Travel is often seen as the ultimate expression of personal freedom: if you are free, then you have the freedom to go anywhere, at any time, and do anything you’d like. But I have found that it also works in reverse: when you travel, you free your mind and expose yourself to new ways of thinking, living, and feeling that will often free you from old ways of seeing and doing things. My wife and I were reminded of this on a recent trip to Malibu. As we explored the area and chatted with the locals, I found myself thinking more about why I was on this trip: not just because I had the time to do it, but because I wanted to use the trip to explore and create even more freedom for myself.

Here are 5 ways that travel can help you create greater personal freedom:

  1. You can more easily break free of old patterns of thought and action. When you travel, you leave behind old patterns of thought and action, and often must adopt new ones. In Malibu, we woke up every morning and took a short stroll down to local Zuma Beach, where we walked the strand, drank in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the Malibu hills, and thought about how grateful we were to be having these experiences. New places create opportunities for new activities, and those activities in turn create new thoughts as you adapt to your new surroundings and think about different things. Being in a new place also gives you permission to try on different ways of thinking, acting, and reacting – it can often feel “safer” to do things differently in a new place than in familiar surroundings, since you are physically separated from old surroundings, people, and things which may have constrained you.
  2. You can give yourself the luxury of time and create space for you to think. Too often our familiar surroundings are full of time-sucks which take up all our available time, leaving no opportunity to think at all (whether inside OR outside the box). When you travel, you can make time to reflect, to think about the circumstances of your life in your usual surroundings, and how different things could be if you changed those surroundings (and the accompanying thoughts and actions). In Malibu, I took some down time each day, and used it to reflect more deeply about what I wanted to do with my life (being able to look at the Pacific Ocean helps: it’s hard to feel unhappy, or to feel that there are no options or alternatives in your life, if you are staring at a seemingly endless expanse of beautiful, sun-dappled water).
  3. You can create new, more beneficial patterns of thought and action that are more intentional, more original, less rigid, and less reactive. Too often being in familiar surroundings for too long can created the dreaded “stuck in a rut” syndrome: we think the same thoughts, and perform the same actions, in the same way for so long that we become trapped by them and unable to do or see things any other way. We lose our intentionality and become completely reactive to events around us. Travelling to an unfamiliar place can provide a jolt which forcefully tears us away from old habits and allows us to break out of ruts that confine us and prevent us from creating personal change which can make our lives better. Too often, when we’re stuck in a rut, we become afraid, tentative, and we prefer the “devil we know” rather than the “devil we don’t” – travel is a great way to jumpstart rut-busting and give yourself the room to create a new, less formulaic and more intentional way of thinking and acting.
  4. You can re-establish personal connections with those meaningful to you, and explore new connections with those you don’t know (yet). On our trip, my wife, daughter, and I were able to spend a lot of time together just talking and enjoying each other’s company, whether on the beach, at dinner, on the pier, or just driving to a new destination. Without the usual distractions of familiar surroundings, you can focus on the people around you and re-establish connections that were weakened by the familiar distractions of TV, the internet, or smartphones (yes, smartphones are always with us, but I find that they’re often a distraction from the routine – so, if you break your routine, you are forced to put down the phone and pay attention to your surroundings and your companions). In addition, there are a whole bunch of interesting new people to talk to – and the farther you go from your usual surroundings, the more interesting they will be. We spoke to folks at the local SunLife organic smoothie bar in Malibu, and I guarantee you that we would not have had those conversations with locals in New York! To talk to local people openly, honestly, and without judgment is to open yourself to new ways of looking at and thinking about the world – it stretches and strengthens those mental muscles and creates a more open mind which stays open when you get back home.
  5. You can break connections with those who would force you to conform. Conversely, travel also allows you to put some distance between yourself and those people “back home” who might be pressuring you, whether openly or subtly, to act or think in a certain way. Social pressures from our “tribe” are incredibly powerful and can prevent us from thinking or acting for ourselves or, worse, can force us to suppress our own dreams and desires and conform to someone else’s opinions of who we “should” be and what we “should” do. Putting some distance between yourself and those negative influences in your life can pay tremendous dividends, and allow you to flex the muscles of your own independence and creativity, and help you express more fully and completely your unique contribution to the world.