Top Travel Tip: Avoid Using Travel As An Escape
Those were my thoughts as I looked through Facebook photos of old friends this evening, feeling very nostalgic and a little envious of their lives at this point in time compared to my own.
It was a sad combination of loneliness and worry that made my heart and mood sink to levels that generally always lead to the same impulse. It wasn't anything debilitating, but I had the sudden and powerful urge to travel, to just get up and away from everything...again.
I stopped, pinched myself and tried to get some perspective instead.
The issue reminded me of something I think is important when it comes to travelling and that I’d forgotten in my immediate reaction to get up and go. I want to write about it now- partly to help me work through my low mood, but mainly to share my thoughts on the matter at hand.
The issue I’m talking about is this:
Whether it’s an escape from the banal and mundane that we battle in daily life, or a more fundamental desire to remove ourselves from some level of pain and hurt, travel’s an effective way of extricating ourselves from a problem and postponing the inevitable process of dealing with it.
However, I’d offer a friendly caution against travelling for this purpose.
Reading through travel blogs and article, it’s interestingly common how the individual’s inspiration to travel first came about following a difficult situation- whether the break up of a relationship, death of a loved one, the premature ending of a job, dissatisfaction with life etc etc.
It might just be that the sudden difficult change in circumstance represented an opportunity to do something different- to explore new horizons and do something they’d always dreamed about.
It could also demonstrate a common effect of such ‘awakening experiences’, such as a near death experience, where everything gets so abruptly and forcefully put in perspective that what’s important becomes clear and a new zest for life gets instantaneously awakened- travel suddenly beckons!
These are both fair conclusions to draw. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was also an underlying need to put physical and emotional distance between themselves and the issue.
It’s totally reasonable and rational to want to put space between ourselves and something that seems scary and dangerous.
I mean, it’s literally built into our hardwiring as humans- carved explicitly and intricately into our minds: “avoid danger, prolong life”.
Or, that’s what our brain tells us to do. And often, we oblige all too willingly.
Buy a one way ticket, hop on a place and all of a sudden there are countless happy distractions from the issues of home. The struggles that plagued our day to day can be put on hold as we navigate newer, practical challenges and become absorbed in the wonder of exploring a new part of the world.
It doesn’t seem to disappear. On the contrary, it remains, sometimes growing in size and forever under the surface, threatening to rear its ugly head at a point where, for whatever reason, through tiredness or any other physical or environmental factor, resilience runs thin and our ability to cope falters.
Run away from an issue and it only comes back later, sometimes chasing after us even harder than before.
For any aspiring traveller it’s important to remember that the neuroses, issues and personal insecurities or struggles that we face before we go:
- Don’t miraculously disappear when you’re on the other side of the world and
- If you do manage to get some metaphorical mental distance from the issue as you extend the physical miles from it, it’s likely that the same issue will only return once you get home (it was sort of this that I wondered about when I met a fascinating Brazilian girl in Cambodia).
Thought it’s true that travel can be an incredible start over and new beginning, the frustrating reality is that
It does not just drift away with an altered environment.
Deep, heart wrenching, confidence-destroying insecurity at home, equals deep, heart wrenching, confidence destroying insecurity abroad.
Impatience, anger and intolerance at home equals impatience, anger and intolerance abroad.
Crushing anxiety and low mood at home? Yep, same abroad.
At a basic level this makes sense- objectively at least, we’re the same person wherever we are in the world. However, the notion of escape that we sell ourselves (and that I sold myself this evening...) convinces us that all will be well if we are somewhere else.
The Difficult Distinction Drawn Between 'Travel' and 'Reality'.
As a quick aside, I think this all feeds into a distinction we can sometimes make, and that I reckon should be avoided, between ‘real life’ and ‘travel’. I've definitely been guilty of it too- often talking about the end of a trip in terms of returning to ‘the real world’.
It's an easy and understandable distinction to draw, but it can also be problematic.
- Firstly, if we incorporate such a distinction into our mind there’s a danger that ‘real life’ (that is to say, life when we aren’t travelling) will never live up to our experience when travelling.
Somehow travel represents something entirely different, like a paradise that we can turn to (mentally or physically) in difficult times.
Travel is undeniably incredible, but it would be a shame if we allowed it to overshadow what we consider 'reality', rendering it somehow...lesser.
- Secondly, maintain this distinction and it messes with the tricky idea of who we are:
Identity gets split between a ‘home self’ and ‘travel self’ and the behaviours, thoughts and opinions of one may not align with those of the other. If we see travel and life as two discrete categories we unconsciously excuse ourselves from carrying the benefits of travel home with us.
Lose the distinction and we get an awesome continuity of self and a greater chance of ensuring the power of travel is felt in equal force at home. The difficulty is that travel is often exactly that! But, this should be an effect, rather than the goal.
- Finally, in relation to this blog post, if we see travel as fundamentally distinct from ‘real life’, we can easily use it as a quick fix to our issues.
We assume the problems will stay “at home, in the real world” and so rather than confront our personal challenges at home, we seek out adventure on the other side of the world to avoid them.
By putting physical distance between us and the issues at home, we hope to move away from them mentally and emotionally too.
A far better mindset and approach (in my opinion!) is to take the lessons of travel (exploration, presence, open-mindedness...) into daily life upon our return, essentially continuing to ‘travel’ while at home.
In this way travel has the potential to become a way of life rather than a simple means of escaping it. It is this that I hint at when I talk about the Travel Feeling.
Back to the main subject!
The reality that being abroad hasn’t ‘magic-ed’ distress away, like we hoped it would, can be debilitating. It’s easy to feel there’s something fundamentally wrong with us.
Among everything else, a whole pile of negative self judgement immediately lands on our lap.
Thus, though escaping to the other side of the world is an understandably appealing method of allaying fears, doubts, insecurities and general issues, it may end up backfiring.
While travel as an escape is an entirely understandable approach, in the pursuit of relieving the problem it may be unhelpful.
However, let’s play devil’s advocate. After all, nothing’s ever clear cut..
Travelling can be a hugely restorative and redemptive thing to do- think Cheryl Strayed in Wild for instance.
Here, a young woman traumatised by the premature death of her mother goes on an epic journey (literally and figuratively), hiking solo along the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA. It’s a true story of recovery and liberation: along the way Strayed is physically and mentally beaten up by the hardships of the trail, but emotionally healed in the process.
Perhaps using travel as an escape is helpful after all?
Indeed, Strayed’s is a prime example that with time and the consistent confrontation with personal demons, which often accompanies a trip, it is possible to overcome issues through travel.
Yet, for this to happen it is necessary to tangle with those demons in the first place. And, can such a tangle really be compared with the notion of escape, where we actively want to get away from the problem?
For a trip to be restorative, we seem to need an experience that forces our issues into the open, right slap bang in front of us, displaying them in all their miserable glory such that there’s no option but to face them, or fail.
In an endeavour such as solo trekking the Pacific Crest Trail it seems inevitable that the intense challenge involved would conjure up the beasts within, leaving no choice but to confront them.
That month long beach trip to Thailand, though restful and stress relieving, is unlikely to pose situations where we’d have to face our inner struggles in a way that would enable us to tackle them.
Realistically, if we deliberately take a trip to escape an issue, how likely is it that we’d be willing, or ready, to tackle it while we’re away?
Oftentimes we need to feel motivated to acknowledge the struggle before we can make any steps to overcome it. In a head space where avoidance is the priority, it may be that we’d actually take greater steps to avoid our problems than face them.
Some Thoughts On What To Do
What should we do then? What's the best course of action when we don’t feel ready to confront our issues, but feel compelled to get away from them all?
Well, I think a good place to start can be to:
Really, it’s nice to think that our struggles and troubles lie outside of us. It is protective and functional (self esteem remains intact) and demonstrates another of those thoughts that’s a natural part of being human.
Quite simply, it helps us feel less responsible for everything.
However, taking responsibility and owning a problem is hugely empowering. The truth is that our problems are intrinsically our own and no-one else’s. If we can own this idea and accept it as truth even when the issue blatantly seems to fall elsewhere, we stand a much greater chance of getting through it.
After all, if the problem is someone else’s responsibility then so is the solution; where rectification was once down to someone else, by accepting our role in the problem we automatically take control and become able to do what’s necessary to improve things.
Secondly, I think it helps to recognise our motivations for travel in the first instance. If you can stop and acknowledge that escape is a fundamental reason for wanting to take a trip, then at least you can move forwards from a point of objectivity and insight, making decisions accordingly.
Travel is a uniquely individual endeavour and so this is something for you to decide. Don’t not travel just because you don’t want to use it as a form of escape- this may just be one small reason among millions that are driving you towards an adventure.
If you feel that travel is what you need to do (to escape something or otherwise) you should probably do it. After all, as it was for Cheryl Strayed, it may turn out to be exactly what you need and be a hugely restorative experience.
How will you know if you don’t try? There are far worse things that you could do to avoid a problem.
Finally, whether you take the decision to travel or not, one thing I’d encourage is facing up to issues in the present. If we don’t take steps to work through something, it isn’t going to go away. See travel as one method among many to tackle a problem that takes up your time and energy.
Whether it’s simply acknowledging the issue, offering ourselves some compassion rather than critical judgement, speaking to a loved one or seeking professional support, taking some form of action can be an incredibly difficult but crucial step along the route to feeling better.
And so, though I wouldn’t recommend travelling as an escape, I fully understand why it appeals in this endeavour. Despite all I’ve said, if you’re fighting something and need a way out, travel may well be a good bet.
What about you? Have you ever felt yourselves using travel as an escape? What are the things you try and get away from and has travel helped? I'd love to get your thoughts so please leave a comment below!