When people imagine life-changing journeys, they often think of long adventures in faraway places – a summer spent backpacking through Europe, a mission abroad, a Eat Pray Lovestyle journey of personal discovery and healing.
The idea that travel can be transformative is certainly correct. Studies have linked time spent abroad to entrepreneurship, and experts insist that time spent in other cultures can make you a more flexible, empathetic and self-aware human being. same. Traveling not only helps you to discover the world, but also to know yourself.
But as self-recommended as adventures on distant shores may be, the truth is that they’re also often completely impossible in real life. Maybe you can’t quit your business, you’re tied to school holiday schedules, or your budget just doesn’t stretch that far. Or maybe you just can’t deal with the chaos and cancellations at the airport this summer.
Does that mean you’re doomed to miss out on all the transformative effects of travel if you opt for a shorter stay somewhere nearby or familiar? Not according to travel writer Pico Iyer. In a recent post from the TED Ideas blog he argues that any journey, no matter how short or close, can be life changing as long as you use it as a launch pad for reflection and learning.
“It’s only when you get home that you can truly begin to understand a journey and implement the changes it may have sparked in you,” he insists. The trick to doing this effectively is to ask yourself these three questions.
1. What moved me the most during my trip?
“For me, it’s almost always the differences between other cultures that end up touching us most deeply on the inside,” says Iyer. Maybe for you it’s the fear of a spectacle of natural beauty. Maybe it’s a conversation with a stranger. It may be a historic site that made you rethink the past.
There’s no right answer here – the excellence of the beer from that little microbrewery you visited is just as valid as deep reflections on the nature of democracy at the Parthenon – the key is simply to take inventory of what has ever moved you on your journey.
2. What surprised me the most during my trip?
Surprise is often the gateway to learning. It’s a marker that something was outside of our expectations of how the world should work. Maybe you need to update your beliefs in some way. What made you feel that way on your last trip?
3. How might my trip cause me to think or live my life a little differently?
Now that you have the raw data for your first two answers in hand, it’s time to move on to that final all-important question: “How are we going to live differently in light of what we’ve seen?” In response to this question, Iyer tells a less than super relatable story about how a visit to Antarctica made him rethink his globetrotting’s impact on the environment, but your answer doesn’t have to involve towering glaciers and a global crisis.
Meeting parents who are all stressing out about different aspects of childcare (and who don’t think much about the issues that keep me awake at night) made me realize that a lot of what worries me as a mother is probably not so important after all. There are a thousand and one ways to be a successful parent, so I should relax more and enjoy the ride. Witnessing places of extreme poverty was a healthy reminder of my privilege and an encouragement to greater gratitude. And some trips just gave me design ideas on how to decorate my house or culinary inspiration for tasty meals.
These are just my examples. Your takeaway meals will be just as original and personal. The key, according to Iyer, is that you intend to get something tangible out of your travels, no matter how small.
“Promise yourself 20 minutes each day to make sure the trip doesn’t get lost,” he says. “How could you act differently now? Ask yourself how rich your life is in ways you never imagined before. [and] wonder how poor it is.”
So consider that your homework for after any trip you take this summer.