From Suitcase to Self-Discovery: How Travel Shapes the Self and Fosters Growth


Imagine yourself on the last trip you went to. What do you remember from back then? What memories come rushing back? Now think of the trip planning process. Can you remember how and why you chose your destination?

People all around the world travel for many different reasons. Some do it to look for adventure, some for work, and some simply to seek peace. But there is a secret side to it; a few reasons that many may have already experienced or want to but are not aware of. 

While life itself is continuously a journey of self-discovery and growth, have you ever thought that perhaps some journeys can contribute to your personal development? Learn how you can restore, reconnect, and grow with traveling as you read further.

Travel and personal development

One of the best things about traveling is the challenge it presents. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Russell provides a wonderful explanation for this. He says traveling presents opportunities for personal development in areas of self-efficacy and confidence due to the constant adjustments people make to different cultures, languages, and environments during their travels. 

The more you experience different scenarios of the world, the more you can start to appreciate and embrace the existing diversity and position life’s challenges into a larger perspective. Because your world is not confined to just the comforts of your own home, whether that is the place or the people, you become more open to taking risks and putting yourself in challenging situations. This often leads to a lot of positive growth.

As you take more risks and challenges, you will end up discovering parts of yourself you never thought existed! It’s the most exhilarating feeling, one that will change your outlook on life forever.

Read more: How to Leverage the Power of Personal Growth Initiative 

Role of cultural immersion in self-discovery

One of the ways that travel can change your outlook is by being exposed to different cultures. Culture is probably one of the most fascinating man-made phenomena, and it often seems natural! The way it constantly gathers, stores, and transmits the experience of being a human makes it significant to the past, present, and future world.

Being in only one place can limit your capabilities more than you think. Traveling leads you to let your curiosity run free as you explore different places and widen your pool of knowledge. As you immerse yourself in new cultures, your curiosity continues to grow, leading you to keep learning. There is more to know about the world, and only a chance is needed to make this knowledge yours.

Gloria Onosu, a clinical assistant professor at Robinson College of Business, recently studied the impact of cultural immersion on students participating in study abroad programs. Her research discovered that experiencing cultural immersion led her participants to discover “new realizations about self-identity that triggered transformative learning.” Through cultural immersion, the participants were able to question their assumptions, evaluate their values, and shift their perspectives in ways that led to a newer and better understanding of themselves and others.

Gabrielle, an American travel expert from Worldpackers, specified what she considers the best way to stimulate inner growth, which is challenging yourself by experiencing different cultures and embracing them properly.

Through these few but never-ending instances, it is easy to realize how important it is to engage with different communities and cultures, not only to truly experience the place but also to expand your own horizons. 

How can you use travel as a tool for self-discovery?

Now you must be thinking, ‘Okay, I do want this for myself. But how and what should I do to make this development possible for me?’ Don’t worry, here are some tips for you to discover your true self while traveling.

Research the place

First, get to know your travel destination. This is a great stepping stone towards a fulfilling travel experience.

Just knowing simple facts about the culture and the people residing at your travel destination, like the greeting and departing customs and eating habits, can help in integrating better in the society and genuinely letting the experience of the culture set in. This may seem trivial, but many places take their customs and traditions very seriously.

Read more: Self-Identity: Who are You, Really? 

Embrace the unknown

To truly maximize your growth during your travels, you have to take risks. These risks don’t have to be life-threatening. Just step out of your comfort zone and do things you may not normally do, like talking to a stranger, participating in a regional festival, and trying a new cuisine. These unfamiliar environments will lead you to broaden your perspectives and allow you to learn something new about yourself.

In a study on challenging comfort zones, it was found that the participants were able to use their geographical disorientation (due to being in a completely different culture) to create a personal reorientation. They ended up reshaping themselves by picking and keeping the characteristics, views, and values that they liked or fit them well through self-reflection. This development is possible for anyone who is willing to try.

Engage with the locals

This might seem redundant,  but it needs to be stated separately because it’s extremely important. Communicating with the locals is one of the best ways to challenge yourself and learn about the place. You will learn way better from the locals than from the internet.

A very important aspect of local engagement is good communication and approach. This means communicating clearly and carefully — your approach being friendly, respectful, and non-threatening. Locals usually don’t trust easily, and upsetting them during travels is always a bad idea.

Seek special experiences

The goal of transformative travel is to move away from surface-level tourism and actively seek meaningful experiences, especially the ones that align with your interests and passions. Try participating in activities like volunteering for a cause, learning new skills, and connecting with nature. These will not only help you to discover your true self but also give you a chance for self-reflection.

Read more: From Service to Selflessness: How Volunteering Shapes Altruistic Ideals 

Practice self-reflection

Perhaps the most important step towards the journey of transformative travel, self-reflection is essential, both on and off travel, and this cannot be emphasized enough. It’s like self-introspection, where you analyze several aspects of yourself objectively. This requires clarity of thought and a peaceful center. Traveling is an excellent opportunity to partake in this habit. Here are some of the ways you can do it:


A journal can document your thoughts, emotions, or reflections. Keep one to write about your adventures and the lessons you learned along the way. This can help you process your feelings and thoughts coherently, which can help internalize the lessons you learned while traveling permanently and facilitate self-growth.


This is a pretty common form of self-reflection practice, you may be already doing it without realizing that you are! It is quite simple, but people find it difficult to manage their thoughts and deal with the discomfort when starting.

Another possible hurdle is the required discipline. There is a habit of meditation, one that needs to be maintained in a very specific manner. For example, if you meditate at 7 AM or 9 PM, try to stick to that time as closely as possible. Alternatively, you can set a flexible meditation routine, like meditating an hour after you wake up, no matter when you do. 

Read more: The Power of Self-Discipline and Why It Matters for Productivity 

When traveling, you need to select a meditation practice that you can do at any place. One way is to sit in silence for around 15 mins and just think about your entire day. Let your mind wander around and think whatever it wants. At the end of the session, try to take notes of your thoughts. You can easily do a practice like this wherever you are, even from the top of a mountain. 

This kind of introspection can lead to you discovering parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. As you mull over your thoughts objectively, from a peaceful and eagle point of view, you see the big picture more clearly. This allows you to let go of grudges and accept positivity.

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are like meditation for the physical body. The purpose of these exercises is to bring calmness and center to the body. Since the condition of your physical self is very closely tied to your mental one, these exercises can be immensely helpful in reflecting on yourself closely.

For self-reflection, simple breathing exercises are enough. Activities like alternate nostril breathing, box breathing, resonance breathing, and mindfulness breathing will do the trick. These exercises will help you center yourself and bring clarity to your thoughts while enjoying your journey.

Group reflection

If you are traveling in a group, this is a great opportunity to reflect together! Often other people can observe or help bring out insights you might not know about yourself. This can let you gain a wider perspective, which is always the goal.

Since traveling in a group is common, incorporating reflective practices can be beneficial for everyone. Creative group reflection practices like asking a surprise question or taking turns to talk about your thoughts and listening to others interpret them are great ways to practice group reflection.

In conclusion

Travel promotes personal development by encouraging adaptation and self-discovery through cultural immersion. Accepting obstacles, interacting with locals, and seeking out fresh experiences will help to broaden your viewpoint. Immersing yourself in different cultures can be an invigorating experience, probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To make travel a transformative learning experience, you can take several steps, such as getting to know the place before traveling and practicing self-reflection. 

A good self-development journey will leave you refreshed and ready to take on new challenges. Who knows, maybe you will end up as a completely different person by the end of it all. Maybe you will like this version a lot more.

If you would like to see more resources on travel exploration, check out the Personal Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Personal Science Labs today.

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