10 Ways Travel Helps You Let Go

Some say our story is written for us, when in fact it is ours to write.
Travel. A Journey.

Travel. It 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.

Amidst all this, travel also offers freedom. Among those freedoms, the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to let go.

Sounds about right, doesn’t it? But what does “let go” really mean?

Letting go, it’s 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.

When we choose to go deep within a travel experience and ourselves, we can find remarkable opportunities to realign, break through barriers and jettison emotional baggage. In doing this, we make an exchange. As we expose ourselves — yes, there are heaps of vulnerability involved here — we also open ourselves to create space for freshness and learning to enter our lives.

But how does travel enable this to happen? And how do we take advantage? Here are a few of the ways we’ve experienced how travel helps us let go.

1) Let go of control

The world is going to do what it’s going to do, often regardless of how you feel about it or what you attempt to do about it. 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, your situational creativity — all in an effort to actively craft the style of experience you want.

Audrey Rides Bike Through Srimongal - Bangladesh
Cycling in Bangladesh. Now that was out of control!

2) Let go of who you “should” be

Sometimes we adhere to notions of who we “ought” to be, often based on some internal chatter regarding what we imagine others think of us.

Sounds tangled, doesn’t it?

The beauty of being on the road: nobody knows who you “should” be. All they know is who you are then and there. Experiment: give an audience to those little voices inside encouraging 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 (within limits please, don’t be a jerk or be hurtful).

Dan Learns Juggling Skills at Tlacolula Sunday Market - Mexico
Dan embraces his inner clown near Oaxaca, Mexico.

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, then so be it.

3) Let go of time

Buses, trains and airplanes depart and arrive on their own schedule, not yours. Punctuality knows wildly different meanings and manifestations around the world. People move, act and react at varying speeds. Travel demonstrates that time is a construct and its importance is relative.

Drop-off Point - Svaneti, Georgia
Letting go of time…when a 5-hour journey takes twice as long in the High Caucasus Mountains, Georgia.

This may be among the most difficult release to embrace. After all, many of us have ingrained in us the idea that “time is money.” It’s our vacation, our holiday and there’s an itinerary, there’s stuff to do, 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. Plan accordingly as best you can. Then leave some space.

You just may find that some of your best experiences happen there.

4) Let go of fear

Travel can serve up situations that are uncomfortable — sometimes physically, but more often emotionally. While 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 fears 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, get amongst them and surmount them by succeeding in something that previously seemed frightening or impossible.

5) Let go of living in the future (that is, 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 it’s important to have goals and plans. However, in their pursuit, we sometimes forsake the beauty of the present moment — what is — for the future, what could be.

There’s a balance to be struck. And travel can help us strike it.

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 and stories you can tell. Travel helps tune our senses so we may better appreciate our experiences.

Travel also underscores that the moment is fleeting; if you don’t savor it now, you won’t savor it ever.

Audrey in the Pink Mosque - Shiraz, Iran
Savoring a moment in the Pink Mosque — Shiraz, Iran.

6) 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, 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.

And 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 OK.

Although I wouldn’t know firsthand, I suspect that being perfect is overrated.

Dan Tries to Work the Shrak Dough - Ghor al Mazra'a, Jordan
Dan, far from perfection as he tosses Jordanian flatbread…but he’s having fun.

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) Let go of stereotypes and prejudice

Have you ever traveled to a place that is considered dangerous back home, and yet upon your arrival you are smothered with genuine kindness and generosity? Or you’ve visited a country that is of the “developing world”, 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.

Woman Tying Head Scarf - Tolkuchka Market, Azerbaijan
Getting a helping hand in Turkmenistan, a place I once feared visiting.

Travel allows us the ultimate opportunity to experience for ourselves instead of passing our impressions through the filter of others, including popular media.

When we experience for ourselves, we can come to our own fresh conclusions.

8) Let go of the facade

Especially when things are tough and the chips are down, travel has a way of pulling away the facade. (Honestly, sometimes it feels like a rip, like that bandage stuck to a dry wound.) Trust me, 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 we didn’t know we had. Oh, and perhaps a few weaknesses, too.

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 back-filled with empathy.

9) Let go of “I can’t do that”

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.

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 and possibly a new outlook on life.

Learning to Surf in Raglan, New Zealand
Overcoming an “I can’t surf” moment by embracing our inner surfers in Raglan, New Zealand.

10) 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.

Breakfast is clearly the innocuous example. Beyond that, take for example how people interact, how they greet one another or answer the simple question, “How are you?” Perhaps you’ll find yourself judging cultural norms, saying “that’s strange” or “that’s not right.”

But before you do, take a step back, let go and realize that our cultural norms, 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 in 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.

—-

Has travel helped you let go? How?

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Comments

  1. says

    Great thoughts and of course harder to keep in mind than they might seem. I have the most trouble with not living in the future – not the 10-year goal down the line future, but the which activity will we do tomorrow, what time is the bus, what’s our plan B if that bus is late, which hotels are the best at our next destination. So easy to get caught up in a wheel of travel planning!

  2. says

    The “letting go” is one of the main things that draws me to travel. As a type “A” personality I like to be in charge of my life, my work, my everything. I like to have a plan. In travel, I feel freer, able to relax, and I don’t mean on the beach. I never go to the beach. It’s fantastic to just experience, go with the flow…and it’s so much easier to do this when there are no expectations of me. Great post.

  3. says

    I really enjoyed your post, it really sums up the reasons that I want to travel. I am just starting my own blog and planning travel adventures, so this post is exactly what I needed to read. Traveling is an exploration of the outer world and the inner world. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post.

  4. says

    In a lot of ways, travel forces you to let go because it is so unpredictable. You can never be ready for all of the experiences, setbacks, and adventure of travel.

  5. Carli Breur says

    Thanks for a great article, I’m reading it on a beach in Cambodia and so glad I came across it. I will refer back to ‘Letting it go’ a few more times I’m sure!
    Thank u!

  6. says

    I am more social now and a lot more carefree and independent. Living in another country away from all of the people you have spend you life depending on makes you more dependant on yourself.

  7. says

    This is a fantastic article! My favorite part is #2. So easy to grow up and just fall in to expectations – from your family, friends, and yourself. Traveling and letting go of all that baggage is the best feeling ever. Yes, then bring it back with you. That is growth!

  8. says

    This is a great article. I have to admit, I’m still, after all these years, guilty of many of these points you mentioned. A long way to go, but I think I’m more ready than ever! :)

  9. says

    I really appreciate and can relate to the last point, let go of the “right way”. Having the opportunity to see different ways of doing things and different ways of looking at life is such a powerful experience.

    Sometimes I experience this at home too, when I realize that my eating habits are strange to some of my friends, or feel that some of my friends (from different countries) eat too late (dinner at 10pm?! I’m hungry at 7!).

    One of the secrets to making the most of travel experience – and life in general – I think, is accepting that some things are just different, and that it’s OK, and learning to go with the flow.

  10. says

    @Sarah: Thanks! Appreciate you sharing with others!

    @Natascia: It is certainly easy to get stressed out when things are happening beyond our control. The key is to take a deep breath and try and get perspective. Easier said than done, I know :)

    @Casey: Logistics and details are not my strength, so I also tend to focus on what’s happening next too much as I’m worried I’m going to make a mistake or forget something important. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in travel planning – seems like it can take over sometimes :)

    @Corinne: Great comment and so glad to hear how you’ve been able to let go in travel the way you have. Not all type “A” personality people I know can do that :)

    @Daisy: Yes, travel is certainly an exploration of the outer and inner worlds. Good luck with your journey!

    @Quyen: Travel is certainly full of uncertainties and unexpected surprises – good and bad. Always keeps you on your toes :)

    @Carli: You’re welcome! Glad you found it useful and enjoy the rest of your time letting go in Cambodia.

    @Jen: Travel and living abroad certainly builds independence and new skills that you might not have had at home. There’s something about having no choice about doing something that makes you learn really quickly!

    @Mike: Great comment. Expectations and roles are a tough to break out of, especially if you’ve been at it for a while and that’s what all your loved ones think about you. It’s tough to show a different side, but so fulfilling. And travel can help with this.

    @Modern Day Nomads: Thanks for your kind words and for sharing!

    @Akwaaba: Life is a continual work in progress :)

    @Ayako: Having moved around so much and traveled to so many places I’ve seen so many “right” ways that I find it’s about creating your own way that works, taking a bit from everyone.

    “Accepting that some things are just different, and that it’s OK, and learning to go with the flow.” – very wise words that I think leads to more satisfaction in all aspects of travel and life.

  11. says

    I love that feeling when, outbound, I step out the car on to the airport curb with my bags and I know that from this point forward, Anything Can Happen. I didn’t used to be that way, and I was kind of a tense flier, but that attitude has made flying easier for me (that and an aircraft emergency that did not kill me, see also, your Ladakh flight?). That airport onward feeling of, “Yep, let’s just roll with what’s next…” has been, well, kind of awesome.

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

  12. says

    Wonderful reading, Audrey!
    We have already let go many things before we started our trip last year (cigarettes and alcohol), and all the things you have mentioned are just great lessons for all of us on the road.
    Is kind of body&soul travel detox :)
    Cheers and warm greetings to Berlin!

  13. says

    I really love this! My personality changes so much when I am on the road, and it s because of these things. I don’t worry about stereotypes, fear, or who “I should be.” When I am traveling, I can just be me. That being said, I am ready for my next adventure!!

  14. says

    @Pam: Know that airport onward feeling well :) There’s an openness Also love the feeling of looking at the departure board at the airport and thinking about all the listed destinations. Fuels the feeling that the world is a big, diverse place and anything can happen. Glad you enjoyed this!

    @Ivana: Thanks for your kind words! Congrats on giving up cigarettes and alcohol before your trip. Travel helps with focus.

    @Julia: Seems like you might have a head start then :)

    @Alex: Being able to let go of who “I should be” is really freeing. The challenge is sometimes to incorporate that when returning home. Good luck on your next adventure!

  15. says

    So very true! India surely taught us more than a few of those lessons :) but wherever we venture, we learn more about ourselves, even as we’re embracing new cultures. More TIME is the key for me, I am eating lunch at my desk, counting the hours until my day is done at work, and just dreaming of the TIME we experienced while on the road, truly my most valuable commodity!

  16. says

    @Rhonda: India certainly has a way of teaching us many, many things :) Time is a huge challenge – there never seems to be enough of it and it often requires compromises in other things to try and have more freedom with it.

  17. says

    I really like the one with let go of stereotypes and prejudices. I believe that travel widens my perspective and makes me experience unique moments and individuals. One thing I would also love to try is surfing! I’m still trying to overcome my fear of deep waters though!

  18. says

    Loved this post. There is something so liberating in the release of travel, the letting go of our norms. It is like a constant rebirth, the incessant realization that the world is so much bigger than you. I have always felt alive in the whoosh of travel :)

  19. says

    @Miranda: Travel certainly does widen perspectives and challenges assumptions/stereotypes all the time. It’s like a mini university course. You should definitely give surfing a try next time you have a chance. We had a woman with us who was afraid of water, but the instructors spent time with her so she was comfortable with the situation and was up on her board before too long. You don’t have to go out too deep into the water to catch a wave :)

    @Mo: Thank you! Understanding that the world is so much bigger than you and our place in it are some of the best lessons travel can teach. There’s freedom in that feeling.

  20. says

    @Samara: You’re welcome! It’s hard sometimes at home to break out of the regular roles that we play – or that are expected of us. This is one of the freedoms travel provides.

  21. says

    Excellent article! I have the hardest time with #5. I’ve spent so much time looking forward to the trip, it’s hard to switch into the role of “hey, I’m finally ON the trip”!

  22. says

    @Audrey: Cool. I had the chance of trying surfing when I visited the Philippines but was to chicken to try though. So maybe I would try it when I get the chance again. Cheers and Safe Travels. :)

  23. says

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It expresses exactly what travel is. As a travel consultant, I try to portray all these qualities to my clients. You have expressed it in such an awesome way that I couldn’t help but share it with my FB Friends. Thanks.

  24. says

    I hear on the perfection point … you’re in environments that are constantly changing, and with it, the rules. If anything, it breeds adaptability, which is crucial in today’s world!

  25. says

    @Ann: Definitely understand that. So much time and energy is spent getting the trip going that it’s tough to turn off that forward looking approach in life. But then, a moment happens, and the reality hits – yes, this is my time.

    @Miranda: Hope you have another chance to try surfing! Be sure to find a surf school that you’re comfortable with and let them know your fear of deep waters so that they can address it. When we went the water wasn’t very deep, but I know that can vary from spot to spot. Good luck!

    @Lenneice: Glad you enjoyed this and thanks for sharing on FB!

    @Caroline: You said it – adaptability is so important in travel, business and life these days.

  26. says

    Traveling for me is freedom for sure. Leaving behind your worries before setting off…its not really easy. I try to do the same every time before I board the train- because a trip for me is precious in its way.

  27. says

    Wonderful reasons, each and everyone. It never ceases to amaze me that people that travel have different experiences and stories but so many similar lessons!

  28. says

    These are some great pieces of advice. I am kind of a control freak when it comes to planning. But after the first “failure” I start to relax and let go of the whole pressure of just doing everything right.

  29. says

    Marvellous piece of writing! And each of the photographs carries as well the vivid impression of being alive and demonstrate the curiosity which usually is the compass while travelling and should be in general…
    Thanks for the inspiration and the smile yours brought to my face while reading… :)

  30. says

    @Susane: The challenge is to leave behind your worries so you can enjoy being present in travel, but also to realize that problems don’t automatically go away when you’re traveling. Sometimes it can be a challenge returning to them. But, having that freedom and space when traveling can help think about them or deal with them differently.

    @Stephen: That’s one of the great things about travel – there are an infinite number of experiences out there, but many of the lessons and emotions are similar.

    @Oliver: Curiosity as a compass – yes! Glad you enjoyed this and that it brought a smile to your face!

  31. says

    I enjoyed reading your article very much. Thank you!
    My husband and I love to travel as well and have been to several countries together. I agree that the ability to ‘let go’ is one of the biggest hurdles while traveling. Especially when traveling long term, you have to be able to be flexible and go with the flow, otherwise you will simply worry the time away.
    Safe travels to you both!

  32. says

    There is so much in this article, I had to share it!
    To me, travel is mostly to “come back” to the present.
    But you made so many points I totally agree with… Maybe “Let go of who you should be” is the most difficult… Great picture of Dan ;-)
    Cheers
    Gilles

  33. says

    @Silke: So true – if you’re not able to let go then travel can be anxiety-filled. There’s so much in travel that we really can’t control. But, it sometimes is hard to go with the flow.

    @Gilles: Glad you enjoyed this and thanks for sharing! Agree with you that “Letting go of who you should be” is one of the most difficult, but can be one of the most fulfilling and enlightening.

  34. says

    Letting go is the main point of traveling. We often become control freaks by staying at home, want to control everything from waking up in the morning to falling sleep in the night. Travel breaks your routine, it shows you how difficult it is to control the world and life mechanism. Great thoughts Audrey, thoroughly enjoyed!

  35. says

    There are so many times in life and especially in travel where you have to release control, let go and just let the powers that be take control. There are so many things out of your control that it’s impossible to attempt to try and manage everything. Letting go and the lack of control can be freeing and liberating in a way that is hard to describe unless it’s been experienced. Nice post and some great points in the comments also.

  36. says

    @Hammad: Travel certainly does break one’s routine and force one to deal with uncertainty. Not always easy in the moment, but usually leads to a new experience or learning. Glad you enjoyed this!

    @Pete: It is hard to describe the freeing feeling of letting go unless you’ve gone through it. But even once you’ve had that experience, it’s still hard to let go the next time :)

  37. says

    Great article. Travelling gives you a sense of freedom. All the “let go” above could be summarized in: let go of daily routine. This is what a travel means. Experiences and adventure.

    • says

      Thanks, Gus. It certainly is difficult to find a home for daily routine on the road. Having said that, a little bit of routine stretching, meditation, or reflection doesn’t hurt. Actually helps to ground the experience.

  38. says

    These are some great pieces of advice on how travel helps you let go. Traveling really does set you free and allows you to be yourself. Getting out of your “bubble” and exploring and learning about a new culture is a great way to grow. Traveling is also good for your health and is proven to improve a person’s long term health! Check out the other ways in which travel is good for your health: http://www.passporthealthusa.com/2014/02/travel-its-good-for-your-health/

    • says

      Definitely understand this. It is very easy to get caught up in the planning and excitement…and even start planning the next trip when on the current trip. But slowing down and enjoying the moment makes the trip that much more meaningful. Good luck on your next trip!

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