Imagine the freedom and potential for change that could arise when removed from your habitual environment. You could be free. Free from the constraints of society, free from social obligations, free from your reflection in the eyes of others, and free to imagine yourself in any way you want.
This is what I desperately sought and this is why I ran away from home at 16.
I believed travel would be the only way I could ever see myself in a different light and change who I was. So I traveled. I went through Europe, the Middle East, and even Africa. The journey opened my eyes to the world and changed my life. Not only did I learn the street skills necessary in order to survive and travel with no money, but I also learned about people and life, and in doing so, I understood the limits of travel as a medium for self-change.
The first time you travel, you become a child again. You return to a familiar state of mind when the world appeared always new and constantly full of mystery. The environment is foreign and somewhat frightening, everyone is speaking gibberish, and you’re not sure where to find a place to relieve yourself. So you do the only thing you can do, and I don’t mean pee your pants, you adapt.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the human condition is that we are all equipped with the ability to adapt to most anything. Whether you’re chest deep in poo, or forced to stand on a 9 hour train ride, we manage to survive, adapt, and thereby grow. We experience, we learn, we conquer our fears and then evolve into a more confident being.
In many regards, this travel-induced process inspires an inner renaissance. As you continue to adapt to ever changing scenes on the road, you become a mentally stronger and a more confident person. You realize that despite a lack of communication, people are people everywhere. You gain remarkable perspective, which enables you to critically analyze your own cultures faults and triumphs. You discover that happiness is relative. Though it sounds very hippie–esque, you become a child of the world. This is the kind of change, the kind of rebirth that travel affords.
However, traveling cannot change the very foundations of your person. Your own culture and upbringing can never be truly replaced or forgotten. You will always essentially be who you are. Take the wolf boy for example, who helped qualify the debate on whether culture was learned or ingrained. Although after being taught of civilization, he could never truly become a civilized person and always reverted back to the animal inside. In other words, the culture one is born into stays for life. It is this truth that makes it impossible for us to change the very essence of who we are.
Understanding this truth in ones youth or even as an adult is not easy. It is a test where success is often compromised by denial, and our inherently short memory span. Each country you enter presents an opportunity to reinvent yourself. However, the new you can only last for a few days before you become your true self again. For an unfortunate few, this can continue, country after country and year after year without ever coming to terms.
When you do realize the limits of travel as a force of inner change, there is nothing to do then but accept yourself the best you can. This is what it means to mature and truly grow mentally and even spiritually. It is then that the constant interaction innate to travel will force you to accept yourself, and in doing so, help you flourish.
Although it took many countries, I eventually realized that I am still a product of my roots. I cannot escape the reflection of myself. I cannot be someone else. I can only accept the things I don’t like about myself and learn to love them. Today, I harness travel to support my true growth and confidence.
In the end, there is no better education for ones mind and soul than travel. This is especially true in ones youth. Not only does it teach you about the world, but it forces you to mature at a much faster pace. The result of which is a smarter, happier, and more confident you.
For more about Leif, his life and adventures check out his blog, The Runaway Guide.