It’s funny that the thing you most often discover while traveling is yourself. Now, I don’t mean that in the cliché “I really found myself in London” that is normally delivered with a faux thoughtful air and a flip of hair in a house party. No, I mean traveling pushes you out of your “comfort zone,” both physically and metaphorically, and forces you to confront yourself.
Whether it’s across the world or just across a state, the road of any journey changes its travelers as the journey shows who they are. Traveling makes you self-reliant as it throws you into a strange city in the midst of strangers and asks you to find your way. Traveling shows your boundaries and asks you to surpass them. It makes a kid from a small town learn how to read new languages, decode public transport, and figure out new customs and streets. It makes a kid from a big city relearn how to walk, talk, and move in an environment that is similar but altogether alien. It makes everyone new, every person a possible friend, and every corner and moment a surprise. Traveling is the great equalizer.
Traveling makes you better than you were. It forces you to think on your feet both on the train while decoding a metro map and when you invariably get lost. It demands that you make friends, doesn’t care if you’ve grown up in the same town your whole life. It makes everyone a fool, outsiders who can be instantly picked out of a crowd by their voice or their clothes or even their complexion. Traveling makes us all children. It demands that you rethink everything you know. It’s not for the meek, not for the easily scared, not for the unsure. But it makes the timid into outgoing pioneers with stories to tell back home, the fearful into seasoned explorers bursting with confidence and knowledge of thousands of problems faced and conquered, and imbues the hesitant with resolute coolness and irrevocable self-reliance. Traveling is transformative.
Traveling also has the odd habit of showing you who you are and who you were. A stop in a bookstore uncovered a book I had been looking for over half of my life, Marcus Gray’s It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. Companion, and its discovery sparked memories of childhood memories long past and musical loves long neglected. Another unassuming record store contained vinyl records that I had been looking for across the entire United States because of their rarity and importance, as well as their personal meaning. An expedition to a concert at the legendary Electric Ballroom earned a picture with a current personal hero, a connection with a new friend, and a revelation that, despite distance, environment, and experience, two strangers can have nearly identical passions, ideas, and personalities. The absence of the countless familiarities and problems of work, school, and home life has shown me what I truly care about, what I want, and where I want to be. Traveling is a vacation from home and mundane life, a chance to see the world and yourself differently. With only a few miles, the traveler stumbles into a brave new world and life bright, wondrous, and full of promise.