A Changing Perspective: What Travel Is Teaching Me

by Monica on February 20, 2012


Sign at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Prior to departure, my decision to travel to Southeast Asia felt like an exciting adventure. Elephants! Tuk Tuks! Pad Kee Mao!


From the moment I landed in Bangkok, I was surrounded by a gadzillion other people who were doing the exact same thing. Suddenly my escapades felt… not so special.

Soon I began meeting other people who having been traveling for years, many of whom devote their time to helping the plight of the less fortunate, and/or take jaw-dropping photographs or write witty diatribes.

Now my two month journey felt…. insignificant.

My inner monologue changed from

Good on ya for going for it!


You are so sheltered for thinking that a few months in a few foreign countries carries any significance whatsoever.

After all, what could I possibly contribute to the conversation? Every sight has been documented, every elephant/smoothie/moped/tiger detailed ad-nauseum.  What was I doing here aside from following in the wake of footsteps trodden before me?

Why should anyone care about my story?!

It doesn’t count unless I stay for months. Or is it years? I must put my stamp on the best places to eat/stay. I must determine the latest travel bucket list item. I must discover an indigenous people no one has ever heard of. I must take a photo that spreads across Pinterest like wildfire.

Otherwise, what the hell is the point? Right?

I mean, this trip has to matter.

 I have to matter.


And just like that, I realized why I was putting so much pressure on these eight weeks.

 The more I see, the less I know for certain.

Part of my love/hate relationship with travel is that it shakes up the few black and white notions I have, and turns everything into a cacophony of hews.

That which seemed etched in stone becomes written in sand.

 “Universal truths” are not appreciated everywhere. For example, I’ve always staunchly believed that anything can be accomplished with a bit of moxie and determination. But tell that to the hardworking street venders in Bangkok, or the children forced into slave labor world wide, or the displaced people of Myanmar.

Travel is nothing if not humbling.

 Ok, I’ve been put in my place… so now what?

 Stop feeling small.

It took an iMessage from my best friend to remind me that I’m being a narcissistic jerk (my words, not hers). I’m in Thailand, for God’s sake! I’m free to do what ever I want from the moment I wake up in the morning until the time my eyes flutter close at night.

It’s time to snap out of feeling useless and start doing something.

Here are a few tips that I’m putting into effect immediately:

1. Stop comparing myself to others. No, really. I’m going to consciously make an effort to stop it. I shall hereby unfollow people on social media who make me feel bad about myself and disengage from people who make me feel unworthy in my journey.

That isn’t to say we should avoid everyone who is accomplishing things we are not. On the contrary, it’s fantastic to have role models. But there is a difference between those who inspire us and those who make us want to throw our laptops against the wall (You know what I’m talking about).

2. Start comparing myself to… myself. Over my breakfast of fresh fruit, granola, and honey (see- life here is not so bad!), I wrote a list of all the things I’ve seen and done and learned since I first stepped foot in Thailand ten days ago. And guess what? It’s a long list. No, National Geographic won’t be calling to write an expose of how fascinating my experiences have been, but they are my memories to keep. And I’m so grateful for them.

3. Get over myself. Yes, we are each the lead role in our own stories, but life is not a one woman (man) show. Do something for someone else. I’m currently researching various organizations in the community here in Chiang Mai that may be in need of a helping hand. As the motto of my alma mater states: Freely ye received, freely give.

4. Take a break. Be a human being. Take a nap, read a (totally not for work) book, journal for fun, go for a walk. Not every second of everyday needs to be devoted to “figuring it out.” Nor do I need to jam pack the itinerary so tightly that I find it difficult to breathe. Or as my friend, Stephanie describes it: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) Syndrome.

5. Get to work. Experiences//blog posts/legacies don’t create themselves. Once we’ve rested it’s time to get back in the game. The outcome doesn’t have to be perfect; it simply has to propel us forward.

Where does that leave us?

Life is a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” ~ Helen Keller

Notice the quote doesn’t say a “well-documented” adventure or “world-famous adventure” or even “meaningful adventure.”

Daring implies stretching away from our comfort zones. Your version of daring and my version of daring may not be the same thing.

In the end it doesn’t really matter.

The adventure starts when we accept the challenge.

And that is special indeed.


Your turn! What has travel (or any other life experience) taught you about your self-worth/place in your story? Please share your thoughts below.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzanne February 20, 2012 at 9:35 pm

This was beautiful. And although I can’t relate to the SE Asia thing, I can relate to those times where we struggle to find significance in what we’re doing.

I appreciated these tips! ..I came over from Lisa’s blog (lala faux bois) & I’m glad she linked to this. :)


Monica McCarthy February 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Thank you so much Suzanne. “Struggling to fine significance in what what we’re doing” is such a terrific way to succinctly describe the post. And I love Lisa!


Jason February 22, 2012 at 10:57 am

I’m really happy for you. Reading in between the words on that post you seem totally thrilled with travel and how its opening things up because that’s exactly what it does…love it!

I know the feelng of a big trip feeling small. I went to South America for 4 months once and one of the first people I met had rode his bicycle to the tip of Argentina from Alaska. He looked tired. I felt like a wimp:)

But what you do does matter! BEcause you gain new perspectives which shape you and that radiates to others and that can be magnified countless times. We are all connected.

So keep on going girl! Just relax, soak it all in, and enjoy it. You’ll find your own little adventures along the way. Because you are unique, doing the same thing as eveybody else will still be different.


Monica McCarthy February 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thanks, Jason! You make so many terrific points: “We are all connected” and “Because you are unique, doing the same thing as eveybody else will still be different” = brilliance.


Christine February 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Oh my gosh, Monica–I couldn’t relate to this more. I always freak out talking to my best friend–what am I doing here? What am I contributing? Am I completely wasting my time?–and last week, he finally told me that “it’s really frustrating as a fan–I think you’re doing something awesome, I wish that you could see it.” Like you said, National Geographic isn’t going to do a feature on our incredible lives–that’s up to us!


Monica McCarthy February 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Gah! Thanks Christine! And I love the advice your friend gave you- so true.


Laura February 23, 2012 at 1:12 am

This is AWESOME, Monica! You hit the nail on the head! And thank you for the “Stop feeling small” mantra. It’s something that creeps in when I notice my laugh is too loud or I seem to be “bigger” than the norm. But why not laugh too loud? Why censor oneself, especially if one’s been doing it for a lifetime? Why not live out loud? ;)


Monica McCarthy February 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thank you Laura! Thrilled it resonated:)


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