How to Use Travel for Personal Growth

Without travel, I literally wouldn’t be writing to you now. For better or worse, this blog just wouldn’t exist. My closest friends wouldn’t be the same either. 

Most people can report how a travel experience has prompted a profound shift in their perspective. Sometimes, just the pause in routine can cause a person to seriously rethink their values and what they want. Travel is the ultimate mindfulness pursuit, when you think about it. 

We can use travel deliberately to help us make changes in our lives Click To Tweet

Most of us still use travel as a ‘break’ from ‘real life’. I believe that we can use travel in a more life enhancing way. We can consciously use travel to develop and evolve our personalities and self-development. 

This post contains my suggestions for using travel for personal growth based on my experience with doing so. 

When I started to travel

When I was 31, I went to live in Thailand for eight months. Since then, I have been quite flexible with where I live, moving around a lot.

I hadn’t even been a big traveler when I decided to do this. But I felt underdeveloped in certain ways compared to other people my age. I was also at a point in my life where I had no responsibilities keeping me in the UK.

The largest pain point in my life back then was my career, which I felt stuck in. I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. During my time in Thailand, I found something that gave me a sense of purpose – writing this blog. I never expected that to happen, but living somewhere completely different, and being around entrepreneurial creative people, was good for me.

Before a trip, I usually have a bit of a secret internal mission Click To Tweet

The following year, I went to Mexico to stay for six months. That was positive for me in different ways. After that, I went to spend some time in the States. And so on and on. I return to the UK frequently, and always notice further inner shifts. I’m incrementally a little more liberated each time.

I now actively use my travel time this way. It is not always the case, but I tend to have a bit of a secret internal mission when I travel, related to my development.

Outer journeys and inner journeys

Every one of us is involved in some way or another on an inner journey. There are always challenges going on in life. You might be struggling to find a sense of purpose in your work, or maybe you’re in between relationships, and learning to be content with being by yourself. Perhaps you are trying to live in a more mindful way. Travelling can help us. It is not a new idea – stories old and new have linked travel with self-discovery (think Liz Gilbert and Eat Pray Love).

Does it matter where we go?

The places we choose, because of their particular qualities, can help us to reintegrate. This is what I have found. 

After my time in the East, my life became a lot more simple; more purposeful. Many people find that, following visits to the East, they desire greater simplicity and a less egotistical way of living.

When I went to live in Mexico, I was probably seeking slightly more pleasure and fun. I felt like during that six months I got more in touch with my sensuality again. 

When I got back to London after being in New York, I felt greater clarity, direction and drive to fulfill my creative ambitions. My time in New York helped me to reconnect with my urges on that side. 

For me, choice European cities can help to fuel creative inspiration. I have experienced a real clarity of thought beneficial to my writing during spells in European cities. 

The location isn't as important as your intention for travelling Click To Tweet

But more important than location is intention. For travel to spur changes, we need to be clear in our minds both about what we’re searching for inside, and what the outer world could deliver for us. Looked at this way, every destination contains within it qualities that could conceivably support a desired inner shift. 

The people we meet

For me, people define the moments you remember. Because I have done predominantly solo travel for the past three years, I have made effort to spend time with all different types of people, forming communities with them. It’s been powerful for my personal growth and made me a lot more open-minded, less judgmental and more accepting. It has probably improved my social intelligence too. 

I think that for the encounters to be extra meaningful, you really need to learn to talk from your heart and listen from there, too. Otherwise it’s just a lot of superficial conversations. 

Benefits of travel

So what do I see as the major benefits of extended periods of travel? A lot of these are obvious but:

Perspective: Travel can help to remind us of the truth that there is life outside of our own limited worldviews. Travel gets us out of our heads.

Gratitude: Travel also helps you to be grateful for what you do have, and all of the wonderful people – family and friends – in your life.

Extended trips can have you question what it is you really need Click To Tweet

You learn how little you need: I always feel so stupid trying to explain this to people. They look at me like it’s a load of guff that I feel genuinely great about life without many of those outward markers of success. But I think we all recognise deep down that our houses and cars and partners aren’t what’s making us feel good. In many cases, these things are just keeping us stuck paying for them in jobs we don’t like.

You learn the true meaning of fulfillment: Before I embraced location independence fully, I still had a bit of an internal dialogue going on about what I’d managed to accomplish in my 30 years. It seemed like not much. But living this way has taught me that true fulfillment is had in being yourself. Learning what that means, and then going and doing it.

It helps develop your self-knowledge: Finally and possibly the most significantly, if you are paying attention, travel really supports self-discovery. For me, it helped me to figure out what I truly value and why. If you stay ‘in the system’, you may never figure out your real preferences. I think it’s nearly impossible to know who you are and what you want to do with your days until you test yourself in different settings.

How to get the most from travelling

Here are my suggestions.

1. Figure out what you want from it

Don’t just travel with a broad notion of ‘finding yourself’, because you won’t. When I left for Thailand, I had no such agenda. In fact, my agenda was really practical. I wanted to improve my self-management/personal effectiveness and improve my handle over my finances. I did those things and more.

2. Take solo trips 

The reason that solo trips are good are they help to grow your emotional self-reliance, which is an especially good investment in your future relationship happiness. You stop looking for validation so much (unless you spend the whole time posting pictures on Instagram of course). You feel stronger and more confident.

3. Travel with other people too 

Travelling with friends and family is just as essential for personal growth. Often, a lot of intolerance and insecurities are masked when we only have ourselves to deal with. When you travel with others, you really get to witness how far you have gone in your personal evolution. And where you still have work to do.

4. Don’t do what you’ve always done

I’m not suggesting that you make your trip painful or unpleasant, but take a punt into the unknown every now and then. Do something you’ve never done, such as a fast or a climbing trip.

How to replicate the benefits of travelling at home

It is difficult to replicate the benefits exactly. However, a lot of it is mindset.

I’ve noticed that now, I bring my traveler’s mindset with me wherever I go. I am just as open and chatty with strangers in London as I am in Thailand, and it is great.

Plus I try to be present to my surroundings, even though they are familiar. This makes me feel more positive. Apparently, that is not unusual: in studies, present-moment attention was the strongest predictor for increased positive emotions. The more attentive we are to our surroundings, the happier we feel.

You can bring a travel mindset home Click To Tweet

Otherwise, lifestyle experiments are good for injecting freshness into your life and routine. Disconnecting and spending time in nature regularly is also beneficial. Reading a wide variety of stuff helps to broaden horizons. Generally cultivating a more exploratory curious, adventurous spirit helps. These things aren’t location dependent.

On the more extreme side, you could try adding in some positive constraints to your life. Usually when we travel, we don’t have a lot of our home comforts, and we realise we are okay without them. That can be very liberating.

Try giving yourself a stupidly low budget for a week. Or not buying any new clothes for a month.

So much of what we have, we don’t really need. If your things were taken away from you tomorrow, you’d be okay. You’d be a little sadder temporarily, but you’d be freer too.

What travel can’t do

Travelling has never been a fix all for an unsatisfying life. If there is one thing I’ve realized, it’s this. You will take your dissatisfaction with you.

Travel won't make you happier. You still have to figure that out yourself Click To Tweet

Don’t bother leaving to try to escape yourself. Instead, develop clarity on how to redesign your life to make yourself happier. Try a value clarification exercise. I know that for me, when I left for Thailand that time three years ago, I was already pretty happy. I had worked through some difficult stuff, including the end of a major romantic relationship, the year before, and I was ready to take on some new challenges.


The key takeaway?

Travel isn’t a panacea, but I can’t think of anything more instrumental for developing my character these past few years. It’s given me a lot of memories and experiences that I cherish. Plus, travel has naturally given me more of a growth mindset. 

I’d encourage everyone to embrace travel as a personal growth tool.