For me one of the most incredible things about travel is how it allows us to really get to know ourselves. It’s a commonly uttered cliché that people embark on travel to “find themselves” but I believe it’s only often said because it’s so true. In this post I want to share how travel has taught me to better understand who I am and what truly motivates me.

When we travel we remove ourselves from all of our usual influences, our friends, our families and our work colleagues. We step out of our usual routines, which tend to see us operating on autopilot and we are free, often for the first time, to choose how we spend our time and who we spend it with.

When I travelled for the first time, around South America back in 2008, I remember feeling quite surprised and liberated by how selfish travellers seemed to be. In this context, I don’t use the term selfish as a negative because I’m not referring to issues of sharing or generosity but more the way in which travellers will stay true to their own travel plans without fear of offending or alienating others.

The beauty of it is, nobody minds one bit because that is the whole point of travel. There is absolutely no use in travelling to the other side of the world to experience the things that you want to experience, only to miss out because of the plans or preferences of others. Only when we travel do we seem able to truly put our own needs and desires first without the guilt we so often feel at home.

Of course I’m sure some people do go away and fall into a crowd and follow its lead rather than forge their own path but most of the people I’ve met travel in the way in which they want to and they do so without apology. I truly believe that when each day is met with the question ‘what do I want to do today?’ then we really start to understand who we are and what makes us tick.

On this trip I’ve learnt that I prefer mountains and countryside to beach life. If you had asked me a year ago I would have told you that my favourite place to be was beside the sea, yet here I am, having chosen to live in Thailand for six months, a country famed for it’s stunning beaches, and the place I’ve picked is at least a day’s travel by bus to the nearest beach, but surrounded by mountains.

I’ve also learnt that I’m more interested in people than places, yet before I left I had a list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to visit. That list feels irrelevant to me now as I’ve realised that it’s the connections with the people I meet that make the difference between a good day and a bad one.

I’ve learnt that I need to push myself to socialize. With tendencies for introversion and solitude but a love of people, I often find myself stuck between a desire to stay in and read a good book and a yearning to connect with others. Whilst I believe this contradiction was apparent back home, travel has really shone a spotlight on it for me and I know that it’s an area of challenge and therefore potential growth for me.

I’ve learnt that plans change. As a project manager in my former life, I thought that the need to plan was in my blood. I still like to think things through and look at the different possibilities for the future but I’ve learnt that for me all plans are loose plans and that the harder we hold on to a plan the more likely life is to shake it from our grip. My current ‘plan’ is to stay in Chiang Mai until Christmas and then travel around India for a few months but I also know that the chances of this playing out this way are pretty slim.

“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.” ~ Alan Keightley

I don’t doubt that I’ve many more lessons to learn from travel and I’m grateful for the ones I’ve learnt so far but for me the greatest lesson has to be that I can choose the life I want to live rather than default to living the life I had previously been shown. What lessons has travel taught you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.