Revealing the character through travel

1 May

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

I have always thought that travelling with a friend enables you to learn so much more about them than you would normally.  Not only this, but travelling reveals a great deal about your own character. You are both somewhat dependent on each other in a foreign environment and such unfamiliarity can lead to all sorts of insecurities coming out.  I find that the people I travel with often see the best and worst of me and vice versa.

The best: being anonymous in a foreign territory is incredibly liberating and leads me to do things I would probably never do (some good, some not so good).  I am there to experience things so I will actively look for new opportunities and people to chat to whereas I can be apathetic and judgemental at home. I become an exaggerated version of myself- basically, I become an over-friendly excited teenager, giddy at the newness of my surroundings.

The worst: in a new place, everything can seem strange which can make me feel threatened or intimidated.  This usually sparks a painful degree of self-consciousness and the critical voice in my mind makes me want to hide myself away, seeking the familiar.  My sensitivities are amplified and I start to view things in extremities; my world becomes black and white and I become blind to the subtleties. 

For example, I have just returned from a weekend trip with a good friend from university and there were instances when my poor attempts at German would, quite understandably, be met with a look of disdain from some impatient locals.  Instead of being able to shake this off, I would physically recoil and want to retreat back to the hotel room.  To me, this clearly signifies that I am definitely not as confident as I aim to be, or indeed thought I was.  Perhaps this sense of contentment and acceptance in the face of criticism will come with time but for now, I have to consciously remind myself that I am fine regardless of what other people may think.

While my travel companion and I have been friends for a couple of years, I had never before travelled with her.  What was interesting was that on a night out during our trip, my friend was able to pick up on my heightened self-consciousness as it is near impossible to hide what you are truly feeling from someone with whom you are in such close proximity.  Seeing a facet of your character that is usually concealed or repressed under normal circumstances can provide a greater character insight and establish a mutual understanding of each other.  In our case, this led to some incredibly meaningful conversations about our insecurities and fears.  In fact, I have probably learnt more about her in those few days than I have in a year. 

Travelling with someone allows you to see how you act in different contexts and you become more aware of your ways of thinking when you compare them with those of your companion.   For example, on one occasion, we found ourselves rather inebriated and in a potentially dangerous situation with some intoxicated (and slightly sexually-aggressive) older men, and I was struck at how responsible and determined our friend was to get us to safety.  In comparison, I was reckless and impulsive which are two traits that have the potential for disaster.  On another occasion, we found ourselves to be in a ‘too cool for school’ club where the bouncers looked us up and down as though we were pieces of meat.  I have always found this type of objectification to be absolutely abhorrent but one of my flaws is that I am unable to let things go easily.  Hours later in the club, I still could not shake the sense of frustration and insecurity at having been looked at in such a derogatory manner.  This then led to my critical voice re-emerging, with the same tired old accusations and insults and I looked around me, comparing myself to all the other ‘beautiful’ people.  My friend, however, refused to let this make her feel insecure and was determined to have a good night.  I realised then that that right there was strength.  It is not that she adopted a non-human stance and didn’t feel anything; rather, she refused to give people with a superiority complex the ability to let her make feel bad about herself.

I am constantly learning that there are many things I need to work on but that’s OK.  Baby steps…

 Not only has this made me appreciate my friend and feel closer to her, I find that I have found my friend to be so many things I never knew she was: optimistic, strong, resilient, caring and persevering – all the qualities I aim to possess.

And that is the magic of travelling with someone.

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