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.
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This really came at a perfect time for me. At almost 25 years old, working my first full time job and living far from home for the first time, I have been wanting to run away via travel. Your post really spoke to me and helped me see what I’m looking for, and I’m think about what I really want in the future.
So happy to hear that, Jennifer – thanks for sharing!
That’s a really good story. I often feel like an escape is what I need also, but I know deep down as well that being somewhere else only means a different scenery maybe. The problems will still be there, and you are still you. Still though, I think I’d like to give it a shot 🙂
Thanks Jai! You nailed it. And yeah… sometimes I do too!
Very honest article, thank you.
I lost my husband 18 months ago and have been doing trips. When I’m not, I’m looking at what I can do for my next trip. I continually feel like running away. However, I’ve come to the realisation that I take the pain with me. Not sure what the answer is. Travel seems to help. Love your posts- thank you
Lesley, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Happy that travel helps. Even if it isn’t going to fix anything, hopefully it creates some space for you, or gives you something else you need. Much love. -E
This topic has been on my mind for some time now, and you so eloquently wrote about it. I love that you did not fantasize travel, but brought us all to the present instead. I couldn’t agree more that I too in my teens thought becoming someone who travels often would make me this “inspiration” for others to look up to. I travel a lot for work now, solely in the U.S. and it is so much more overwhelming than I ever thought it could or would be. I often get a lot of people saying they are “jealous” of my job and though it is great, it is draining and hard to be away from my boyfriend. Scheduling and making time for the important stuff is much more of a sacrifice, but it has taught me a lot and helped me to take a look at myself as I am in the moment.
Thanks for the wonderful read, always love your posts. xoxo – Kristen
Hi Kristen! Thank you for sharing. I totally relate to people saying they are “jealous”– sometimes I wish they really knew what went on behind the scenes!
I took my first solo trip to Norway in the midst of the most excruciating emotional pain I’ve faced to date. The magnitude of my romantic problem shrunk as I was now faced with others…finding my hostel, scrounging for cheap food, navigating a hike during a winter storm. More imminent issues occupied my brain, and that in itself was so freeing.
For once, I was not worried about something I couldn’t fix and what, eventually, didn’t matter. Solo travel will chew you up and spit you out, but at some point, you are given refuge from what burdens you at home.
Thanks for sharing, Sheema. Brave of you to go solo while working through that pain. Happy to hear the freedom you found on your trip. 🙂
Beautiful insight Erin, and wonderfully expressed. As counterintuitive as it often seems it is in facing our challenges, that we learn how to overcome them. Strong trees are grown by standing firm with the wind blows. It is the wind itself that makes them stronger. When there are lessons in life that we have to learn, going to a new places to avoid them means only they will eventually meet us there, too. But, if we are willing to struggle with them, it is the battle itself that makes us better people.
Thank you Brad! Beautifully said.
Excellent read Erin. I had a heart transplant 3 years ago at age 46, and vowed to travel more after spending four months in the hospital, but my post-op plans crashed into the mundane reality of meds, doctor appointments, etc.
I’ve scaled back my plans bigly, and am now saving up just to buy a camper van, take my kids on some short trips this summer in the US/Canada, and generally just go where we feel like, with zero expectations.
I’ve lived in NYC, Boston, Chicago, DC, London, and Helsinki for multi/work gigs, so my passport is not exactly empty. But I’m glad you reminded me of how depressed I was living alone in Helsinki during the winter, with only 5 hours of daylight. I’m not looking to change myself this summer, but interact more w my kiddos.
PS You are an excellent, honest, writer.
Wow. Thanks Jon! You’re inspiring. Your time in Helsinki reminds me of lots of times I have found myself depressed while traveling… meanwhile everyone at home was constantly reminding me how lucky I was. Anyway, van trip sounds great as well as the intention to spend more quality time with your kids. Do you follow Ralph DeFelice @daytripsla? Not sure how old your kids are, but he’s an inspiring outdoor dad who might be fun for you to follow 🙂
It is so true! Often times when life gets difficult, I think we seek an escape from it. But the escape alone isn’t enough to “heal” us. The healing happens when we engage and reflect, I think. Or at least – that’s what I’ve found in my travels! Thank you for always being real and sharing your view of it all!
Same here Amy 🙂
What you wrote is so true. I’m seventeen and living abroad away from my family. Living without anyone familiar around, in a new country and culture has indeed been challenging. It really hasn’t fixed me in any gentle way, but it has made me tougher. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a person. I’ve learned so much about myself. And even though I did regret coming here in the very beginning, today I’m so grateful for myself that I decided to do this.
Anna! Congratulations on this learning experience. You are living out something that many other seventeen-year-olds think they would like to live out, too… but experiences like this are much more than meets the eye. Learn as much as you can, even when it is hard. I know how tough it can be. Be gentle with yourself. Much love. -E
Hey Erin! I normally just watch your feed on instagram as I am a photographer too. But the headline of this blog post caught me. I love this post cause it is true. Thank you so much for sharing. Keep up doing amazing work! Love from Croatia
Thank you Julija! And thanks for coming over to the blog from Instagram 🙂
I really resonated with this article. You write so beautifully and honestly about topics that need to be explored. I have often been guilty of assuming that travel will fix me. In fact, I still believe it will even though it’s proven not to be true! I’m always fantasizing about my next escape, though oftentimes, I’ve ended up in some hostel, scribbling in my journal to try to find the answer to why I only feel MORE depressed. Nonetheless, travel is still so enriching to the soul. Even if it never fixes me, I will always love travel for what is does for my growth, my courage, and my love for humankind. Hope to be on one of your trips some day!
All the best,
Hi Karie! Love what you have shared here and I have absolutely had lots of experiences like you describe– sitting somewhere abroad wondering why I’m struggling or experiencing some kind of mental anguish! Would LOVE to have you on on a trip sometime. -E
Great article! I really enjoyed it! I recently got back from my first solo trip and I would have to say, it was both better and worse than I was expecting. I just recently found your site here and look forward to hearing more from you!
Ha, I totally understand that feeling of better AND worse. Thanks Jon!
Absolutely beautiful, pertinent and important Erin!! Thank you so much for sharing these astounding pieces of your soul with us. You inspire me all the time!!
Thank you Leila 🙂
Hi Erin, I love your blog! I find it very inspiring and have created a bedframe for my Honda CR-V as a result. I agree that travel by itself won’t fix you (“Wherever you go, there you are”). As another person mentioned, that can only be achieved through introspection, meditation, and inner and outer compassion. I would say that travel can help take you out of your “normal” environment and mindset and that helps open you to what you might like to become. It can also help show you the good, the bad, and the ugly of who you are in the present (nobody else to blame). This information is incredibly useful if you can be authentic and compassionate with yourself and begin to make the changes in perspective you would like to have on your past, life, etc. I would also say reading about the struggles of someone else provides a similar mindset for opening to new perspectives that is very similar to traveling. Thank you again for sharing =).
Thanks Angela, happy you’re here! I totally agree with you. I think travel gives us the opportunity to change, or to heal, or to work through things… but we won’t experience growth unless we show up for it. That said, travel is such a great place for growth when you do show up! 🙂