After living abroad and traveling the world for almost four years now, I came to realize that the most important thing I discovered was myself. I learned more about the world, life and my true self than ever before. All because I decided to leave my comfort zone and finally follow my dreams.
By now, you’re probably thinking you know where this is going: “Oh gosh, here’s another girl who decided to quit her job, sell all her stuff, and leave everything behind, to travel the world and find herself!” Did I just read your mind?
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my story is a bit different. I had neither a well paid corporative job back home nor a two year savings. I didn’t have much stuff to sell either. And I certainly didn’t leave everything and everyone behind to travel solo.
Does this mean I didn’t embark on a true soul-searching journey? On the contrary. I don’t have to follow a script written by someone else to go on a journey of self-discovery. And you don’t have to do it either. What kind of lessons will you be learning if you’re just following other people’s path anyway?
I think there are too many misconceptions about traveling and self-discovery. And that’s why I put together this list of what I consider to be the 5 biggest myths about soul-searching travel, and what it really means to explore your true self while wandering the globe.
#1 You have to quit your job
You probably stumbled upon some version of this quit-my-job-sold-my-stuff-traveled-the-world story so many times already in the Internet that it seems everyone is doing it these days. You probably dream about doing the same thing yourself, don’t you? But the truth is most people who travel or move abroad don’t quit their jobs to see the world. Most people can’t afford, or just don’t want, to do that. Most importantly, you don’t need to in order to travel or find yourself.
When I moved from Portugal to Switzerland, with my boyfriend, two suitcases and a little more than 500 Euros on my bank account, the first thing I had to do was actually to find a job, so I could apply for a residence permit, and survive in one of the most expensive countries in the world. I also had to learn German and work my ass off to be allowed to stay here, pay my bills and be able to travel. So it’s perfectly possible to have a job – and a home and a family – and travel. For many of us it’s the only way to do it! You can travel and do some important soul-searching without even having to permanently move abroad or disrupt your entire life. At least until you are absolutely sure that’s what you want to do.
#2 You have to go alone
I’m sure you’ve also read the thousand headlines that go something like this: “How traveling solo changed my life” or “Why solo traveling is the best way to find yourself”. Again, it seems like that’s the only way to do it. But it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, solo travel is great. I’ve done it myself and I would definitely recommend you try it at least once in your lifetime, if that’s something that appeals to you. If it’s not, go with your friends, your sister, your soul-mate, your kids, or your dog. As long as you go! Nowadays I mostly travel with my boyfriend. And that doesn’t mean I don’t learn valuable lessons about myself during these trips, because I do. In a way, traveling with another person and spending most of your time together is even more challenging than traveling alone. You certainly learn more about tolerance and respect, compromising and setting boundaries than going solo.
#3 You have to travel long term
Another myth about soul-searching travel is that you have to be on the road for a year or two, or at least a couple of months, to really learn about yourself. I mean, that truly sounds amazing, but what happens if you, like me and many people, can’t take a gap year or a sabbatical leave? What happens if all you can manage is a two week vacation from work, and, if you’re lucky, a couple of weekends per year to get away? Well, you use that time to travel and find out new things about the world and yourself. On our first year in Switzerland, my boyfriend and I had zero vacation time. But we used almost every weekend and day off to go somewhere new. We made day trips to all major cities in Switzerland, we spent time in the mountains, and visited Germany and Italy. So much that we ended up knowing the country better than many locals. Some Swiss friends were amazed with how much we managed to see in such a short period of time. So it’s not about how long or how far you travel. It’s about what you learn on the way.
#4 You have to visit a spiritual destination
You hear about soul-searching travel and you immediately think about Tibet, India or Japan. You imagine yourself chanting with Buddhist monks, practicing yoga in an ashram or meditating in a Zen temple. You can’t possibly soul-search lying by the pool of a Mexico resort or wandering through the crowded streets of New York, right? Well, that’s one way to see it. The other way is that every experience teaches you something valuable about the world, yourself and others. Every place, every culture and every person has its own lessons to deliver, as long as you’re aware of that. One of my aha moments happened when I decided to take a solo trip to Athens for three days. See, I didn’t go to Bali, or Kenya, or Siberia. I went to the busy and chaotic capital of Greece, and it turned out to be a really empowering trip, that taught me that all I need to go somewhere or do something is myself. Sometimes the most valuable insights happen when and where you least expect them.
#5 You have to find your true calling
There was a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had been a journalist. I had been a yoga teacher. But at that point none of that seemed to be enough. I wanted more. I wanted to learn new things, I wanted to travel and see the world, I wanted to find myself, but I had no idea how. I kept reading articles about how to find my true calling, how to uncover my purpose in life, how to discover that one thing I was meant to do. And I kept getting anxious. Until one day it suddenly hit me: I don’t have to choose only one thing, I don’t have to find one calling, I can have as many callings and do as many things as I want to. I can be a writer, and a yoga teacher, and a traveler, and whatever more the future holds for me. That’s the beauty of existence. So that’s why I don’t travel to find my true calling anymore, and why you shouldn’t either. You should travel to live all sorts of experiences, try all kinds of things that appeal to you, and find everything that gives meaning to your life.
There are no rules for your own soul-searching journey. There’s no correct way to do it. Because all journeys are journeys of the self. Like every new experience in life, every trip is an opportunity to explore the world and who you are, to get out of your comfort zone and into yourself. You don’t have to go far, to go alone or to leave everything behind. You just have to go, and all the lessons will arise.
Vanda is a journalist turned yoga teacher turned travel blogger. Combining her passion for writing, traveling and self-discovery, she writes about living abroad, exploring the globe, and the soul-searching that arise from both. Connect at theyogiwanderer.com