“If you wake up at a different time in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” I think about this quote every time I fly. I often wonder who I’m going to be when I land somewhere new. Because without fail, I’m always a slightly different person in a different place.
You might be thinking, that’s nonsense, I am who I am wherever I am. But that’s not exactly true, is it? The you that your mom knows is not exactly the same you your friends know or your lover knows or your colleagues know. You might be more talkative around certain people and more reserved around others. Some people bring out the best in you, some people bring out the worst. It’s likely that the people you like best are the ones that make you feel like your favorite version of yourself.
Places are a lot like people. They have their own personalities, ideals, customs… and by immersing yourself in them, they change you ever so slightly. Or rather, they make certain qualities more prominent than others. You’re simply not the same person in New York that you are in Tijuana. This is in large part because the people around you are behaving differently and treating you differently.
I hated Hong Kong for the same reason I’ve hated some jobs in my life. It brought out my most impatient irritable self. It made me feel introverted in a place where I couldn’t escape other people. It made me feel temperamental and restless. Not that I’m not normally all those things, but I’m those things to different degrees depending on what situation I’m in.
On the other hand, I loved Cambodia because it brought out some of my nicest qualities: thoughtfulness, consideration, friendliness. Other people’s kindness rubbed off on me. It also made me feel at ease, which as a terribly anxious person, is something I crave deeply. Because though everything is a little busy, there’s an underlying sense of reliability. People are where they say they’ll be and things happen when they’re supposed to.
Not all places will affect you the way they seem like they would. For example, Greece looks like heaven on earth, like a beautiful paradise where you wouldn’t have a care in the world. But in Greece, someone who has anxious tendencies like me would experience more of that, because nothing runs on time. You might think you missed your ferry because it’s an hour late or that your airport transfer won’t get you to your flight on time. And though it’s a beautiful paradise indeed, it’s not as relaxing.
If you think carefully about the vacations you’ve loved most, in all likelihood, it’s not necessarily because of what you did or saw, but because of how you felt and whether or not you liked the version of yourself you became while you were there.
As much as I love joking about it, I didn’t hate Peru because I got sick there. I hated Peru because when I was sick, I was price gouged on medication, and I was swindled repeatedly trying to get a cab and had to walk home when I felt like absolute hell. I hated it because it brought out my worst qualities as a human being: mistrust (that’s justified), anger, and selfishness. I know I’ll never truly enjoy a vacation in a place like that for the same reason I can’t live in Miami. Because on top of being all those horrible things to varying degrees, I’m also competitive. So when someone is an asshole, it makes me want to be a bigger one. Those places make me cruel, vindictive, and slightly sociopathic.
The places I’ve loved most have elicited the best of my nature, like Iceland, which brought out all my curiosity and adventurousness. And Thailand and Cambodia which enhance my ability to see the best in people and to be compassionate. I loved Japan because it’s culturally acceptable to be child-like and playful as I am, to buy food because it looks cute or to spend three hours at an arcade in the middle of the day. I love Prague, because I feel like I’m more genuine in my day to day interactions, because everyone else is. It also makes me feel kind, grounded, and calm.
We would all do well to do a little introspection when we plan trips. Rely less on external factors like how a place looks or a generic list of activities to do there. Instead, consider who you might become when you travel there and whether or not that’s someone you want to be.