Travel won’t fix you. Maybe that’s a strange thing to say, and maybe you disagree. Maybe you have had an experience so profound that it did turn you into a better version of yourself. So let me clarify.
Some of us are guilty of driving off into the sunset and thinking that is the end of the story–– poof, our worries are over.
The story never ends with just us and the sunset. For travel to be a permanent fix, you’d have to be running forever. And running, well, it takes energy and stamina and a lot of drive, and it can get uncomfortable quickly if you’re not used to it.
I don’t know if you’re looking to be fixed or righted or patched up in some way. I know that’s not what travel, by itself, does at all. Indeed, flinging yourself into the unknown is rarely comforting.
So if you are wanting to be free of your imperfections, do not seek travel. Should you find yourself chest deep in worry, know that the view from the airplane window will not absolve it for you. And if you head down the road looking for that something you can’t quite name… well, the act of seeking offers no guarantee of defining it any sooner.
I don’t share this in order to be discouraging… that’s the last feeling I want to leave you with. I promise there is hope in here.
I want you to know that travel isn’t going to fix you without your participation. Throughout my adult life, and perhaps throughout yours, there was always this hint that travel is the miracle cure for dullness, for heartbreak, for existential crisis. But in my experience, travel made all of those things way worse at some point before any of them got better.
I sought travel for the first time when I was 21. I, like many, was guilty of romanticizing it–– I thought cobblestone streets and port wine on the river would result in the clarity I was so desperately seeking. I was a student of many things, but I wasn’t truly learning from life quite yet. I was a stubborn student of myself alone, thinking I knew everything in my short existence.
Travel, like many things I thought I understood, kicked my ass.
Another time I hoped for a quick fix, I moved to Australia for a year with $800 cash and a backpack. What could go wrong? Sitting in my room in a suburb on the outskirts of Perth, I stared at emails from friends telling me just how lucky I was. Meanwhile, I was just getting by. No fireworks or exciting love story. Just working a full-time retail job like I could have done at home, except with less friends and more depression. But it’s supposed to be better than this, I thought. It’s supposed to be exotic and fun and adventurous, right? Funny thing… you will not enjoy something if you’re constantly labeling your experience as lesser-than.
I remember biting off more than I could chew on more than one occasion. More than one solo trip I thought I could conquer. More than one hotel room I didn’t leave during daylight hours. More than one landmark I did not visit because I was too anxious to go alone.
I have done stupid things in more countries than I can count. Fell in love once, lust more than once. Hiked up mountains unprepared, stood on a volcano in a thunderstorm like a human lightning rod. Not smart. I trusted the wrong people and offended the right ones, got ripped off and fooled and hurt and embarrassed. In New Zealand, my ex-boyfriend and I had a screaming match in our car in the pouring rain. Travel didn’t fix us then. I still feel the heartbreak of that scene, the bruise of it. But travel had no way of holding me back from myself–– instead, it peeled away all the layers of home to show me who I really was, and why I made the choices that I did. Through all of it, the stuff I’ve shared publicly and everything I never will, I feel lucky to be alive and carrying all of those experiences with me.
No matter how hard a trip was, no matter how tough it was, or how broken I felt, I kept coming back. I kept making it work. I kept saving money for the next trip, or applying for the next job in a new place, or couch-surfing in whatever city I could get a cheap flight to.
Yes, there was fear that felt bigger than me. There was my heart beating fast in my chest on trains and in taxis and other places that should have just been easy. There was disappointment and boredom and anxiety and enough dread to fill a mid-life crisis. There was challenge and pain and joy and triumph, too. Because the things I dealt with in my life were never going to just disappear and be replaced by what I thought travel would be. Travel just added another layer. A thick one.
I began to see that although travel would never fix me, it would give me more challenge to work with. It would help me build my toolbox, so I kept coming back to it. Travel requires you to do more. It requires deliberate choices. It puts all of the weight on your two shoulders and asks you to name the specifics of each day, each moment.
When I thought travel would spit me out clean and whole, I was wrong. I wanted travel to scoop me up in big comforting arms and sing me to sleep. But it doesn’t do that. Travel is far more discerning than that–– it’ll put you through wringers you didn’t know existed. Travel had me overcoming impossible odds, finding serendipity and meeting God, though I could have never identified any of that at the time.
So when I say that travel won’t fix you, know that I mean it lovingly. I mean it with excitement and joy and incredible hope.
It does not fix you and does not make you more comfortable in your pain. It does not soften loss. It will not gloss over the mistakes you’ve made, or patch a broken heart. It can’t promise to heal you or give you clarity, regardless of if you are looking for it or not. But maybe after all the miles you’ve walked, and the stories you’ve lived, travel will present you an opportunity. And maybe in that, you’ll find the strength to fix yourself.
Model: Adaeze Azubuike.