Sometimes I worry that I’m not a “good traveler”. I worry that I haven’t learned enough about the culture, that I haven’t spent enough time talking to locals, that I haven’t taken enough beautiful photographs of people. I worry that I haven’t taken advantage of my time in a particular city or village, that I’ve spent too much time resting and not enough time exploring, that I should have spent more time in fewer cities, that I’ve spent too much money or that I haven’t volunteered enough. The list goes on and on!
With all of the tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your travel these days, it can be easy to think there is one right way of doing it, that everyone else has got it figured out and you haven’t. But you know, I have been traveling on my own for almost ten years now and there is always more to learn. Every country is different and has its own secrets to explore, its own frustrations, its own beauty, its own lessons to teach us. It is up to each of us to decide how we want to move through the world, what we want to gain out of our experiences, and what our own particular travel style is.
We all have different ways of traveling, different experiences that help us grow, different needs that are being met by our travels and adventures. There is no one right way to explore a new city or learn about a culture. Some people really enjoy taking cooking classes, booking group tours, or visiting every single museum and art gallery. Others prefer wandering around and getting lost, exploring local restaurants and street food, or hitchhiking from city to city.
Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, I do think it is important to have real conversations with real local people, to learn about the politics and history of an area, to try as much as possible to get authentic views into the lives of the people whose country you are visiting. But there are many different ways to achieve these goals and just because one method works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Comparing your adventures
Because I love to travel, I end up having a lot of good friends who also love to travel, who are often off doing super cool things across the globe and posting amazing photos and stories about their adventures. It becomes so easy to compare my adventures to theirs and to feel like somehow I am doing things wrong because I didn’t have an amazing experience staying with a local family or learning a local artisan skill, or because I got homesick, or because I spent the week connecting with people instead of rock climbing and visiting temples.
Unfortunately, when I focus on what other people are doing that is super cool, I forget about the really amazing experiences I am having for myself, which is silly. This is true for all of us when we spend too much time on social media and not enough time being present in our own lives. It’s great to see what our friends are doing and to be excited for them and it is even natural to feel jealous when someone is doing something really cool that we’d like to do, but it shouldn’t diminish the importance of our own experiences.
When you find yourself getting sucked into the comparison vortex, whatever that comparison may be, see if you can step back, take a deep breath, and work your way out again. Feel the jealousy, recognize it for what it is, remind yourself that there is an abundance of joy in the world and another person’s joy does not mean there is less for you, send some love to the person you are comparing yourself to, and then move on with your day! There are so many better ways to spend your time that do not include comparing yourself to the curated lives you see presented on social media.
One thing that helps to cut down on the woes of comparison is simply practicing gratitude. It is so easy to feel like we don’t have enough when we are constantly looking at those who we perceive as having more. There are always going to be people who have things we don’t, who speak more languages than we do or have been to more countries, who have more Instagram followers or who take better photos. If you are looking for what you don’t have, you will always find it.
When you find yourself comparing to others and feeling down, try taking a moment to make a list of things you are grateful for. Write down five items and really expand on each one. Rather than just writing down the name of someone you are grateful for, explain why you are grateful for them and what it is they bring into your life. If there is an experience you are grateful for, write about what that experience did for you or what you learned from it.
Spending even a few minutes focusing on what you have instead of what you don’t can bring you back to what is important and remind of how much there is to be grateful for. And then instead of wasting your energy wishing you had what someone else does or feeling like your life isn’t exciting enough compared to what you see on Instagram, you can use that energy to go do something that makes you feel inspired and excited again!
Remember that what you see on social media is never the full picture. We are seeing only the highlights and the parts of someone’s life that they want to share with everyone, which is usually pretty positive. We don’t see photos of the frustrating moments trying to catch the right bus, of the hours spent waiting in line for various activities, of petty arguments had over who was right or wrong. And even if we did see all of these things, what is the point in comparing ourselves to them?
We are all on our own journey around the sun and we all come from different backgrounds and different lives. If we see someone else doing something amazing, we should use that as inspiration rather than letting it get us down because we feel like we aren’t doing enough. And we should never forget to be grateful for the amazing things that happen in our lives every day, even if all we did was sit at home reading a book and eating. The fact that we even have a home to sit in and food enough to eat is something huge to be grateful for!
To quote The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: “When each day is the same as the next, it is because we fail to recognize the good things that happen in our lives every day that the sun rises”. Stop worrying about the cool things everyone else is doing and start focusing on the good things that happen in your life every day. And if you feel like there is something missing in your life, go out and do something about it rather than wallowing in self-pity and comparing your life to someone else’s!