Thought Catalog
May 19, 2015

Traveling Doesn’t Make You A Better Person: What Our Generation Gets Completely Wrong About Travel

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Leo Hidalgo
Leo Hidalgo

I remember discussing personal growth with a friend one day—someone I respected and admired—and gushing about how important traveling is to finding ourselves, when she told me the most outrageous thing:

“I think people make too much of a fuss over traveling. I mean, I do love traveling. But I don’t think that it is always the best way to grow.”

At that moment, such an unwelcome notion was downright scandalous for me. My friend was an artist with a creative and curious mind—how on earth could she say that? What could be better for personal growth than getting to know other places, cultures, people, other forms of art? I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

Well, it took me a while, but I finally understand what she meant. And I’m glad she gave it some thought before jumping on that attractive but shallow bandwagon. Now, even though traveling is still one of my biggest passions, I can say I agree with her: traveling doesn’t open your mind, nor ensure personal growth. TRAVELING DOESN’T MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON.

Sounds obvious, right?

Yet there’s an implicit presumption in travel-related articles, in famous travel quotes spread all over the Internet and in the “travel community” in general, that to travel should be everyone’s ultimate desire, that it is the only way to happiness, the best way to get to know oneself and the world.

I believe that’s bullsh*t. And this is why.

Traveling just for the sake of traveling won’t open your mind.

Traveling has the potential to be amazing. Life-changing. Eye-opening. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it always is.

For instance, take the typical “postcard marathon trip”, where you hurry about from place to place, hungry for famous sights, gorgeous Instagram pictures and wild nights. You visit 6 cities in 15 days, with no time to actually do anything other than scratch the surface of the places you go to.

You visited a new place. Added a new badge to your collection. But, did you discover something about yourself you didn’t know before? Were you blown away by actually engaging with a culture that is different from yours? Do you have a cool story to tell that doesn’t involve being drunk?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love those anecdotes and have quite a few myself, but I believe there’s more to traveling than that.

Sharing isn’t always caring.

So you went to a so-called Third World country and were amazed by the exotic atmosphere and at the same time moved by the tragedy of poverty and injustice. Then, you took some photos with the local kids, made them your Facebook profile picture and headed home and shared the heartbreaking story about what life is like on the other side of the world.

Hey, maybe you even volunteered abroad. That’s a big deal, a great thing to do if done selflessly. It can certainly give you a new perspective of the world and your place in it. But the thing with “voluntourism” is that it often walks a fine line between empathetic involvement and humanitarian douchery: putting a lot of money on a trip in order to work on something a local could just as easily be paid to do (and would love to be paid to do), while remaining generally unaware of the complex root issues that caused the problems you are supposedly going to help “fix”.

You can also learn a lot by staying in one place with the same people.

Many times, the glorification of traveling comes hand in hand with the denigration of other lifestyles, insinuating that staying home and hanging out with the same people is a waste of time, that it is a way of remaining in the comfort zone and not risking enough.

That can be the case sometimes, but not necessarily always. The people who spend a lot of time with you, the ones that see you grow through the years, are not only the people you can trust the most, the ones who will understand you without too much explanation–they are also the ones who know you enough to not let you get away with your bullsh*t, and are thus the ones that make you a better person.

Solid, meaningful relationships are often built on people spending a lot of time together. There is a special kind of bond that is created by sharing your day to day life with someone that you can’t create in any other way.

Besides, forging deep connections with people is one of the most rewarding experiences in life — and the people you have a profound and significant relationship with will be the ones who will be there when things get confusing and rough. If you think you don’t need that now, you’ll probably regret it later.

What I mean is…Go find your meaning

All forms of traveling are valid if you find meaning in them. Be free, have fun. But try to dig a little deeper into the life lessons traveling can give you and what you can bring to the world by traveling.

If you won’t do that, then don’t go around putting traveling on a pedestal, talking about it as if it was the solution to every problem, the only possible way to live, the key to understanding life.

Because the kind of traveling that does change our life, conscious traveling, — apart from being environmentally friendly and not invasive for locals—should make us question at least some of these things:

Stepping aside from the version of self I show the world, or from how others think I am — who am I, really?

What do I bring to others? How do I contribute to their lives?

Why is there so much injustice in the world? Why is there so much indifference? Is this also happening back home, on a different scale?

What can I do to make the world a little bit better?

What is the difference between this culture and mine? What is these people’s idea of happiness?

What is a happy life for me really? What do I have to do to follow my idea of a happy life?

How could I be a better person?

Why do I travel?

Why do YOU travel? Please feel free to share your answer in the comments section. TC mark

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