When you let go, you’ll go down a whole new path. (Photo: Audrey Scott)
By Audrey Scott
Travel places us in situations we couldn’t otherwise imagine. It often spurs us to do things we thought we couldn’t do. It provides perspective on our lives and our place in the world.
Amid all this, travel also offers freedom. And the greatest one of all is the freedom to let go.
Letting go is a release. If you’ve ever taken a vacation to escape or to relax, you’ve experienced this to one extent. But beyond decompression on a beach, travel provides an even greater opportunity for liberation — in the mind.
When we choose to go deep within a travel experience and ourselves, we can find remarkable opportunities to realign, break through barriers, and ditch emotional baggage. In doing so, we make an exchange. As we expose ourselves, we also open ourselves to create space for freshness and learning to enter our lives. Here are ten things travel helps you let go of.
1. You can let go of control.
For the most part, the world is going to do what it’s going to do. It will rain or snow when it wants, strikes will happen when it’s least convenient, buses will break down, restaurants will run out of your favorite dish, stores will close for hours in the middle of the day, and the government will even shut down when you most need it.
This isn’t an invitation to feel powerless and to respond by giving up. Instead, it’s an invitation to constructively deal with what is and to identify and focus your efforts in areas you can control — your approach to people, how you respond, your ability to problem solve, and your situational creativity — all in an effort to actively craft the style of experience you want.
You may fall down on your bike, or you may not. Risk it. (Photo: Audrey Scott)
2. You can let go of who you “should” be.
Sometimes we adhere to notions of who we “should” be, often based on some internal chatter regarding what we imagine others think of us.
The beauty of being on the road is that nobody knows who you “should” be. All they know is who you are right then and there. So experiment! Give an audience to those little voices inside that encourage you to do something new, something that might even surprise your friends at home. Let go of who you should be for who you’d like to be. But do so within limits; it’s never okay to be a jerk.
Then, don’t abandon this newly-developed dimension of yourself when you return home. Try to incorporate the behaviors into your daily life. If that requires making changes in your life that others can’t quite understand, so be it.
Try juggling different activities when you are traveling — you never know what you’ll find out! (Photo: Audrey Scott)
3. You can let go of time.
Buses, trains, and airplanes depart and arrive on their schedule, not yours. Punctuality knows wildly different meanings and manifestations around the world. People move, act, and react at varying degrees of speeds. Travel demonstrates that time is a construct and its importance is relative.
Don’t let a slow trip be a roadblock. (Photo: Audrey Scott)
This may be one of the most difficult releases to embrace. After all, many of us fundamentally believe that “time is money.” It’s our vacation, our holiday, and there’s an itinerary. There’s stuff to do, and there are places to go and see and be.
Herein lies the freedom: the freedom to accept that the schedule of the world around us is not always tied to our needs. So plan accordingly as best as you can, and then leave some space. You just may find that some of your best experiences happen there.
4. You can let go of fear.
Travel can serve up situations that are uncomfortable — sometimes physically, but more often, emotionally. When you’re traveling, you usually have no choice but to work through the discomfort. This process can be painful, but the rewards are almost always worth it.
Fears run from the primal ones of physical harm to the more mundane — yet no less damaging — fears of looking stupid by doing the “wrong” thing or asking the “wrong” question. For the first, let go of the fear and replace it with awareness. For the second, confront your fear of exposing your ignorance by asking the silly question anyway. Then, watch your fear slowly be replaced with wisdom.
Travel also teaches us that some of our greatest stories and greatest memories are accrued when we dip our toe into the pool of fear and realize that it really wasn’t that scary after all. Our fears, though seemingly very “real,” are, by definition, mental. That is, they exist entirely in our heads. Tap into them, and then surmount them by succeeding in something that previously seemed frightening or impossible.
5. You can let go of living in the future and simply be present.
It’s easy to live for the future, putting your head down now to achieve something one, two, or ten years down the road. There’s no denying how important it is to have goals and plans. However, in pursuing such plans, we sometimes forsake the beauty of the present moment — what is — for the future, i.e. what could be.
Travel can help strike a balance.
Travel grounds us in the present, for it’s all about observing, learning and savoring the moment. The better your full absorption of the moment, the more vivid your memories are — and the better your stories will be. Travel helps tune our senses so we may better appreciate our experiences. Travel also underscores how much the moment is fleeting; if you don’t savor it now, you won’t savor it ever.
Learning to be present. (Photo: Audrey Scott)
6. You can let go of perfection.
It’s almost guaranteed that you will make mistakes when you travel. We can almost assure you that you will make mistakes. Accept this now, and you’ll avoid perfection paralysis and your fear of screwing thing up, or doing something the wrong way.
And you’ll learn. Maybe you didn’t plan things “correctly.” That flight could have been cheaper; you should have stayed in X hotel instead of Y.
But that’s only the beginning. Perhaps you won’t speak the local language or give a handshake when another gesture is more appropriate. You’ll use the wrong utensils. You may even feel foolish. It’s okay.
Although we wouldn’t know firsthand, we suspect that being perfect is overrated. And most of the time, particularly with the innocuous transgressions, those around you rarely care as much as you probably do. And when they find out that you are humble and well-intentioned, your misdeed will evaporate and you’ll find yourself laughing with someone about it.
Ditch perfection. Ditch buyer’s remorse. Perhaps make a brief note of what you might improve next time and move on. Enjoy what is; it can be fleeting.
7. You can let go of stereotypes and prejudice.
Have you ever traveled to a place that is considered dangerous back home, and yet, when you get there, you are smothered with genuine kindness and generosity? Or you’ve visited a developing country, and yet it features more sophisticated mobile phone networks than back in your first-world paradise?
It’s easy to imagine how countries and people “are” by absorbing the news, watching TV and movies, or reading books and articles. It’s another thing to actually see and experience the reality firsthand, on the ground.
Don’t be fooled by popular perception; come to your own conclusions. (Photo: Audrey Scott)
Travel allows us the ultimate opportunity to experience for ourselves instead of passing our impressions through the filter of others. When we experience for ourselves, we can come to our own fresh conclusions.
8. You can let go of the facade.
When things are tough and the chips are down, travel has a way of pulling away the facade. It’s hard to look pretty and put on a forced smile for others when you’re hugging the bowl or are otherwise compromised.
Travel teaches us a great lesson: We are human. It helps us comprehend who we really are, including strengths — and weaknesses — we didn’t know we had. And when we let go of the façade and understand ourselves better, we become more accepting and less judgmental of the people around us, and voids that we once felt become filled with empathy.
9. You can let go of the “I can’t do that” mentality.
How often have you heard yourself say, “No, that’s not possible. I’m not a climber/singer/dancer/artist/athlete/fill in the blank.” I’m guilty of this. I have my opinions on my identity, as well as ideas of what I am capable of doing.
Travel will put you in situations where you have no choice — or perhaps where you are strongly encouraged — to do that thing that doesn’t quite fit your definition of what you can do. And when you do that thing you “couldn’t do,” you’ll realize that those limitations and constraints were mainly in your head, after which, you may even end up with a new hobby — or, quite possibly, a new outlook on life.
You’ll never know if you can hang ten until try. (Photo: Audrey Scott)
10. You can let go of “the right way.”
What do you mean “soup for breakfast?!?!” Breakfast is supposed to be eggs and toast! Breakfast is supposed to be cereal! Travel will challenge your assumptions and beliefs regarding what is proper.
Before you judge cultural norms, take a step back, let go, and realize that our cultural norms and our approaches to life are simply different from one another. Understand that the “right way” is almost always subjective.
The more you begin to open yourself to — and interact with — other cultures, the clearer this distinction becomes. You may even come to enjoy some of those new things, incorporate them to your life, and find yourself embracing a new “right” way of doing things.