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In today’s world dominated by social media, it’s easy to lose sight of why you do the things you do. Why did you buy that outfit? Why do you workout? Why do you travel? Social media is often a driver of these behaviors, as it makes us seek perfection and status. It seems as though we live our lives with an underlying intention of showing off. When you catch yourself posting the "perfect" photo for a certain person you like to see, it hits you—who am I fooling? It’s easy to let social media define your actions. So how do you avoid this ingenuity when traveling? 

 

Traveling—to go from one place to another, typically over a distance of some length. This word holds a lot of different meanings for a lot of different people. For some, traveling means exporting yourself to a certain location to get away from work, take some photos for Instagram, and check it off your bucket list. This type of travel is ideal for vacations, where you simply need to unwind and indulge. But there is another type of travel that offers a deeper human experience: immersion. 

Eze, France

Depending on where you are from and what your current life situation is, it can be difficult to find opportunities to immerse yourself in a different culture and life. It often requires time and money. Lots of it. But even if you don’t have the resources to spontaneously uproot your life to live in a foreign country for a year, there are other ways to create deep value in your travels. 

1. Recognize that immersing yourself in a culture and immersing yourself in an experience are equally important things. 

 

You don’t have to know the language and befriend the locals to make the most out of a destination. Though it certainly helps you understand the place you are in, it is difficult and often not possible, especially in a time crunch. What is more important than cultural immersion is cultural respect—if you treat the locals with an intention of curiosity and kindness, you will have a more positive experience. It also helps to be empathetic to locals who express frustration in their interactions with foreigners. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand the potential differences causing tension. If striving for cultural immersion is unrealistic, focus on immersing yourself in the experience. What does that even mean? 
 
Being present. 

This is going to sound ludicrous to some people, but I urge you to try it: delete the Instagram app off of your phone during your trip. Now wait, this doesn’t mean you can’t post your picturesque snapshots to tell the world where you are and what you’re doing. You can and you should. But, we often forget that it doesn’t have to be in real time. Take photos and videos, but just save them. When the trip ends—or if you’re gone for a long time, then maybe once every couple of weeks—sort through those memories and post them. But in the moment, cleanse yourself from those distractions. Fill your empty moments with observation and enjoyment, rather than curated content. When you return home, you will feel fulfilled in your experience and realize the power of being present. Your followers can wait. 

Copenhagen, Denmark

2. Maintain a sense of self, but remain open to change and influences.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

Whenever I travel, I get slightly anxious about my ability to maintain my lifestyle. I fear having to sacrifice my physical (and mental) health in order to embark on a new journey. But I’ve learned that finding a balance is key. Just because you are in a new place doesn’t mean you need to quit all of your old habits. It just means you might need to adjust them. If you prioritize healthy eating, set an intention for the trip. If you’re traveling short term, remind yourself that indulgence is an important part of the experience and will not hinder your health long-term. If you’re traveling long-term, you might want to establish a balanced system that gives you more leeway than you would normally allow back at home. Maybe you cook your breakfasts and lunches at home, but go out for dinner to socialize and try new foods. Same applies to working out, meditating, journaling, and other self-care activities. It is important to continue these practices, as your body and mind has most likely learned to rely on them as a tool. If you abandon deep-rooted habits, then it is easy to lose your sense of self when you are really trying to discover yourself abroad.

3. Realize that traveling is not always sunshine and rainbows.

 

Because our perception of other people’s lives is often limited to a series of heavily filtered and posed photos, it’s easy to assume that any travel experience we have will meet that expectation. But these high expectations are simply not realistic. This fact does not mean that travel is any less amazing and valuable of an experience. However, it does mean that you should be prepared for challenges and surprises. You might face language barriers, homesickness, physical sickness, difficulty navigating, or financial issues. A location might not be to your liking. Just because you are traveling does not mean that you escape problems that you would face in your normal life. But, this is the beauty of traveling—it takes you out of your comfort zone. We often get stuck in routine and forget to do things that push us to grow. Traveling, with both its highs and lows, has the ability to teach us so much about ourselves and how to navigate diverse situations. Once you realize that this is part of the journey, you will face a lot less disappointment and a lot more appreciation for the learning curve. 

Iceland

4. Take travel as an opportunity to reflect on your life back home. 

 

One of the best things about travel is its ability to give you perspective. By engaging yourself in different cultures, environments, and experiences, you are able to “zoom out” and perceive your life back home more clearly. If you make a conscious effort to open yourself up while traveling and see the way other people live, you can adopt new habits and beliefs. Travel doesn’t completely remove you from your life, but it provides the distance that is often necessary to gain clarity on it. When you return home, you might approach situations differently or feel a renewed sense of self and gratitude. 

Barcelona, Spain

Taking advantage of these opportunities, implementing these tips, and setting realistic expectations will make your travels more meaningful and memorable. Approaching travel with open minded intentions will establish the proper foundation for personal growth. But above all else, remember to have fun for yourself, not for your Instagram feed. 

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