Why Travel Is More About Losing Yourself Than Finding Yourself

When people tell me they're going traveling to find themselves, the first thing I do (after stifling a laugh) is ask them who they think they are now then?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I'm sorry but I can't, I just can't stand all the clichéd nonsense when people say they're going traveling to "find themselves."

You can picture the scene I'm sure, young idealists jetting off round the world talking about how they're going to discover this whole new personality while they buy a few pair of Thai pants and get a hair wrap!

Yet to me, the idea that a three month holiday to South East Asia, for example, might suddenly bring to light this whole new and more genuine personality in people, just seems crazy.

Now don't get me wrong here people, I'm not saying traveling isn't about exploring new things, discovering difference, learning and making changes in your life; of course, it is all these things and I'm living proof!

I'm just saying that in order to do this we might have got the real benefits of travel all wrong -- what the real advantage of travel might be is actually its ability to help you lose yourself rather than find yourself.

Let me explain...

When people tell me they're going traveling to find themselves, the first thing I do (after stifling a laugh) is ask them who they think they are now then?

'If you're going to find yourself, then who is the person stood in front of me?' I say with a puzzled expression!

You see, how can you not be yourself already? I mean, you can't rightly be anyone else, can you? You might not, of course, be happy with yourself, you might not like the picture of yourself, you not be feeling yourself. You might, in fact, want to be someone else (goodness knows we all do sometimes), but unfortunately, you are yourself!

And you don't have to go anywhere to find that self -- you won't happen across it at a full moon party in Thailand or on a hike to Machu Picchu in Peru. You won't discover it lurking in the shadows of a London Shoreditch side street or it jumping out at you during a South African safari.

That's because yourself is already found -- it's not a thing that exists apart from you, it is you!

As such, no difference in geographical location will alter your ability to get to know it. The self can't be found while traveling any more than it can be happened upon at home. The self can only be found by looking inwards, not outwards -- and you don't need to go anywhere for that!

Is it possible therefore, that the real advantage of travel might actually be its ability to help us lose ourselves rather than find ourselves?

The idea of losing yourself doesn't initially sound like a positive thing; it sounds a bit scary and bit sadistic.

But I'm not talking here about losing touching with reality or reason. I'm talking about losing the sense of self we have that is so often determined by external factors, factors outside ourselves. I'm talking about losing ideas, concerns and worries that can hold you back, limit you, stop you from trying new things, thinking new patterns, speaking to new people.

The advantage of traveling is that it places us in new and unfamiliar surroundings, quite often with lots of new and unfamiliar people.

As such, traveling gives us a key opportunity to get to away from everything and everyone that we know and that knows us; that knows what we like and what we don't, what we believe and what we don't, what we normally do and what we normally don't.

It's a strange irony that so often we actually locate our sense of self by things outside -- by our job, our interests or our family roles. We define ourselves by the things we own, the people we hang around with or the name badge we wear.

Traveling moves us away from this and thrusts us out into a world where all the things that normally define us aren't present. It thrusts us into a blank canvas, one in which we are temporarily free from personal history, expectation and routine.

In essence, rather than helping us find ourselves, travel can actually help us dislocate from the sense of ourselves that is defined by other things and other people. Travel can actually help us lose ourselves.

And in this space of loss, we are actually presented with a precious place to discover more about ourselves for ourselves, to get to know ourselves better as us, not just as others do.

In this way, the manner in which travel allows us to lose ourselves is actually wonderfully liberating.

Travel flings us away from all the usual patterns associated with place and people, away from the usual patterns of behaviour and action, away from the usual patterns of thought and belief.

Instead, it gives us a real opportunity to push at our boundaries and preconceived ideas, our fears and pre-determined notions of the world.

In my opinion, travel isn't really about finding yourself at all; it's actually more about losing yourself - a self tied to familiar places, people and patterns. And perhaps this is the real key to being happy with yourself, to liking the picture of yourself, and to feeling like yourself.

So please don't travel to find yourself. Try traveling as an opportunity to lose yourself for a while instead. You never know what you might find!

A version of this post originally appeared on Big World Small Pockets