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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?