Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not really a hater. In fact, I’m definitely more of a lover and pretty easy going when it comes to most stuff. However, there are a number of things that do annoy me beyond all reason and one of those is when people say they’re going travelling to “find themselves”.
You can picture the scene I’m sure, young idealists jetting off round the world talking about how their going to discover this whole new personality while they buy a few pair of Thai pants and get a hair wrap! I mean, come on, talk about the ultimate in cliché cringe material! Ergh, it makes my skin crawl! Even worse is when people intimate that I’m going travelling to find myself! PLEASE!
Now, don’t get me wrong here people. I’m not saying travelling isn’t about exploring new things, discovering difference, learning and making changes in your life; of course it is all these things and I’m living proof! I just can’t stand all the clichéd nonsense that a 3 month holiday to South East Asia, for example, might suddenly bring to light this whole new and more genuine personality in people that’s been lying dormant for x number of years. To explain more, here are 4 reasons why I believe travel isn’t about finding yourself.
1. Yourself is Found!
When people tell me their going travelling to find themselves, the first thing I do (after stifling a laugh) is ask them who they think they are now then?
‘If you’re going to find yourself, then who is the person stood in front of me?’ I say with a puzzled expression!
You see, how can you not be yourself already? I mean, you can’t rightly be anyone else, can you? You might not, of course, be happy with yourself; you might not like the picture of yourself, you not be feeling yourself. You might, in fact want to be someone else (goodness knows we all do sometimes), but tough I’m afraid, unfortunately you are yourself!
You don’t have to go anywhere to find that self, it just is. Right here, right now; you can’t be without it. Yourself is whoever you are at this point in time and there’s no avoiding it! Travelling isn’t about finding a self, indeed it can’t be, because yourself is already found, it’s who you are at this point in time!
2. Yourself is Always Changing
This point about you being yourself right here, right now, at this present moment in time, is also crucial; it’s another one of the key reasons why I don’t think travel is about finding yourself. That’s because the self is always changing, forever transforming and growing.
Regardless of whether you travel or not, we are, as living creatures, always altering in some way, every single moment of every single day. From the physical regeneration of cells, to swings in the beliefs we have, the people we hang out with and the things we like doing – everything is always moving, swapping and shifting. Who you are, i.e. yourself, necessarily moves in accordance with this change too, it follows it along. “Yourself”, therefore, is not one fixed identity that never alters; instead it is always tied to the developments and divergences you make every minute of every day as a human being.
When people say they’re going travelling to find themselves, it points to them discovering an unchanging and immutable sense of the word “I” – a self, that never shifts, grows, moves or alters. This just doesn’t exist I’m afraid. I mean were you yourself as a baby? Were you yourself as a toddler, a teenager, a twenty-something? Of course you were; you were yourself at all these times and you will be at all the stages of your life in the future too. That’s because the label of self moves with you, it’s impossible for it not to.
If you’re going travelling to find yourself then, I wish you good luck, for you may well be disappointed! Searching for self is a slippery sense! Even if you do think you’ve found yourself travelling today, then be careful. Experience of change suggests you will easily loose it again tomorrow!
3. Yourself is Inside
And that’s because the self lives inside. Yourself is not a thing that exists apart from you, it lives within in, it is you! You certainly won’t find it, therefore, in any external location. You won’t happen across it at a full moon party in Thailand or on a hike to Machu Picchu in Peru. You won’t discover it lurking in the shadows of a London Shoreditch sidestreet or it jumping out at you during a South African safari.
No, the self can’t be found anywhere outside. It can’t be found while travelling anymore than it can be happened upon at home. Yourself is what’s inside and no difference in geographical location will alter your ability to find it. Just look inwards, not outwards; you don’t need to go anywhere for that!
4. Travel is About Losing Yourself
Let’s just reiterate here for a minute that I’m talking about the clichéd notion of “finding yourself” while travelling. I’m certainly not saying that you can’t learn more about yourself, discover more about yourself or get to know yourself better through travelling. You can definitely do all of these things and you definitely should!
Travelling places us in new and unfamiliar surroundings, quite often with lots of new and unfamiliar people. This means travelling gives us a key opportunity to get to away from everything and everyone that knows us; that knows what we like, what we don’t, what we believe, what we don’t, what we normally do and won’t we normally don’t. Travelling flings us away from all the usual patterns associated with place and people, away from the usual patterns of behaviour and action, away from the usual patterns of thought and belief.
So often we locate our sense of self, define ourselves, by our job, our interests or familial / social roles. Away from everyone and everything we know, travel thrusts us out into a world where all the things that normally define us aren’t present. It thrusts us onto a blank canvas, one in which we are temporarily free from personal history, expectation and routine. In essence, rather than helping us to find ourselves, travel can help us to dislocate a sense of ourselves that is defined by other things and other people. Travel can actually help us lose ourselves.
The idea of losing yourself doesn’t initially sound like a positive thing; in fact, it’s sounds a bit scary and a bit selfish. But I’m not talking here about losing touching with reality or reason. I’m talking about losing the sense of self we have that is so often determined by external factors, factors outside yourself. I’m talking about losing ideas, concerns and worries that can hold you back, limit you, stop you from trying new things, thinking new patterns, speaking to new people.
In this light, the way in which travel allows us to lose ourselves is wonderfully liberating. It gives us a real opportunity to push at our boundaries and pre-conceived ideas, our fears and pre-determined notions of the world. And in this space of loss, we are actually given a precious place to discover more about ourselves for ourselves, to get to know ourselves better as us, not just as others do.
In my opinion therefore, travel isn’t about finding yourself, it’s actually about losing yourself – losing a self tied to familiar places, people and patterns. Perhaps this is the real key to being happy with yourself, to liking the picture of yourself, and to feeling like yourself. If it isn’t, it’s almost certainly the start of changing things so that one day you might.
So please don’t travel to find yourself. Try traveling as an opportunity to lose yourself for a while instead. You never know what you might find!