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How does travel affect perception and identity - as told by professional travellers

Published September 28th, 2017

When I started doing research for this story, I began by looking through different online journal articles and psychology studies, of which there are many, because I wanted to get to the core of what exactly it is about travel that affects our perceptions. I wanted to highlight not only the changed perceptions of the world and its many different cultures and creeds but more specifically how it alters our self-perception and understanding of our own personal identity.

Most studies and articles perceptively reveal how travel teaches people to test the border of their comfort zone, broaden a desire to discover and ask questions, develop the ability and want to make new friends, instills confidence and flexibility in tough situations, think creatively and importantly to look at the bigger picture in life and most everyday situations.

Instead of regurgitating information that is already readily available on the internet I decided to talk to the people who get to travel as part of their job and glean their personal and professional anecdotes on how travel has shaped their view of the world...


Not all classrooms have four walls

“I think every travel experience changes you for the better. Biggest standout was when I was 10 years old and my parents decided to live on a yacht and travel the world by sea. Sailing around the world, meeting new people and hearing their stories changed me forever. I learnt new languages, dances, celebrations, food and dress. I became confident, curious, open-minded and developed the understanding early on that people will treat you as you treat them. Because of this, I will continue to travel for the rest of my life.”

- Luke Wheatley, Head of FCTG Creative Studio.


On reverse culture shock...

“Each time I return home after time away, I experience a kind of reverse culture shock. I realise how isolated Australia is, and what an influence that has on our culture, politics, and the way we view the world. It's such a part of our identity that we tend to forget that many things we consider to be normal are in fact unique. Travel makes me see our country through a new lens, for better or for worse. I see our view of world politics is one from afar, our concept of community is one of mateship, but also strong individuality, our cities are more welcoming to cars than bikes, our climate innately affects our lifestyle. Travel makes me appreciate Australia, but it always takes time to settle back in.”

- Vicki Fletcher, Travel Writer.


Becoming the person you’re meant to be

Travel, in itself, is transformational – who can’t help but see things from a different perspective in a different city/country/continent? As for the inner journey, solo travel allows the luxury of long hours with yourself that just don’t come along often in the busyness of real life.

If you take the girl out of Australia, is she the same girl in the UK/France/Spain? Pretty much. You can adapt to your environment and even thrive, but you’ll still be the same person. Which is why running away to the circus doesn’t work. Mostly.

Long train rides across Italy, marching with an impossibly huge backpack in the wrong direction in Prague and the realisation that you haven’t spoken to another person for half a day (and you’re not at a vipassana retreat) mean spending quality time with yourself, which can be a confronting experience. But it also brings your dreams into focus when time is unhurried.

Flying solo also means you’ll be challenged in little and big ways, and on a working holiday or your first overseas trip sans family, that means becoming the person you’re meant to be – you, transformed.”

- Cassandra Laffey, FCTG Content & Publications Manager.


On self-reflection...

“Travelling away from the day to day grind puts me in a position to reflect on what I was doing, what I was liking, not liking and how I might approach things differently. Looking from the outside in allows me to be more critical and less complacent. Even more so in a foreign place.”

-Thomas Roohan, Designer.

When travel is made for sharing...

“The first time I travelled solo was in Hawaii, and I felt completely empowered. I had to watch my own back, plan my own routes and get myself out of pickles. My partner couldn't come with me and I was on a mission to not let that stop me from seeing the once-in-a-lifetime sights of the Big Island. What I discovered is that it wasn't just about seeing these things; it was about sharing them. If Ben had been with me, I would have been more amazed and more overwhelmed with the wonder of what I was seeing.

I took a million pictures and wrote him essays trying to help this person that I love enjoy the same beautiful experiences that I was having. Humans are social beings, and while I am a huge supporter of solo travel and the introspection it offers, I think we should also remember that a happiness shared is a happiness doubled.”

-Emma Lee, Travel Writer.


Travelling solo at 16 then 26 - same person, same destination, different lens

“At the age of 16 my parents bought me a ticket for a European 21 day all stops coach tour as a high school graduation present. 

But as I was too young to join the 18-35-year-olds on a Contiki tour, I went on the open age tour with a group that had a median age of about 70. Rather than being a fish out of water, I saw Paris for the first time, travelled through dikes of Holland and saw the incredible Swiss Alps with a gorgeous group that was like having ten sets of doting grandparents. Despite this level of attention, I was still keen to venture out on my own and I pushed myself to be brave and just talk to bus drivers, tour guides, and locals of whatever country I found myself in. And apart from one slightly over amorous Italian tour guide, my efforts were always rewarded by interesting encounters with other travellers and locals who were only too happy to share their amazing histories - stories that broadened my limited 16-year-old worldview.

Ten years later with even rustier French but a more informed life perspective, I travelled back to many of these countries, again on my own. And once more, I made sure that I stepped out of my comfort zone of what is familiar, and again I met incredible people, was welcomed into people’s homes and I now have new families and lifelong friends, who just happen to live in other countries.

So travelling at 16 or 26, your lens or outlook will, of course, be different but if you travel with a receptive spirit and be prepared to be just a little bit brave, no matter what age, your travelling experience will be so, so much richer.”  

-Tara Young, Travel Writer.


Reality check in Brazil

“I had moved to Brazil with the hope of working there and was staying with a friend and her parents in Sao Paulo. My friend, Luciana, was working as well as studying a few nights a week. Although I’d already travelled all over Europe, I had no concept of how dangerous the city was, having grown up in Brisbane. The first night she had college, I was amazed at the night-time routine. It went like this: As Luciana drove home from college, she would circle the block that she lived in rather than driving straight to her house. This was so she could wave to the private security guard at the corner of her street, who was employed by her father and a couple of other families.

The security guard would then hop on his motorbike and drive to her home, where he would wait for her to drive in. In the meantime, she would phone her father. He would come out, and just as she approached the driveway, her father would open the security grille so that she could drive straight in, closing it immediately behind her car. I realised that while Brazil was a dream destination, real life was a little different. It made me appreciate the personal freedom we have in Australia going about our everyday life.”

-Erin Bennion, Travel Writer.

Universal Traveller

Sam Aldenton

Sam Aldenton is a travel writer, digital content creator (read: takes photos/videos with her iphone and sometimes a real camera) and former retail and youth trend forecaster. When she's not off discovering the world’s best pizza (an obsession picked up from her 4-years in New York), she makes her home in Brisbane, Australia. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @samaaldenton.