Many people, when they hear stories about someone taking a cross-country road trip or a journey around the world, think, “That’s so amazing… if only I could do something like that, I could find out who I truly am.” Long-term or spontaneous travel and “finding yourself” are closely linked in fiction and nonfiction alike.
I watched an excellent documentary (the title of which I can’t for the life of me remember— I saw it at movie night at the Hawthorne Hostel in Portland) about a guy who quit his job, packed up his things and took a year-long journey around the world, hitting up every continent except Antarctica. The trip changed him, certainly, but at about the halfway mark, he began to wonder why he was doing this. What was the point of hanging out and hooking up and packing and unpacking and going to see yet another waterfall that looked exactly like the waterfall before it? He never did answer his own question.
I’ve seen this kind of apathy in many long-term or frequent travelers: they tend to dislike cities, tourist attractions and museums (“They all look alike after a while”), and often look a bit worn down, jaded to the sunny beaches and green forests. If you ask them about their favorite place they’ve traveled, they may light up for a while, but many of them can’t remember which cathedral was in which town.
Many part-time nomads have told me that they soon learned that, while places are fine, the most important part of long-term travel are the people. The interaction you have with people will shape you and change you and stay with you more than anything else that happens on a trip. I agree with this. While it’s true that I have wonderful, vivid memories of hiking the Angels Landing trail in Zion Canyon, I cherish more the memory of the conversation with homeless people in Tucson.
You can see where I’m going with this. There are people right here, right in front of us. There are opportunities to learn and grow and serve and change and find out who we are. We don’t need to wait for a trip to catalyze this inward journey. In fact, traveling might distract us from the most important issues that we need to face at home.
I’m the first person to say that a trip, particularly a long one, is inspiring, incredible, and, yes, life-changing. But if you are planning a trip with the intention of trying to “find yourself,” you had best take your cue from Dorothy Gale and learn to start in your own backyard.