Travelling can teach people a lot, but many come away from the experience with an air of arrogance having “found themselves” both culturally and spiritually in a corner of the world far from their boring hometown.
These insights are often disregarded and rightly so: “Gap Yah” enjoyers often take pleasure in the condescension of those who haven’t been lucky enough to see the views from the far side of the planet. But travel can result in so much more than just inflating the ego at the expense of cheap flights and favourable exchange rates. It can be a door to learning about other cultures, languages, cuisines and societies. It’s an extreme privilege to be able to walk the streets of a town you may have only previously seen presented on travel documentaries or textbooks.
Exploring new cultures can provide a different perspective on your view of the world and your place in it. But instead of the trope of gaining a new entitled sense of self from the experience, I felt the exact opposite. Being able to journey through the piazzas of Italy and the museums in Madrid made me feel insignificant. This isn’t a bad thing, it opened up my eyes to the sheer depth of history around me. It’s difficult to feel stressed about your daily challenges when you’ve looked at the sites of conflict and disaster and understand people who once stood in the same place as you probably had far worse problems than you are facing. The sheer number of people that have existed through history of which you are but one is drilled home, and you start to feel small. This feeling of sonder may seem obvious to some, but I remember vividly having this realisation as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in the winding streets of Florence, the feeling that it’s going to be alright in the end because your actions and consequences are largely meaningless.
As morbid as it seems, these experiences changed the way I view the world and my place in it. Whereas some return home with the need to tell everyone about it, I felt like I wanted to tell my family not about my experiences, but of those who I met or learnt about. The Romanian man who tried to gamble with his passport in a hostel dorm, the Swedish girl who lost her luggage at the train station or the American couple in Marseille who were kind enough to buy me dinner. The opportunity to travel gave me the perspective I needed, a completely new psyche with the knowledge that there are billions of shoes I’ll never step into and viewpoints I’ll never witness.
Whenever I return from my travels, home is always much the same. But the perspective of what home means has shifted as I learn more of the world around me, I am more grateful, inquisitive and curious. I understand that while home might seem ordinary to me, to someone else it would be completely alien to live such a life. Getting out of my hometown didn’t teach me to “find myself” but it did teach me to appreciate what surrounds me more.