Traveling as a Consciousness-Raiser

My friend Quinn at The Passport Epilogues writes about using travel as a means of self-improvement. And maybe becoming a superhero. The merits of traveling abroad can be quite profound, especially when approached with an attitude of humility and mindfulness. We can't shy away from the unknown, especially if it might be a bit challenging:
When you travel, you throw yourself into unfamiliar territory. The rules you used to play by at home might no longer apply. When a society values a different set of skills and attitudes than the ones you have carefully fostered over the years, you learn the hard way that in other areas you are severely lacking. Travel exposes your weaknesses, and most of us aren’t comfortable having our faults laid out on the table. But at the end of the day that’s the only way we can really work on them and make ourselves better. Throw yourself into a truly challenging situation, and after you crash and burn a few times you will emerge that much stronger. So don’t think of it as a weakness so much as a challenge.
This is exactly right. Perhaps just as good as exposing weaknesses, though, unfamiliarity can also reveal hidden strengths. For example, I planned and went on a month-long tour of Europe in the summer of 2008, fresh out of high school, with at most two friends and no "adults." Once there, I discovered I had a sort of affinity for the various transit systems. My friends, meanwhile, were hopelessly confused.


I want to add that there's more to the learning process than just being there. Even in planning the trip—and naturally, the more you personally get involved in planning, the more this is true—sparks this revelatory process. It forces you to consider questions of time and money: How can I pay for this? and Will we be able to go to all these places? and Is this too much traveling for one day? and on and on. Not planning (as Quinn is wont to do) helps, too, but on a time delay. You find out quickly upon arrival, and then continuously over the course of the trip, how good that improvised packing job was. How good your assumed itinerary is. And on and on. I got a bit of that this summer, when I flew down to San Francisco to visit a friend at Stanford. My itinerary was minimal and my packing job was rushed (and small). I had a great time all the same.

Maybe this is why so many great American thinkers encouraged travel, why the Grand Tour was on the mind of every Romantic. It would certainly make sense.