I once read an interesting study about the number of people traveling, flying, walking, and driving from place to place, year by year.
I don’t remember the statistics of how fast the travel industry was growing, but I remember wondering: why? How come so many people are going to so many places? What are we searching for or running away from?
I was born a traveler. I used to walk to the corner store when I was five, just for the sake of going somewhere. I left home at a very young age and have seen countless places on our beloved Earth since.
Once, I walked 800 kilometers in Spain just to see if I could.
If I had a magic wand, I would send everyone to see the sunset in Indonesia, but not just to see it—to hear it. To walk the cobblestone streets of Prague, but not just see them in photos—to feel them under their feet. To witness the goats chasing each other on the cliffs in Croatia, but not just see them on video—to smell them.
Traveling helps me put my own size and problems into perspective. It humbles me and teaches me about the people of the world—how different we are, and at the same time, exactly the same. I feel transformed each time. I leave the way I am at that present moment and always come back a little bit transformed. Sometimes, actually, majorly transformed.
By stepping out of the repetition of daily life, we can surrender to life as it is.
Here is what I have learned over the years about traveling: whether it’s a short weekend getaway with a lover, or a strenuous hike throughout the Himalayas, the stages of transformation are always there. Traveling is part of our evolution, one of the soul’s ways to grow.
Here are the eight stages of spiritual growth that we go through while traveling:
Stage 1: The Idea—When the Heart responds to the Call.
There are so many invitations: commercials, promotions, posters on the street, stories from friends. Maybe none of their journeys speak to you. “I wouldn’t do that.” “That sounds boring.” “Not for me, thanks.” One day, however, that one image awakes the heart. It just beats a little faster for a minute, and the mind is second to react.
The Hero (my nickname for the Traveling Soul) always knocks on the door of the heart first. That is how we know that this journey is the one to take next. Sometimes the mind says, “Nope, you can’t do it. Too long, too far, you are too busy, this is too expensive.” However, the call has been answered and the heart will flutter over and over again. This is how the journey starts.
Stage 2: The Preparation—Anticipation and Imagination.
At one point, the reality of the journey begins. It’s not just an idea anymore. There are things to do: book the flight, find a hotel, do a little research. While the organizational nature of the mind is pleased, deep down our Hero is tapping her fingers.
The question at this stage is: how much can I leave for faith to arrange? Do I trust the universe? How much control do I need to have? These are useful questions for self-reflection at this stage.
Stage 3: The Leaving—Letting Go.
Saying goodbye to our family and friends is always a little practice of death. What am I taking with me and what stays behind? These are the questions to ponder. This is often a very short, but intense, stage.
Emotions run high and the mind may feel confused, even if just for a few moments. Greater forces are at play now. The mind has no choice but to surrender control. The flight takes off and the journey begins.
Stage 4: The Journey—Presence and Faith.
We are on autopilot no more. The known, the comfortable, the safe is all behind us. Every sight is new. Even if we have been somewhere before, what we experience is different this time around—new seasons or buildings or people.
We can’t help but become and remain present during the journey. There are decisions to make at every crossroad—can I trust this person? Investigating every new bite of food—will my body absorb this well? Impulses and impressions leave us in sensory overload. How do we handle the stress of difference? This is the major question along the way.
Stage 5: The Challenge—Transformation.
Some of these different impressions will be breathtaking and mind-blowing, but others—and there is always a few of these on every journey—will be challenging, maybe a little bit uncomfortable, and sometimes life-threatening. Anything from missing a bus connection to being kidnapped (which happened to a friend of mine!).
There will certainly be something at some point that we do not like about the journey. Let’s call this “the Lesson.” This is where true transformation starts to take place. This is the real reason for our trip.
Stage 6: The Hero Returns—Conclusions.
If we manage to survive the challenge (and let’s imagine a less dramatic lesson for now) we will start our journey back home. A bit shaken, perhaps, and maybe even overwhelmed. What this means is that we have been tested and pushed to the limit. We have a story to tell and the story includes both the good and the bad.
A lesson was learned. One time, my lesson left me with the question: how much do I allow the weather to influence my moods? Another time, I had to reevaluate what was more important: to be popular by pleasing others or to be myself. The conclusion is usually clear because we learned our lesson firsthand, with all our senses involved and present.
Stage 7: Returning Home—Reconnecting.
Have you ever had the experience of walking in someone else’s shoes? Some say we can never do that. However, on the way home from a trip, I feel exactly that—as if my shoes or clothes don’t fit the same. Or my skin has changed, somehow got tighter or shape-shifted. The longer and more intense the journey has been, the more obvious and relevant the change is in me.
I always feel full, complete. Looking back at the trip, the challenging aspects start to fade away and the pleasant memories surface. Those are the memories we tend to share in the pictures we show or when people ask, “How was your trip?” The other part—our transformation—remains deeply intimate and private most of the time.
Stage 8: Reflections—The Story we Tell.
As weeks, months, and years go by, the dust of the experience settles. Even our ability to share about the journey improves. That weekend getaway with my family? That was so memorable! Just perfect. That time when I climbed the Pyrenees? Crazy man! What was I thinking?
There is one thing that all our journeys have in common though: they are the stories we will tell when we get old.
We will pull out the photo albums and reminisce about our experiences around the dinner table. Not the day-to-day routine, going to work, cleaning the house, or paying the bills, but our journeys.
They will stand out, fuel, shape, and help us grow. They will turn into the chapters of our larger story—the story our life.
Author: Orsi Foldesi
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen