Does Travel Change You, Finding Yourself

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I get ideas for posts in all kinds of ways, sometimes I want to tell a story about some cool  place we’ve been, sometimes I want to help or inspire, sometimes ideas just pop into my head and sometimes, like today, I get ideas from other people’s words.

Earlier this week I read a post about how this thing travel has changed somebody.

It was a great post, but I didn’t agree with most of it.

It’s a question I was asked in a podcast interview too, “How has travel changed you?” I replied that it hasn’t. It hasn’t changed the kids either. I thought that was a pretty reasonable thing to say, others disagreed.

Yes, I’m in trouble again!

I strongly believe that it hasn’t changed me, it might change you, but me, nope.

Then there is the other travel cliché, that you travel to find yourself. Well I think, surprisingly, that’s actually more true than the “travel changes you” thing. So now I’ve got time to sit and fully explain, let’s talk.

Could you pin this for me? Thanks.

finding yourself through travel

There is no doubt at all that travel is a wonderful thing and there is much to be learned. But learning and changing aren’t the same thing. So at the risk of sounding arrogant, which is really worrying me here because the day my ex-husband uttered the words “My character doesn’t need building.” was the day I knew divorce was coming, I’m going to talk a bit about learning, changing and discovering your real self through travel.

How Travel Hasn’t Change Me

People talk a lot about how travel opens your eyes and injects compassion, empathy and world understanding where there was none.

There is also talk of seeing the good in all people and the realisation that most people on the planet are just like you and good, not to be feared.

Then there’s the bit about knowing how lucky you are to be born privileged, with freedom.

All those things are fabulous but I believed them long before I set off on this trip. I’ve always believed them. Or maybe, I’ve just believed them for as long as I can remember.

I grew up with a Sri Lankan family, Hindus, with Ganesh in their front room. I have good friends from India, Iraq, the USA, Australia, Spain, Nepal, heck even England! I already knew that people were basically very similar. Yes that guy from Iraq was a very devout Muslim and he was the most lovely man I knew. Several colleagues from Pakistan and Bangladesh were Muslims too, but the beer drinking pub-going kind. They were fun and taught me that faith came in many flavours. I’d read extensively about their religion and the countries in which it is prevalent so there were no surprises in going out into the world and mingling with those of the most feared religion for many of my white, western background.

I’m not unique in this, plenty of others read, research and are just interested.  So I don’t want to hear that I can only get this sort of understanding of people and the world through travel.

For me it came from people, books, even documentaries and movies. Travel has given us lots of examples, yes, but we knew about it already.

Travel is not compulsory, some of us dig it, others don’t. If you’d rather stay home there are plenty of books  ( or even blogs) that will give you a similar understanding of the world.

Just because I’ve been there, doesn’t make me better or wiser than you. I go there for fun.

I’ve had a deep interest in foreign lands for many years, long before I owned a backpack. I’d read every book I could find on the subject. If a book has the word “India” in the title you can bet I’ve read it.

I have a post here about great books on India and about Indian travel.

My fascination with the rest of Asia was almost as intense, but I never read A Year in Provence or Notes From a Small Island. Europe was never my thing.

Vang Vieng Laos
All of this gives me even stronger belief that taking the kids travelling for 5 years was a really great plan. I grew up in a multicultural, diverse community. They were growing up in a very white, vanilla environment. The world seemed to be shutting down as fear grew, diversity was decreasing. They needed to see more.

I think when people talk about travel touching your mind so deeply that it changes you, they’re talking about the poorest countries and those with the most alien cultures. I think India is possibly as extreme as you can get. I don’t think many western people experience much of an epiphany in France.

The only place I’ve visited where I experienced any sort of shock or awakening was South Africa. I had no idea that the divide between rich and poor was so immense, nor did I have any insight into the ways South Africans think. I’d never read about it.

I first went to South Africa for my brother’s marriage to a local girl. It wasn’t a destination I’d picked out for myself and that deep interest had never previously been there. I started reading and being interested after that first visit.

There’s also talk of travel giving you belief in yourself, self-esteem maybe. You learn to trust that you can, both physically and mentally. Well, I’ve always been a bit like that, my only fear is social. I’m not good at social.

Physically I’ll take on anything ( like Everest for instance) and think nothing of it, but as an introvert and somebody of a nervous disposition, I don’t generally like doing things by myself or on my own.

I’ve done solo travel. I still don’t like it. I’ll do it if I have to or if I wanted to, but I don’t. So nope, that didn’t change me.

I think travel has boosted my self-esteem because I don’t feel like a nobody anymore. I had shockingly low self-esteem as a kid but now I feel like somebody with accomplishments and travel is just one of those.

I’m guessing that everyone gains accomplishments as they age. I love that I’ve completed physical challenges like the trekking and bike riding, I love that I’m a proficient skier and I’m proud of my websites and of course, my family.

Just giving birth to kids is so ordinary yet something to be immensely proud of. Doesn’t everyone go through life collecting various achievements? I don’t think I’m anything special because I travel.

How I’ve Found Myself Through Travel

Receiving a blessing at the sacred Bo Tree, Anuradhapura, Si Lanka
Living like the locals? No. But gaining understanding, certainly.

I used to think that was the most ridiculous expression ever ( “Live like the locals” is the 2nd most ridiculous, read why here, it’s at the end of the post.) I didn’t even understand what it meant, but now I think I do, maybe.

I didn’t know what I wanted or needed in life, now I do.

Is that what it means?

I used to do what was expected of me, I got my education, got a respectable job, climbed the career ladder, got married, bought houses of increasing size, had kids, sent them to school….and on it went until I jumped into Living Differently.

Yes, we’re back to that again.

I was living a life according to society’s expectation and not being true to myself.

I wore the label “scientist” in school, so that’s what I was right through to 39 years of age. I hated it!

I’m naturally creative, I’m better suited to what I do now, writing, photography, website creation, image manipulation. I love this stuff and it makes me happy in a way that dissecting somebody’s large intestine never could.

Through trying different things and having the freedom to try those different things, the freedom that was given to us by, guess what, TRAVEL, I’ve found my groove.

I’ve experienced life in many parts of the world. I’ve lived long-term in Wales, London, Vietnam, Romania and Australia and I can see that there are elements of each that I love but that no single place ticks all the boxes. I NEED TRAVEL.

I need well-defined seasons and to feel connected to the land. I need to be around, or in, water sometimes. I need amazing museums, I need mountain-tops, I need great food, I need snow, I need peace and I need cities. We can do that, we can have a little of each. We are extremely privileged.

Family Villa Templeberg Galle Sri Lanka
I now know what I need from life and what brings me true joy. Is that what finding yourself through travel means? Most importantly, I know to never, ever try to change myself to fit in. 

I know now what sort of house I need to live in. It has to be fairly small to enhance family connection and I also need to feel connected to the outside world. I can’t live behind high fences or remotely from people. I have to at least see life and nature outside, not just a garden, it must be a public space. I know what belongs in that house, not much.

Possessions cause stress and I’m glad we got rid of them when we whittled them down to what fits in a backpack. That’s something that’s reinforced in me every time we house sit, people have so much stuff! I really couldn’t live with it anymore. So maybe some would see that as a real change in me through travel. I’m a complete minimalist, but I suspect that was me all along and I didn’t know it yet. I’ve found myself, not been changed.

My social group has changed since we became abnormal. I’ve lost and removed myself from certain old friends, but I’ve gained wonderful new ones. I woke up to the fact that those old relationships weren’t good for me and that those people wanted to keep me like them, their version of normal.

I have a need to be around others like me, people who think and live differently or those that travel. Again, I don’t think that’s a change, more the real me being allowed to thrive. I’ve talked before about how I tried to change myself to fit into life in Australia, it didn’t work and made me miserable. I just wasn’t like the people I met.

I’ve also discovered that I don’t need much of a social life. I don’t force myself to go to parties and act like I’m having fun any more. I’m an introvert and now fully embrace that. I’ve always been that way but these days I don’t feel a need to hide it for social acceptance.

What I haven’t talked about yet is travel not changing the kids. They’ve grown up, not changed. I knew they needed to see more of the world than just our town in Far North Queensland to grow into well-rounded human beings. There was little diversity there for them to learn from at this early stage and I wanted to give them that sooner rather than later.

That has happened, they’ve grown up differently to how they would have if we’d remained. But change them? No, they’re the people they were born to be. Two very different personalities. If travel ( or unconventional parenting) was the major force in creating them surely they’d be more similar? They’re more knowledgeable about the world and its people than they would otherwise have been at 9 and 12 but changed? I don’t think so.

So that’s my brain-dump for today. Travel hasn’t changed me, but who I was all along is more clear. Society’s expectations of me have been stripped away and the inner me is free to be who she always was and needed to be. I’m much happier now because we took that massive lifestyle leap into travel. Is it something you’d like to try too? We’re here for you.

I’m aware that I’m constantly talking about “I” and “me”. That’s because I’m the only person I’m able to talk about with any authority. You may feel totally differently about everything above. Do you? Tell me. I’ve asked Chef about this, he agrees. I’ve asked the kids but they can’t be bothered to think about it and would rather catch Pokemon. Also, this is how I feel right now, today, 4 years into this experiment. I’m happy, the kids are happy, Chef is happy. We’re not doing anyone any harm and we’re loving the ride.

How we Raised the Money to Travel and How We Keep the Money Coming In

Homeschooling and Travelling

The Secrets of Living Differently

Living Differently: Uncertainties, Stories and Bookings

Living Differently: Owning Less Living More

So if you want to chat about this and I’d love to hear what you think, let’s do it in the comments section below. You know, I could be totally wrong here, I’m using you all as a kind of sounding board, am I crazy or am I making sense? Therapy through blog subscribers, if you like. Thanks for being here.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

17 thoughts on “Does Travel Change You, Finding Yourself”

  1. Do you think there is a point at which, having travelled, it no longer has an influence or impact on you?

    • No. Because, it never had any impact. I was always a big reader, so I was kind of going to see for myself what I’d read about. I think I have much greater understanding and knowledge of the world and how it is than the average person who hasn’t travelled extensively, but knowledgw doesn’t change you in any way, I don’t think. I just totally don’t get the whole concept of travel changing you. I don’t see how or why it would, unless you had some really wrong ideas about the world, it may change your beliefs.

  2. Hi there… I have stumbled across your site and am very happy that I did. In my life I have lived in five different countries but have been settled in one for twenty years while raising my two sons. The time will come once again where travel will be a big part of life and it is good to know that there is a community out there of like minded people….. I have very much enjoyed reading your blogs.

  3. While I agree that no, travel doesn’t change your life, it certainly puts things into perspective. Without travel, you are not exposed to such an array of experiences that show you what is important and what isn’t. I haven’t changed and neither have my kids, we were always kind, compassionate and adventurous. But we were also scared. And worried sometimes; and thought that to be happy we needed this and that. Travel exposes you to situations that make you think. Make you reassess. Put things into perspective.
    I like the way you now know that you need a small house! That is such a valid point. I have a big house too back in New Zealand and right now I want to sell it and buy a smaller place. Travel has changed the way I feel about our living conditions. It has shown me that we like sleeping four in a bed in our sleeping bags like caterpillars. Just kidding.
    Oh, Alysun. We are more similar than you know…

    • One of the things I really like is that the kids spent the last 3 years living in Romania with few ( zero) mod cons. They KNOW that you can live without washing machines, inside toilets, heating and running water. They KNOW that washing once a week with a bucket and a kettle is OK. They will never, hopefully, think that they need a load of unnecessary crap to be happy. But changed…nope. Just more enlightened, smarter, educated, more worldly. Still the people we were all born to be.

  4. Bog discussion with our youngest daughter (18 next week) yesterday on whether traveling changes people. She was absolutely convinced it did – because it changes your view of the world and thus it changes the way you get in touch with others and thus she says : “I would never have been the person I am, if we hadn’t traveled.” She’s a rather nice person – so I thought I’d share her point of view with you! Anyway, we had nice and animated after-dinner discussion thanks to this topic.

    • But she’s only 17! She grew up, did she actually change? Also at 17 she wouldn’t normally have time to read all those books, do all that research, discover who she really was. I didn’t really start reading until I left university, there was hardly any time before that, I didn’t start reading travel books until later. I went through my poncy literature phase first ( I was big into Zola, would you believe?). I have no doubt that it opens peoples eyes, particularly the young or the un-worldly, Of course it does. But not mine. And changing a world view isn’t the same as changing who you are. All those things above, compasion, empathy, belief in yourself. Is it something different? I don’t know. I’ll ask the boys when they’re older but right now they really can’t be bothered to think about it and don’t have the maturity to come up with answers.

  5. Travel made a major impact in my life. As an inner city girl, raised by a single mom with my brother, I needed to see different places to be able to open my minds eye to experience something different. My mom scraped together money for three major trips I took as a young person and I will forever be grateful to her for that sacrifice. Now with my kids, they are well traveled. They now settled with us in our new home and they appreciate the location and people so much more than I believe they would have had they not traveled to other locations first.

  6. I feel the same way about myself, but everyone is not us. I think it could have a profound impact on people, and not just visitors to developing nations. The problem is, those it would affect most are probably not traveling.

    Particularly in the US, I find we are very insular, rarely giving a thought to the outside world, except politically. My sister was astonished at the difference in news coverage between BBC and CNN while we were traveling last year. CNN spends very little time talking about international news compared to BBC, and every other American station spends even less.

    I grew up in a small community and gave no real thought to the outside world. I’d estimate that at least 75% of the people in that community have never lived anywhere else, never traveled anywhere much.

    Also, again in the United States, most people who live outside major urban areas aren’t exposed to other cultures outside of TV and movie theaters. A lot of them just go about their daily lives without giving a lot of thought to other countries and cultures, except perhaps to fear them.

    So it may be more accurate to say that travel changes people’s lives, rather than the people themselves. In the same way that education does. It would be great to think that travel is the cure for xenophobia, but the fact of the matter is that people are not going to be traveling to the places inhabited by people they fear.

    A more effective way, which I’ve been saying for years, would be for classrooms to have video pen pals with students from around the world, every year. Let everyone get to personally know students their own age, students who don’t necessarily look like them, with different cultures and religions. Let them make friends from kindergarten through graduation, with kids from many different nations. After a decade or so, maybe people will stop trying to kill those they fear due to ignorance.

    Travel and education are much the same. No, they may not change a person’s character or personality. But they can have a major effect on a person’s perspective, world view or way of thinking in general. Or not. On the whole, I still believe that travel and learning enrich a person’s life more than anything else except love. But there are people who are well-traveled, well-learned and well-loved who are still assholes, so no one single thing is a cure all for making people better human beings.

    Still, I firmly believe that travel gives people a broader frame of reference in life and that can only be a good thing. I brought my family to Europe and the U.K. last year specifically for that purpose and I’ve been astounded at the impact it had, beyond my wildest dreams. Because though they are all well read and had knowledge of places and things, it was like ripping away a curtain and exposing them to a colorful new universe, even for the two adults who only joined us for a couple of weeks. I can’t wait until we can do it again.

    • Loving that video pen-pal idea. Wouldn’t that be great! I have a post on here somewhere about stupid things people have said to me. One was “Why would I want to go to some 3rd world country?” I’ve heard those exact words from 3 different people! Those are the people ( they weren’t from the US but I totally get what you’re saying) that should be handed a passport and a backpack and told not to come back for a year, they might find they like it 😉

      • Just jumping in here again “travel changes people’s lives”. No it doesn’t. Travel does not have any effect. The person themselves creates the change, if they want the change. I don’t like the idea of external forces shaping our actions, it’s just not true. We make our own lives and choose to live them the way we do. In the same way as I don’t claim to be “lucky” . The things we do shape our lives, life is an active process not a passive one. ….I’ve been thinking too much again! Sorry, but this “travel changes us” cliche is really irritating. So getting on a plane and going on holiday turns you into some new hybrid of the Dalai Lama and Lara Croft. It’s absolute crap!

  7. Hi Alyson, I believe travel is my favourite thing in life – next to being around people with disabilities. Isn’t that a curious connection ? And I am not doing either as much as I would love to … We are considering leaving France, but for now, my father’s condition doesn’t allow me to travel far freely and not feel worried. He’d miss me too much – and I wouldn’t be able to be with him within a few hours should he need me.
    I like this Neophile thing – it reminds me of something I read a few months ago, about some people being genetically pushed to go forward, explore the frontiers, while others are meant to stay around and cultivate the area where they live. My husband and I are definetely among the first ones ! So are you, me thinks !
    Cheers ! (I love you being back on the blog!)

  8. Hello again. This resonates with me greatly. A friend told me recently about Neophiles, people who crave new experiences and I realised that was me. I also always had a passion for Asia when I was young, I collected Buddha’s and had a traditional Indonesian puppet doll that I loved. I tried to fit into the usual roles, did the usual things, career and house buying stuff, but it was very unsatisfying and I craved something else without really knowing what it was. Now I am with a fellow Neophile, we regularly shake our life up, much to friends and family’s erm, shock, worry, I’m not sure which word to use there. We moved to Spain, loved it but five years later sold everything and went to Asia. I truly truly loved every minute, every rickety boat or minibus ride, lumpy bed, shabby hut, I loved that our two children also loved it and totally took it in their stride. We had to return to the uk though as a poorly relative and then a career change was necessary. We have been still for a year now and I feel deep guilt my kids are in mainstream school, and I feel very out of place here. We are trying our very best to get ourselves out there again and know it’s going to take a bit of time. Your post describes how I feel very accurately, I didn’t change while travelling, I was just being me for the first real time.

    • Yes, I think Adele, you and I are long lost twins. I’ve never met one before. Id being a neophile generally considerred a good or bad thing? I need to Google. It makes me happy anyway, and you too.


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