Expatriate life doesn’t have to be all about escape and leisure. It’s not just exploring some exciting new part of the world to get away from what troubles you have at home. In fact, if you open yourself to it, a life of perpetual travel can be a powerful tool for personal transformation.
Many non-travellers view travel as a vehicle for crisis resolution. They don’t expect it to bring them deeper into the crisis. They pull an “Eat, Pray, Love” and embark on a soul-searching voyage abroad. (Spoiler alert: I’ve lived in Ubud on the island of Bali for a few months at a time on two occasions. It’s a pleasant enough place, but hardly worthy of the spiritual pilgrimage described by Elizabeth Gilbert.)
By refusing to confront the real pain and the problem from which it stems, they only perpetuate their suffering, but in more attractive settings. The wheel keeps turning and the cycle begins anew. A lifestyle reboot means having enough self-awareness to want something fundamentally different than what you have. Where people fail is that they lack the endurance to seek out the root causes of why they suffer. They cease the search when things get difficult, leaving them open to easy answers in whatever form they appear.
Searching for Meaning
Not everyone who begins the journey is looking for truth. They are looking to ease the discomfort of inquiry. This is the great delusion that all seekers must guard themselves against. The temptation to quit early is strongest when the most progress is being made. In those moments, you must consciously choose to keep going — or risk reverting back to the state in which you started.
This process only happens through total vulnerability. In vulnerability, you grow because you have to. You discover just how far you can push yourself. If you don’t respond to the outside forces which weaken you, they will sooner or later beat you. Your character strengthens and you develop a thicker skin for the experiences which would normally destroy you. You learn to relish instability, because that is where all progress happens.
Stability means that nothing ever changes, which is only a good thing if you are already living the life of your dreams. In both chemistry and personal development, instability is what creates the possibility for new events. Stability is only the rational goal of a person who knows who they are and what will make them sustainably happy.
Confronting the Unknown
People fear the unknown because they cannot prepare for what might go wrong. In a known environment, it’s easy to arrange the factors of your life toward the attainment of your goals, even if you have to improvise along the way. When the things you take for granted are pulled away, you lose the faith that everything will work out in your favour.
You also cannot realistically assume that everything will go wrong all at once. Life tends to happen within a predictable range of good and bad occurrences that must be adjusted to in real time. You have to trust that your mind is capable of taking in the information it needs as it experiences new things. It uses this information to create new instructions for living as needed.
“What if” scenarios can be a form of mental poison. There is rarely a single realistic event with the power to utterly ruin one’s life, unless one throws complete caution to the wind. If unanticipated variables change — perhaps your trip is extended, a flight is missed, or a bag is misplaced — we adjust to them in the moment to stay on the path of comfort.
Travel for Self-Expansion
Travel for self-expansion requires one to let go of these old standards of predictability. You cannot foresee everything. There is no way to pack your suitcase adequately for this kind of trip, and no concierge to manage all the missteps for you. You must take it upon yourself to become the kind of person who oversees the governing elements of their own in life in every moment.
A successful person knows themselves to a degree of intimacy far beyond the endurance of ordinary humans. The boundaries of familiarity are stretched as far as they can be. So long as one can recover from injury, he or she can gain from the intentional exposure to pain. Curiosity will drive them with uncertain enthusiasm forward. This is the true start to the self-directed path.
Gregory Diehl left California at 18 to explore our world and find himself. He has lived and worked in more than 50 countries, chronicling the enlightening lessons he learned in the Amazon bestseller Travel As Transformation. Read his work and listen to his podcast, Uncomfortable Conversations With Gregory.