When people imagine life-changing trips, they often think of long adventures in faraway places — a summer spent backpacking through Europe, a work assignment abroad, a Please, my love-style journey of personal discovery and healing.
The idea that travel can be transformative is certainly right. Studies have linked time abroad to entrepreneurship, and experts insist that exposure to other cultures can make you a more flexible, empathetic and self-aware person. Traveling not only helps you get to know the world, but also helps you get to know yourself.
But as self-recommending as adventures on faraway shores may be, the truth is that they are also often completely impossible in real life. Maybe you can’t get away from your business, you’re tied up with 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 this mean you are doomed to miss out on all the transformative effects of travel if you opt for a shorter stint somewhere close or familiar? Not according to travel writer Pico Iyer. In a recent post on the TED Ideas blog, he claims that any journey—no matter how short or close—can be life-changing as long as you use it as a starting point for reflection and learning.
“It’s only when you get home that you can really begin to understand a trip and implement the changes it may have set in motion within you,” he insists. The trick to doing this effectively is to ask yourself these three questions.
1. What pushed me the most during my journey?
“For me, it’s almost always the changes in other cultures that ultimately affect the most deeply within,” Iyer asserts. Maybe for you it’s awe at a spectacle of natural beauty. Maybe it’s a conversation with a stranger. Maybe it’s a historical place that made you rethink the past.
There’s no right answer here — the excellence of the beer at that little microbrewery you visited is as valuable as the deep thoughts about the nature of democracy at the Parthenon — the key is simply to take inventory of what ever moved you during the trip.
2. What surprised me the most about my trip?
Surprise is often the gateway to learning. It’s a sign that something was outside of our expectations of how the world should work. Maybe you need to update your beliefs in some way then. What inspired the feeling on your last trip?
3. How might my trip make me think or live my life a little differently?
Now that you have the raw data of your first two answers in hand, it’s time to move on to that last all-important question: “How will we live differently in light of what we saw?” In response to this question, Iyer tells a less-than-super-relatable story about how a visit to Antarctica made him rethink how his globetrotting was affecting the environment, but your answer doesn’t have to include towering glaciers and the crisis global.
Meeting parents who all stress about various aspects of childcare (and barely think about the issues that keep me up at night) made me realize that a lot of what I worry about as a mom probably isn’t that important. There are a million and one ways to be a successful parent, so I need to relax more and enjoy the ride. Witnessing countries of extreme poverty has served as a healthy reminder or my privilege and an impetus for greater gratitude. And some trips simply gave me design ideas on how to decorate my home or culinary inspiration for delicious meals.
These are just my examples. Your statements will be just as quirky and personal. The key, according to Iyer, is that you are intentional about taking something concrete away from your travels, however modest.
“Promise yourself 20 minutes each day to make sure the ride isn’t missed,” he says. “How can you act differently now? Ask yourself how rich your life is in ways you never imagined before [and] ask yourself how she is poor.”
So consider that your homework for any trip you take this summer.