“Traveling helps you find yourself.”
Haven’t we all come across this phrase?
The first time I heard it, I remember thinking how fluffy it sounded.
But when I was about 21 or 22, and I was struggling to learn more about myself and wanted to find out if traveling could be the miracle fix others around me were claiming it to be.
So I decided to see for myself if travel could help my troubles disappear. I went on a trip with a friend to Udaipur.
I thoroughly enjoyed every second of that trip.
Imagine this: we were at the entrance gate of Sajjangad Fort, a totally neglected structure that’s perched on a hill. After a drive of about 20 minutes from the main gate, the roads started growing emptier and narrower. One of the roads snaked for about a few miles and took us to the top of the hill. When I got out of the car, the air was pulsing. The whole place was incredibly silent. It wasn’t the absence-of-noise kind of silent. It was the presence-of-some-strong-energy kind of silent.
There stood this humongous fort in front of us. It was in a dilapidated shape. But there was something about its walls. They seemed to have an immense history. Those long picture windows looked out onto the city beneath that stood in silence. The floors were caked with dust. And in that very moment, I decided to do the most cliché thing — I took out my diary and plonked myself on the floor.
I thought that was the perfect place to write grandly about solitude. Of course, words didn’t come to me. Then I did what was the toughest thing for me to do — nothing at all. Just sitting still. In the absence of Netflix or social media, those few hours stretched in front of me like an open meadow.
The sun was about to set. I was sitting under this great overturned crimson sky. I could see the tail lights of the car slowly fading away with my anxiety of the previous day. That made me realize how I had been racing from one email to the next meeting. And in that daily grind, something in me had been aching for stillness and depth. Every day of cursing every morning when my alarm would go off, ending emails with a baloney regards, squeezing another meal in a 30-minute lunch break — it was long, dull, and painful. At work, there were times when I would stare into the distance and constantly daydream about the life I wasn’t living, the experiences I wasn’t having, and the people I wasn’t meeting.
Over the past few years, I’ve traveled a lot, seeing over 15 countries. And in all my travels, it’s people who have beautified my experiences, may it be in the form of the 63-year-old man from the U.S. whose wheelchair was his best friend in all his travels across the globe to that 20-something-old in Switzerland who talked fondly about his family in Pakistan to that family in Kutch who went out of their way to make me feel at home. There was that heartfelt conversation with the taxi driver in Lisbon and exploring the caves of Anthargange in the moonlight with a group of strangers. Out of all the experiences, one conversation will remain etched on my mind forever: one with the Indonesian woman. She worked as a maid in Hong Kong. She missed her kids back in the country, and I missed my family back home. Two perfect strangers who couldn’t speak each other’s languages felt so connected in that very moment.
My travels have helped bring the sounds of the people I’ve met on the road, the high cobalt skies, the flash of the beautiful blue sea, and the stories I’ve collected back home to my close ones. But they haven’t mended my broken heart, nor have they helped me escape the bad voices in my head. Temporarily, maybe. But after a certain trip, I have never felt all new and shiny.
With films glamming the whole travel-as-a-cure-for-the-soul notion, gallivanting across the globe aimlessly seemed like the perfect way to know oneself. But, days of wandering aren’t going to help you find life-altering solutions.
My travels have certainly changed me. Stepping out of my home into the world out there has exposed me to different ways of life, helped me become more empathetic, more grateful, and develop a global mindset. It has provided me with interactions that have hugely impacted me.
But has it helped discover my soul? Definitely not.
Like Robert M. Pirsig said, “The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.”