At the Western Wall
How many here have ever heard that leaving a place when you encounter problems means that you are running away from your issues? I certainly have. You are supposed to deal with the hand you were dealt, and leaving means that you are irresponsible, unequipped to deal with what life throws at you and downright bad at adulting. There is all this talk of the grass not being greener on the other side; it is green where you water it. Which is a pretty saying. And while there is some truth to this (as a psychology student I can vouch for the fact that avoiding your problems is never a good solution) I think this is a very simplified view of people who choose to relocate when things don’t go their way.
Lunch in Jerusalem
I completely agree with the notion that wherever you go you bring yourself (a fancier way of saying that if you aren’t happy at home you won’t be happy elsewhere either), though sometimes, the place we live in can be the cause of our troubles. And then it would certainly be a solution to just leave. When you have no grass left to water, when you live on a pile of toxic waste and no matter how much you water the toxic waste it will simply not grow any grass, let alone any nice, green grass, it is simply better to accept that this location sucks and move on to a better one. An example of this is the fact that a lot of people are born in places with high crime rates, corrupt politicians, insufficient education, and – when possible – I would certainly view it as a solution to relocate. There is also a lot of people on our planet who are forced to relocate involuntarily due to warfare, terror, threats and similar unspeakable cruelty. But let’s take a less extreme example, an example which I believe any readers of this post would find it easier to relate to. To use myself as an example, I am not completely happy with the place I was born in. I grew up in the northern hemisphere, and while this is often romanticized as cozy and pretty with all the snow, the truth of the matter is that it’s mostly just utterly, soul-crushingly dark. I can’t stand the darkness. At all. I have spent a ridiculous amount of money on a SAD-light to avoid the depression which comes along the lack of light, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as sitting outside in the sun. This is why last week I was sitting in my living room in Sweden, where I was supposed to spend the entirety of my Easter break, and thought that I simply cannot handle this darkness for five weeks. I could feel my energy completely disappear, everything felt like a huge task and things which I normally find fun – like meeting friends – became a struggle for me because it meant having to get up and go outside. It was not fun. That’s why I decided that a) I wanted to travel somewhere, b) I wanted to travel somewhere sunny and c) I wanted to travel to Israel. Said and done, I am now writing this in Jerusalem.
On the beach in Tel Aviv
While a strong argument could be made for the statement that I am running away from my problems, I will make an equally strong argument in my defense. While I could have tried to make the best out of the situation in Sweden and simply tried a bit harder to enjoy life there, why should I simply try to get through certain periods of my life when I have the possibility to actually enjoy them? I believe in creating a life that you are happy with, being proactive, and when I want something I work really hard to make sure I get it. So when I have the opportunity to get something that I want, why grit my teeth and accept my situation rather than take this opportunity? I just spent an amazing week reading on the beach in Tel Aviv, seeing the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and Jesus’ grave in Jerusalem, and even went on a very short trip to Betlehem, Palestine, and I can’t say that I feel bad about that. I’m going back to Sweden with more energy and a greater will to get started with my revision for my finals.
Having breakfast by the beach
Now, I believe that the case of darkness is a quite simple one. A lot of people flee the darkness during the colder months in order to get some sun. So maybe this doesn’t count as running away from your problems, but just as what any person with common sense would do when dealing with darkness. So what about other situations? What about when you go through a breakup, lose a loved one or get fired? Should you stay put and deal with your problems head on? I don’t necessarily think so. While it is extremely important to work through any kind of emotional trauma, I don’t believe this has to be done in the same environment as the trauma took place.
Using travel as a way to deal with difficult situations is something I have a habit of doing. Another example is when my ex boyfriend broke up with me on Christmas Day in 2015. He wasn’t from a Christian country and might not have realized that his timing was quite poor, but I sure did. I was a complete wreck, as it came completely out of nowhere for me and I had no clue how to handle this, my first ever real break up. I spent a few days in bed and then realized that the one thing which always manages to lift my spirit is travel. In my broken hearted state I figured that going abroad was the only way for me to heal, and when I learned that there was a museum in Zagreb called “The Museum of Broken Relationships” I packed my bags (including my stuffed lamb Lambert so I wouldn’t have to sleep alone) and went there alone. The museum was actually quite helpful; it was filled with objects donated by people who had gone through break ups, and to me it put things into perspective – people break up every day and life goes on. If all these other people could manage to get through their breakups, then why not me?
“The toaster of vindication: When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”
My trip to Zagreb really gave me the kind of stepping stone I needed in order for me to start moving on from my breakup. But what if I hadn’t had the opportunity to spontaneously decide to leave the country, without having to spend any time saving up for the trip? Of course I would have eventually gotten over the break up (especially since the relationship was actually really bad), but it might have taken me a bit longer if I had to stay in the same place where I had spent most of that relationship, and be reminded of it by seeing the places where me and my ex had spent time together. I knew that walking past restaurants where we had eaten, the park where we had our first date, the bar where I first met him and sitting on the tram while going by the stop I always got off at when I went to his apartment would all be very disturbing for me. I needed to heal in a place where I wouldn’t be interrupted by the thoughts which would inevitably pop into my head by seeing these places. Saying that my trip meant I ran from my problem would imply that leaving my home town somehow made me forget about my breakup – which anyone who has ever traveled with a broken heart can tell you is not true. I didn’t forget about my ex’s existence just because I went abroad; I simply got to heal at my own pace in a place where I wouldn’t be disturbed by unwanted memories of him. And whenever I started thinking of him I would tell myself that he has not paid for this trip. He does not deserve to be here. And with that thought I would make him exit my brain and remain in my hometown. Where he belongs.
In Betlehem, Palestine
I am obviously not arguing that whenever you encounter any kind of issue you should just get up and leave; some things actually need to be dealt with head on, but I also don’t believe in torturing yourself when there is no need to. If the place you live in doesn’t feel like it’s a fit for you (regardless of whether this is the place where you were born or a place you have moved to later in life) then by all means, leave. Temporarily or permanently, whatever feels right for you. I have most certainly dealt with a lot of my issues like that, and I completely and utterly believe that I am a better person for it.
Eating Sabich for lunch in Tel Aviv
My travels and moves abroad have, without any doubt, helped me in all kinds of ways. I always struggled with my confidence in Sweden. I was bullied in school and didn’t really relate to the place where I grew up. Had I stayed in Sweden this is probably something I would have dealt with for most of my life, but instead I moved to England where my confidence grew instantly, simply because I was in a place where I felt like I belonged and where I felt understood. I really feel that Cambridge is a much better fit for me than Sweden ever was, and really it was not me who was a weak person; I just didn’t live in a place that was right for me. And I am so glad that I dared to take the leap to try another place out, because it taught me just how much our environment and the people we surround ourselves with impact our well-being. Like the popular quote says: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes”. This is a quote I can vouch for.
Have you ever used travel to deal with issues back home?