Leaving the Past Behind: Why You Should Let Go While You Travel

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There are dozens of reasons I love to travel: new sites, new sounds, new tastes, new places and faces, the thrill of doing something different and the desire to see every square inch of this beautiful planet we call home. Travel is amazing and they’re all valid points.

That being said, there’s also another reason I travel. It’s probably not something a lot of people have discussed, or even really given a name to, however it’s there all the same. When we travel, we not only leave our homes behind but also our past selves.

Charles at Hierapolis Turkey 800

At the ancient Hierapolis, Turkey

One of my favorite reasons to travel is that travel lets me be the person I want to be. The moment I step off a plane or a train, a bus or a boat I’m a new person. I open myself to whatever the world throws at me and without a past that future is wide open. I can be a rock climber, a sailor, a jet setter or a scroungy backpacker and no one in the world can say different.

At home we often live the life we think others want us to live.

Back home, we’re constantly surrounded by our past. Family who have known us since birth and believe they know what’s best for us. Friends we’ve had since youth who frown when we do something dangerous or unbecoming. Acquaintances who we fear will see us walking around town looking grubby or not in the best light. Work buddies who might think less of us because we’re walking around the dollar store with a full basket of dollar goods.

In our regular 9 to 5 lives we live with a past that is constantly interfering with our present. It not only holds us back. but also limits our choices. At times it seems we often live the life we think others want us to live rather than the one that is our own. It’s also hard to step outside the norm and not aspire to the Western sense of achievement. Bigger cars, better houses, higher paying salary, nicer furniture and more toys to brag about are the western ideal. Not a problem if you truly value those things, however, what happens when you don’t?

When we travel we feel richer than we ever have before.

When we travel we often have no vehicle. Most of the time we stay in simpler places with simpler amenities. A lot of the time, the things in our bags are the only material goods we own within a thousand miles. The truth is, when we travel we feel richer than we ever have before.

The smells wafting up from the bakery below are our currency. The gorgeous castle we just walked through is our home. The open-aired double decker bus we just rode on is our ride. The huge park across the street is our yard. The benches outside the local ice cream shop are our furniture. The zipline we just flew down is one of our many toys.

I can walk through sprawling open air markets in ripped shorts and a slightly dirty t-shirt and I don’t care. On the flipside, I can dress to the nines, walk into a high classed restaurant and order with the best of them. If I want to get up at 11 am because I was up late I can. If I want to get up at 5 AM and jump on a hot air balloon I can. If I want to help build a well, teach a class, live in the jungle or go to Disneyland with the kids I can. If I want to climb a mountain, swim a river, sail a boat, ride a camel, go looking for tree kangaroos or swim with stingrays I can because on this trip I am who I want to be.

When you travel, every step forward brings you farther from the person you used to be.

Travel is more than seeing something new, it’s also about leaving behind something that’s old. Whether that be your past, your misconceptions, your comfort level or your anxieties, the next time you head down a new path, realize that there’s no better time to be the new you.

Don’t fear it, embrace it. To me, that’s the best part of a new journey.


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57 Responses

    • Charles Kosman

      Travel is all about discovery. That said, I believe the greatest discovery anyone can make is finding out who they truly are. Travel is just a great medium to help us uncover that. Thanks for helping hit that point home.

  1. Melanie Murrish

    I can totally relate to this; even when I just go on a fortnight holiday I wear different clothes, act differently-I’m much more confident. I used to think I was being a different person, but then I realised I was being the authentic me; it’s truly liberating, and why I find being at home stifling! Great post.

    • Charles Kosman

      Kids are great inspiration. People should take a closer look at their views on life. They’re authentic and they don’t have a lifetime of naysayers, pessimists or negativity limiting their perceptions. They have a wonder about the world around them that I totally find refreshing.

      Living a nomadic life has taught our kids so many things and I hope the biggest is that they can be who they want to be.

      It must be refreshing (and tiring) to guide so many little perceptions. I envy (and at the same time fear) your job Lillie. Thanks for posting!

    • Charles Kosman

      I couldn’t have said it better myself Mary. I love the term true selves. Travel is definitely a great way to see who we truly are. Thanks for the comment.

    • Charles Kosman

      School and university are great for general learning however they’ll never teach you about yourself. Structured learning teaches with a wide brush and it will never properly fill in the nooks and crannies of our passions and interests.

      Travel has taught me more about the things I value than any school ever has. It’s just another reason I love to travel. Thanks for sharing.

    • Charles Kosman

      Marina, it’s great that you got to travel without your past getting in the way. It lets you focus on the road ahead rather than the road behind. I think that’s vital for truly enjoying where you are wherever you happen to be. Thanks for the comment.

    • Charles Kosman

      Terry, I love that you used the word liminal. It’s definitely not a common word however I think it pertains to travel so well. Travel is totally a threshold between our two selves. Who we were and who we’ll be. Thanks for sharing.

    • Charles Kosman

      There are so many great reasons to travel Liz and letting go while you do it just makes it all that much more enjoyable. Thanks for agreeing.

    • Charles Kosman

      Travel is all about looking at life differently. Throwing yourself into a new place almost guarantees a change in perception. If it doesn’t, then I think they’re not letting go of their previous expectations enough. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Sofie

    Great post.

    I always feel so much more ‘me’ when I travel. Mainly because you just don’t have to deal with the ‘necessary stuff’ you have to deal with at home. Those practical things that just take up time and make you stress about how to divide your time.
    I also dare more when I’m abroad and I’m so much more open to other people.
    Because if it turns out bad, you never have to see them again.
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    • Charles Kosman

      Sofie, to me travel equals freedom. Freedom to see the world through unshackled perceptions. It lets us get rid of the shoulds and lets us concentrate on the now. Totally liberating! 🙂

  3. Lindsay

    Hello, I would just like to tell you that I could not keep my eyes off the screen from reading your article. This is exactly how I feel each and every time I travel! You have encouraged me and others. To be able to travel is a beautiful thing.

    • Charles Kosman

      Glad you enjoyed the post Lindsay. Most travelers will agree that travel is a freedom unlike almost anything. The ability to see and experience new things is definitely a beautiful thing.

      • MM

        Hello Charles and what a great article on travel and all the good it can do to the traveller! The insights you offered are reflective of a person (i.e. your good self) who is clearly possessed of significant wisdom, sensitivity, compassion for other people and optimism (even the way you look in your posted picture radiates optimism)!

        I would add, however, that another important & positive dimension travel can have (apart from all those highlighted by you and the other writers/respondents) is the impact such travel can have on the ‘visitees’ (if there is such a word… probably not, but you get the idea all the same) whom we encounter in our journeys. I wonder if – just as travel can be a breath of fresh air for us – whether, by virtue of our presence among certain people, in certain contexts at certain magical moments in our travels, THEY too can experience a similar ‘breath of fresh air’ (notwithstanding the fact that we left our homes to get there, whereas they are already ‘home’ when they encounter us… unless we’re including fellow travellers from other set-off points in the equation).

        At any rate, and back to the point I wish to make, the joy can thus be doubled, when we think outside the paradigm of ‘what it does to US’ and include the possibility (perhaps even the ‘actuality’, better still) of what it may do to others there! They may, after all, feel some life-changing effect(s) in their lives due to us being momentarily there, assuming there’s something about us (or oneself) that inspires them in some way that we are not even aware of. Perhaps in a conversation with them or a shared experience of some sort, they will have come out of it looking at the world, the human condition, etc, in a slightly different & more positive/creative way! Wouldn’t that be splendid?! Just a thought to mull.

        There is a reason, however, why I have stopped travelling altogether (been over 10 years now, excluding mandatory & mundane work trips) but just for pleasure & self-discovery, I don’t do it any more. You know the feeling when you travel & see beautiful things, people and ‘just being there in the moment’… you inevitably feel that you wish for a certain loved one in your life to have been there with you to SHARE all those beautiful moments? Well… when they’re not there (& never will be again) due to having parted ways forever or due to death, doesn’t the sadness become compounded because they’re not there to share those special experiences with?

        To each person, the answer to that question is different, I’m sure, and there is probably no absolute right or wrong answer there. The optimists will (legitimately) contend that PRECISELY because of such sadness, travel is highly recommended to allow for a process of healing, re-birth and ‘self re-definition’… and at some level, of course one agrees. But it also takes immense strength to summon sufficient optimism to do that, and my question becomes “where do we find that strength”?

      • Charles Kosman

        Thanks for a great comment MM. You’ve added another layer to my belief that travel is good for the soul.

        The idea that we might have positively affected someone we’ve met on the road (and not just monetarily) is a great thought. I do know we’ve encouraged others to travel more with our tales and have opened some eyes to places they might have never considered visiting before but the thought that we might have enriched their lives with just our visit is icing on the proverbial cake.

        That being said, I do believe that every time a traveler volunteers their time to teach, to heal or to build in a foreign country they are directly affecting the lives of those around them so the concept of enriching others lives isn’t a foreign concept to me.

        I also know that there are certain people that place themselves in certain locations where they allow the world to cross their doorstep and in their own way get to meet all the people of the world without leaving their home country. The impact of the visitee in that scenario can’t be measured.

        As to your particular quandary, there is no easy answer. I do have a few thoughts that might help however.

        The first one that comes to mind is your comment. As you yourself said, the impact that a visitee can have on the visited can sometimes be significant. I think this is doubly so if the person is volunteering in a foreign environment. The joy of enriching another person’s life can sometimes strengthen and empower the person who’s doing it. At the same time it gets you out of the house and helps occupy those spaces of doubt and sadness.

        Another method could be to travel with a group. Though it’s possible to feel alone even when surrounded by people, one good thing about traveling with a group or on a tour is that it forces you to get out and see the sights. There’s always going to be others in a similar mindset and sometimes just the act of doing something helps the soul to heal.

        Of course, when traveling, there’s always the possibility of meeting someone else that might help you overcome your loss. Though they may never be the love of your life, you just might find the joy of travel again that you’ve also lost. One nice thing about fellow travelers is that you know they’re willing to try something new, to put themselves out there and to broaden their view of life.

        Perhaps the best advice I can give is to just do it in a different manner than before. If you always went here or always did that then do the exact opposite. Don’t be one half of broken couple, be who you want to be and see things that you’ve always wanted to see. Don’t think of what you lost but what you can further gain. The hardest part will be taking that first step alone but I can guarantee you every step after will be easier.

        Life is a constant journey, whether we’re sitting at home or walking down a foreign path. It’s up to each of us to decide what we do on that journey. It’s shorter than we realize and all too often, we look back and realize that sometimes the easy path just made the journey shorter, not better. Get out, live life and be the person you’ve always wanted to be.

        Travel can help but sometimes it’s just a matter of adjusting our attitudes. Either way MM, good luck with your journey.

      • MM

        Hi Charles and many thanks for your extensive reply, quality thought & time that you put into the matter, in all its dimensions. Through your wise & considered reply, insights & experience – which you have been generous enough to share with us all – you have answered several of my key questions/quandaries. I will write back properly in due course, as I need to properly digest & assimilate the many wisdoms that constituted your reply in order to render it justice via an appropriate response of my own. You’re doing a great job and are to be saluted, Sir. Keep well, in the meantime. Best.

    • Charles Kosman

      Stevie, possessions (or lack of them) are definitely a factor in why I love to travel. It’s just one more thing holding us back from enjoying the moment. Thanks for posting.

  4. lee vincent

    Thanks for the smile tonight – we are sitting in Moab 6 weeks into our 8 month road trip and I so resonate with your thoughts. Even the simple image of me walking around the grocery store today in my mismatched mountain bike wear and sandals…
    I think it also allows you to be open to the kindness of strangers, which can create so many amazing experiences!

  5. vinitha

    this was serendipitous and resonated with me in a heartfelt manner. I am ready for that true dose of freedom. Just going through a break up and going back to Kerala to reassemble pieces of me that became scattered in time..
    Reinvent- I love that and look forward to that.
    thank you for your inspiring words…
    and the comments are a spirited support!


  6. Passport Dave

    Great post Charles! This is exactly what I needed to hear myself. It has been somewhat rough over the last year for me at home. In about two months I set off on my never ending journey though. Articles like this are what inspire me to do just that. Always look forward and don’t look back.
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  7. Vicki

    Charles, when you wrote about the western Ideal, and basically the freedom to buck that ideal, that is what hit home for me. I have yet to go on my great adventure, but after a relationship breakup 2 years ago, I made a conscious decision not to acquire many things, preferring to live as simple as possible until I am able to head out into the world on my own. I am excited to see so many places in the world, and I want to make sure I have the freedom to simply walk away from my present life once I am ready to go.

    • Charles Kosman

      Vicki, the less you have, the less you have to pack away and the easier it is to slip away into a new life. It’s easy to get caught in a world of material things however the freedom that comes with carrying all your worldly possessions on your back can’t be quantified until you take that first step on your new adventure.

      Trust me, the first step is the hardest however once you’re on the road you’ll wonder why you waited to take it for so long. 😉

      Good luck with your chosen path. May it bring you happiness, fulfillment and clarity.

  8. Jamie @ The Inspired Globetrotter

    Hey Charles,
    Wow, what can I say?
    You really nailed that and I feel the exact same way.
    Travel allows us to reach out to the person we want to become, without any of the strings attached back home. You can dream and discover and follow your most basic instincts without the script that had been written for you by authority.

    Excellent post 🙂

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    I’m always happy and stress-free on holiday, then get depressed when I get home again. If I had my way, I’d be travelling 6 months a year!

  10. Moses

    A great post indeed. I publish a monthly travel magazine, Charles, I was wondering if I could reproduce this in the next edition of the magazine. I live in Botswana, southern Africa.

  11. Yun

    Travel changes our life, make us become better & better. How great to read this!! Feel like I wanna go somewhere RIGHT NOW ^^~

  12. Mike of Mapless Mike

    I absolutely love this! It’s very true and is one of the many reasons that I am going to be leaving everything behind and going to teach English in Spain in September!

  13. Kimberly

    I absolutely love traveling. So true you feel like you can be someone else when you travel. Trying to figure out the local currency is usually my only issue. But so right it is always a great adventure. Thanks!

  14. Ovi

    Thank you, Charles. I am following your blog from a distance for sometime, and it is a source of inspiration and call for action on my side. I don’t know if I am able to make a living by travelling, I don’t know what life has to offer, but I do know I have to try.

    And here I am, with the “100 Travel Stories” blog recently launched and one step closer to fulfill my dream!

    All the best Charles & Micki!
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