very difficult. Trust yourself. Be friends with yourself. Learn how you are, and let that be enough.
It is when you step fully into the process of finding yourself, and give up the ideas of any stagnant thing that you are, that you find you were never really lost to begin with.