Where can we go to hide from the Self? It cannot be done.
Traveling is best done to confront, not hide.
In this way travel becomes a double-edged sword: you confront not only what is ahead of you, but what you left behind.
What, of the world you left behind, do you miss? And what still angers you?
In what ways did your friends, your family, or your society betray you?
What aspects of your society, your family, and your friends, utterly irreplaceable, and cannot but be longed for, deeply missed?
These are the things you find out when you move away to another part of the world. The answer to both questions is eerily similar.
The thing that society, and even sometimes your family and friends tends to reject, is your uniqueness. They want you to be things you are not. Society regulates for orderliness and safety. Your family and friends have hopes for you that don’t speak to who you really are. Out of love, you are rejected. Strange, no?
And the things you miss are always unique details. The smell of your mom’s hair, your best friend’s smile, which lovely strangers on the street can approximate but never duplicate. The way the smell of rain lingers in your hometown. The way the vines fall from the trees in the woods. The way the old buildings feel haunted. Or the glitter of the new buildings in the afternoon sky. The glimpses of sunset you can catch on your commute and the feeling you will soon be home, to see your parents, or your roommates, or your cat, again soon. These cannot be found anywhere else. And it’s these details that ground us and give us the rhythm of our lives.
Love can be found very particularly. The details are what ignite the heart.
But let us say these details are mired or lost in the intense stress and murkiness of daily life. You cannot run away from your problems, for they will surely follow you. So if you can’t travel to run away, what do we travel for?
We travel to find the uniqueness in ourselves. To find again the parts of us that we buried because they were rejected by loved ones or society. Many of these are small things, little details- that got stuffed in a closet and forgotten about when we were young, and have thus grown big and ugly and overwhelming in the shadows. Others were huge to begin with, and always set us apart. These are the parts of us that need parenting, loving and accepting.
Some things I’ve had to learn how to tell myself, big and small:
You don’t need to wear make-up, even if everyone around you does, and by wearing no make-up you’re considered ugly and you get mistaken regularly for a guy.
You don’t need a practical job. You don’t need a career, you are not built for just one thing.
You don’t need to save for retirement. You don’t thrive when there’s too much safety, and you don’t want to retire, anyway. And yes, you can know that about yourself at 34.
You don’t need to wear dress shoes. You need shoes you can run, jump and kick in.
Same goes for dress clothes. You’d better be able to do a high kick in that outfit.
You can love a city and still move away from it. You can love a boyfriend and still break up with him. You can love everything and still leave it all behind- not because you’re looking for something better, but because you know that nothing is for keeps, anyway.
You can do this without traveling, you can go through this process of finally giving yourself permission to be different from society, different from how your parents and loved ones want you to be. But traveling and living abroad can certainly help. And more importantly, when you travel, if you travel, keep this search in mind, this endless internal search for the yet unaccepted and unloved details of the self. I am convinced that when we travel, when we go on a quest of any kind, this is what we’re looking for.