It is an inherent part of human nature to compare ourselves to others, be it our skills, experiences, or relationships. What this means for travelers, is that before, during and after your journeys, you will face several moments of comparison to others, potentially resulting in unnecessary pressure, discomfort and even major doubt that you are doing things ‘the right way’. It may be your hostel bunk mate exclaiming how cheap they got the room, leading you to realize you actually paid double their price or perhaps being introduced to someone who is appalled how you didn't make it to certain destinations and goes on to recommend all the places you actually need to go when you head back that way.
Having first hand experience with these ‘travel comparisons’, many of these situations have left me feeling heavy, draining me of my confidence and vibrancy, and sometimes just plain irritating me by imposing that I did something wrong, when I felt I had faired pretty well. Unfortunately, comparisons are almost inescapable, but the way that we are able to process and handle these comparisons can help us develop an alternative perspective that instead helps us develop as travellers and individuals.
Before You Leave
You've been researching your destinations for months, saving up and equipping yourself with all the right gear. In order to help you out, your friends, parents, and other former travellers offer you wisdom for your journey. Initially you are thankful for the insider tips about how, where and when to go and do certain activities, but at the same time you now have expectations that you may feel obligated to live up to.
On the other hand, if you’re a seasoned traveller, you may find yourself in a position where your friends are weary of hearing how amazing your trip to paradise is going to be, because unlike you, they’ll be at home continuing with the same existence compared to your radiant impending voyage. Your friends and family are going to inevitably compare their lives to yours, and even if they aren't interested in travel or exploring, the simple concept of adventure abroad is usually enough to evoke jealousy and resentment, especially if you continue to obnoxiously remind them every minute.
During Your Journey
Either you will or already have met some astounding, interesting, and special individuals that you have exchanged life experiences with, but through any of these interactions, did you ever find yourself wishing that you were more like them, or that you were disappointed in yourself for not travelling to as many places or having certain experiences like they did? Or maybe you experienced the opposite; you gained a huge confidence boost when you saw how savvy your travel skills were compared to theirs.
Learning how to better manage your emotions in order to keep them from affecting your self-esteem, can help us tame the rampant beast that is the traveller’s ego. It’s just a matter of perspective, rather than taking comments personally and letting them provoke negative or condescending emotions inside of you, try to remember that everyone in life is on their own path. All of the experiences you have had or are going to have, each one is no more or less than anyone else’s. Every personality will attract different types of people, as well as a variety of opportunities and adventures. An extroverted person is far more likely to make friends with a local fisherman that they met at the fish market, be invited to join him at the break of dawn and experience authentic local fishing techniques, whereas an introverted person might not have even spoken to the fisherman in the first place, and would actually feel rather uncomfortable throughout the entire experience.
Some nomads are more inclined to frequent travel, while others prefer to stay still and find a job overseas, neither experience is better than they other, they’re just different.
When it comes to instances where you realized through comparison that you made a mistake where you were taken advantage of by locals, or that you missed out on an amazing waterfall destination, go easy on yourself, we are all in a process of learning. Catalogue the knowledge and allow it to enhance your skills and know-how for future travels.
If on the opposite end you found that you were the one in the know and another nomad was realizing their mistakes, check your pride at the door and simply help them to understand how they can improve if the situation arises again. Humility is one of the most important things to pack when you go out on the road, because if you forget it and let your ego take control, chances are much higher that someone or something will remind you of your place in this great wide world and you’ll be wishing your head wasn’t so lost in the clouds.
Once You Return
You’re back and at first it was exciting to see everything and everyone you missed but has reverse culture shock kicked in yet? Reverse culture shock can be tricky to mange when dealing with assimilating back into your old life. Before, during and after, there is a threshold for how much info your friends and family can tolerate until your stories start inspiring jealously, exhaustion and even annoyance.
Though they may have stayed put, their lives have been experiencing their own happenings and it’s important to stay balanced when sharing what you've both been up to while you were away. If you make the mistake of thinking that because you are ‘better’ than your non-travelling comrades, chances are that they won’t be as welcoming to a seemingly obnoxious or privileged individual who treats them as lesser being. They were following their path, and you were following yours. Maybe they are working at a steady job because they are saving up for travel, or maybe that’s not in their future aspirations at all, which might make your tales even more exacerbating if they aren't even interested in hearing about any of it in the first place.
Another trend to anticipate is the way your travels will spark other people to compare their own previous adventures with your recent one, accompanied with many pearls of wisdom, whether you like it or not. This is one of the trickier comparisons to deal with, especially if it is someone you don’t know very well, and were only connected based on your similar travel experiences.
I have had this happen to me a few times, but one of the most memorable situations was when I was sitting at a baseball game and an American man sitting behind me began speaking to me in Thai. When I told him I didn't speak Thai, he informed me that the tattoo I had was Thai (I have the Thai mermaid Suvannamaccha tattooed on my arm) and then questioned why I had it if I did not speak Thai. I informed him that I had recently returned from backpacking in Thailand, and it was a country that was very important to me, ever since the first time I went there a few years prior. His reply was not only one of disgust that that was my only justification for the Thai tattoo, but he continued on by saying that he had been there 23 times and that I had missed all of the best spots. Truthfully, the destinations and islands that he listed were all places that I was very aware of and could have possibly visited, but I purposely chose not to because of the type of experiences I would have had there. The conversation required me to take many deep breaths and remind myself about how I had had an unbelievable experience in Thailand that I felt was just right for me, and the fact that this man had his own path that led him to certain places in Thailand, which gave him his own cherished experiences.
It is sometimes difficult to have people informing you that your experience was ‘wrong’ to any degree, but just be mindful that it is from their perspective that you missed out or failed to live up to the adventures that they had, and continue to check in with yourself that the experience you had was what you either set out for, or ended up with and all of the amazing unexpected things you learned along the way.
Appreciate Your Own Journey & Growth
So you have returned from what was hopefully an incredible time travelling abroad, and rather than trying to prove that to others how great it was or competing with others about the ‘right way’ to travel, just reflect and record! If you haven’t been keeping a journal the entire time, take time now to write down what you felt, detailed stories about the people you met, the hidden paradises you found and the experiences that inspired you and changed you.
Travelling is an internal journey through the outside world as we learn about how we can interact within the cultures of the world, how to function with the people that exist in it and most importantly, that our own path can start out planned down to the very second, but inevitably twists and turns will arise and give us the ride of our lives- it’s our job to hang on and enjoy every exhilarating moment.