Travelling doesn’t change who you are as a person
It just makes you realise what you already knew about yourself
I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been able to travel huge amounts before and during my university career. I’ve spent a month in Ecuador, I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, and I’ve even been on a “spiritual journey” around South East Asia. People always ask me if the trip changed me. Usually travelling and volunteering come hand in hand with transformation. I always hear bland examples like ‘ohhh I learned how to use a bus in Spanish’ and now I’m a better person and can justify my career in the finance sector.
While it is true I am not full ‘gap yah’, over the course of three years I’ve spent three months on three different continents. I feel pretty well positioned within both camps to have an unbiased perspective on the matter. Every time someone asks me if travelling, as in the things I did travelling (as in the specific activities and places I saw), fundamentally altered my psychological character and perspective of not just the world, but of the unending reality of the universe…
I respond with ‘no… no not really.’
You may call me a cynic but apart from memories, and believe me it was the best memories of my entire life, I don’t think what I did abroad actually changed me, in the sense that my personality and what makes me, me, was altered.
Let me try to explain:
When I was seventeen I went to Ecuador and volunteered at an orphanage. With the help of a company, my friends and I organised the experience ourselves. We built a wall, looked after children, played games and cooked food. When we left everyone cried, then we cried, then we all cried some more.
But did this change me?
I could be really bland and state, of course! It made me humble and taught me how lucky I am to live where I do! But I knew that already, I mean any reasonable person in England can surely see that without having to tend to an Ecuadorian orphan’s spider bite. Not thinking that already would be utterly irrational.
The experience did not alter my perspective but rather allow a preemptive and arguably unconsidered opinion to emerge in. I didn’t gain humility while travelling, rather the extreme scenarios I was placed in acted as catalysts for its emergence.
The point I am trying to make is travelling is not transformative – as a cynic I am skeptical of anyone who claims to have changed their stripes. I would instead argue all who travel (and indeed anyone rational) possess some kind of pre cursive humanity, otherwise why would we have the motivation to go to these places in the first place? For the Facebook profile pictures? No! Although the sweet sweet likes make it very tempting.
The same can be said for every other way people ‘change’ while travelling. Whether this is leadership, or problem solving or any other bland CV requirement, travelling pushes people into extreme situations in which we have to react quickly. When I was in Asia and Africa, I was completely isolated, just me and my friends on an adventure. Mistakes were made, things got tense – arguments, muggings, panic, illness. Problems happen, but the way we act does not depend on context, or geographical location, it depends on who we already were as people.
If I solved a problem it wasn’t because the spirit of an African Lion had come to me in some kind of cloud like epiphany, it was because I already had those characteristics. True, they may have been buried under lack of confidence or anxiety, but they were still there, still part of me, before I had gone. As much as I hate to admit it, the expression ‘found myself’ is much more accurate than ‘change.’ Travelling did not change me, I did.
There is one aspect of ‘change’ I will admit happens while travelling, and that’s interpersonal relationships. While I don’t think my experiences changed me, (learning new skills is not the same as this), it changed the way I saw other people. There is nothing like travelling to solidify friendships. Sure, you’ll not get along with everyone all the time. There will inevitably be arguments about whether you go to the temple or the water park, and sometimes you will be at odds with each other. But working as a team, pushing through problems together, and showing who you truly are as people becomes one of the most powerful tools in friendship.
Through my travels I have forged some of the greatest friendships possible and this is what I am most thankful for. Not the rafting or natural beauty, but my appreciation of experiencing these moments with other people. In conclusion, travelling is something I recommend to everyone, not as a method of necessary change, but as a test. A test of yourself, your friendships, and of perspective you may not have thought you already had.