Travel Can Also Be a Way of Cutting Yourself Off


Travel is the greatest education I’ve ever had. It has taught me more about myself than any school or course or book. It has opened my mind to new worlds, new customs, new landscapes and new ways of being.

But a lifestyle based on travel also comes with hidden dangers…

And it’s easy to miss them when you’re blinded by the excitement of the new. I’m only starting to realize some of these things now.

Travel can also be a way of running away. Of never having to make more than superficial, temporary connections with other people.

It can also be a way of cutting yourself off.

I can see how this has been true for me. Travel has been a physical and geographical extension of my subconscious drive to create a life of extreme self sufficiency.

Just as working from home — in solitude, in a distant time zone — limits my interactions to email and the occasional skype call, travel and expat life limits most of my interactions to the superficial and brief.

It’s the perfect way to avoid close contact with anyone at all.

The word “community” has always made me scowl. I avoid groups. And I’ve never been a “joiner”. I always assumed this was just because of my introvert nature. And I created a “recluse cool” around that.

But when I shine the harsh light of honesty into my darker areas, I’m forced to admit that this is not completely true. And it’s time to dig deeper.

So here goes…

I hate “needing” anyone. I hate being dependent. I hate asking for help. I even hate picking up the phone to call for something. That’s one of the hardest things for me. Reaching out and asking for support.

It makes me feel weak. I feel strong when I think that I can do everything on my own. And so I created a lifestyle where I tried to do everything myself.

I guess I hate asking for help because if I need someone or if I let myself depend on someone else, then I’m putting myself in a position where they can pull the rug out from under me. Depending on someone else means I give up control. And I don’t like that feeling.

Looking back, I can see how much of my childhood was framed by this pattern. I never asked anyone for anything. When I reached a certain age I just started keeping everything to myself.

I can remember going out and getting a paper route in the 5th grade because I wanted a stereo. It never occurred to me to just ask my parents for one. I thought, “How can I get that? How much money do I need?” I heard another kid was giving up his paper route, so I went around with him for a week and learned the route and the job. And I only told my parents about it when I needed their signature on a form for the newspaper company.

Even when I was a little kid, I hid my needs and desires, and I either looked for direct ways that I could reach them myself, without asking anyone else for help or relying on anyone else. Or I used indirect roundabout ways where I could meet my needs without simply stepping up and asking.

I never knew why until now. Because part of me was scared that unless I did it all myself, someone could just take it all away from me.

I think that underneath we all feel this way. Unworthy. Less than. Incomplete and striving.

But do you know where that leads?

We become skeptical of the world. And of good things too.

Maybe that’s why I never sit with anything I’ve accomplished. Why I always brush it aside or never put much weight on it. Because I feel like it could be taken away at any time, and so I don’t want to attach to it.

Instead, I focus on all the stuff I haven’t done. All the stuff I’m not good at. It’s easier to keep driving myself towards something than it is to look at what I have. The stuff I have scares me, because it can be taken away. And that of course triggers old feelings of abandonment and lack of self worth.

I’ve only recently come to realize that we all have deeper wounds. Patterns that we keep playing out unconsciously. For example, I was adopted at birth, and I can see now how a lot of my patterns were formed as a result of that — from abandonment, building walls, taking a path of extreme self sufficiency.

I hated to look at that or admit it, because I hate the idea that something I didn’t choose could have an influence on my life. That feels like a victim mentality to me. Something I despise.

But I’m starting to understand that real weakness is in not being willing to look at that stuff. Or not being willing to face those patterns and let them go.

I haven’t figured out how to address these things yet in the context of travel, but I’m working on it.

I don’t think it means giving up a life on the road. Or settling down in one place and embracing the opposite. That, in my opinion, would be a mistake.

Travel also gives me so many positive things. It sparks new ideas for my writing. It inspires me with landscape and beauty and culture. Interacting with other cultures teaches me so much about my own. And I simply enjoy walking through the scenes and stage sets where history has played out.

The world is one vast and fascinating menu, and I like to sample from different flavours depending on how I feel at that moment.

But if you want to grow and evolve, it’s important to question these things. To see these deep emotional patterns for what they are, and understand where they came from. And to release the patterns that are no longer serving you. So you can be more fully yourself.

So you can be free.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in this sort of close self-examination over the past few months. And while the insights are often difficult, they set the stage for enormous personal growth — if you’re willing to go there.

What are your deepest, most unhelpful patterns? Where are unprocessed wounds from your past limiting your present life? What’s holding you back from being truly free? Be still, and look inside. That’s where you’ll find your answers.



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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • That is an exact description of what I feel and live. I always want to be in control but life taught me at many intervals that I have to stop and ask for help and then i realized that it’s alright to need friends and family probably even strangers and that being part of a chosen (definitely imperfect) community helps us grow instead of holding us back from being free. I also realized that it’s a necessity to make a home (a sanctuary/haven) to always go back to that is filled with absolute, unconditional love. I don’t know how but I’m trying ;).

  • Hi Ryan,

    I’d be curious to know how this outlook influenced the creation of your personal freedom e-book? I haven’t read it yet myself, but was just wondering whether this need for ‘extreme self-sufficiency’ is projected onto the advice you give in the book?

    Absolutely loved Vagabond Dreams by the way. Keep up the brilliant blogs!

    • >just wondering whether this need for ‘extreme self-sufficiency’ is projected onto the advice you give in the book?

      yeah, i’m certain that it was. that’s still the perspective i was coming from when i wrote it. i do think the practical exercises i put in the book will work – those are the exact same steps that got me to this point. so they did help me to create an income and a pretty good expat lifestyle. but i’m seeing now that there’s much more to do if you want to create a balanced life and achieve freedom inside as well as out.

      i’m planning to take that book, revise it, and build it into something larger. perhaps a course or a longer multi-month program that walks folks through the process. with a lot more supporting material on each area, and a lot of motivation and encouragement as well. and i’ll share the process i’m using right now to free up the emotional side too. stay tuned 🙂

    • And thanks very much for your kind words about Vagabond Dreams and my blog. Really glad to hear you liked the book.

  • That is a brilliant helpful piece , now I need to retired and think about all that! Thx! I’ll be back!

  • Well now, Ryan, me boy:

    I have to say that you surely know how to insert the thin edge of the wedge in there, pry up just a wee bit and then watch what issues forth – at least you have taken the first step towards liberating your own innards, so to speak.
    This post opened up so many of my own closed circuits – I, too, have spent the better part of my lifetime to date effectively closing off parts of myself to the world as my psyche’s self-defence manoeuvres. Fear of being thought of as weak is a man’s biggest bugabear and we often go to foolish lengths to paper over that fear: hostility, arrogance, brutishness, drinking, fornicating (!?), extreme sports pursuits… the list can go on and on. We have this occidental notion that size matters, be it in ego or physique or both. We continue to be brainwashed into that ideal by the drivel that Hollywood pushes at us and what our modern culture (if it can be so called) foists upon us and impressionable children each and every hour of each and every day.
    Like you, I have taken that path in the past, holding people at bay from getting in too close and noticing just a bit too keenly how we really were. And, of course, once we reach adolescence, the armour is given even more burnishing as we try to make our way in an often cruel and unkind world.
    Much more can be spilled on this topic, Ryan, but that’s our own story and if we are brave enough, perhaps we too can garner the courage to start peeling away the layers and allowing ourselves to truly experience the wonders of this ephemeral life.
    Keep writing the good stuff, boyo, you have an appreciative and very grateful audience.

    All the best.


    • Thanks very much Voyageur, I appreciate the kind words and encouragement. I know there are so many people out there who can relate. And who might have the courage to change if they see someone else doing it too.

      I’ve been peeling away a lot of layers over the past few months. This barely scratches the surface. But I will write it all when I can put it into words.

  • Wow!
    Talk about letting your guard down. Ryan this is a brilliant post, which pressed so many buttons for me personally.

    I was abused and neglected for many years as a child, in every way you could possibly imagine. But the worst part for me was going to some one for help when it started (I was about 4) and being told that I was disgusting for saying such horror able things and that I was a waste of space that would never amount to any thing. I still prayed every night for help and taught my self that to put up with things, never complain and only rely on my self. I was also a loaner. I became fond of all animals, particularly dogs and cats. I was never bullied at school and in fact I used to protect other kids from bullies. I wanted to be The Lone Ranger when I grew up and help others. My countryside was my local park; my best friends were my dogs. I only had each dog for a few years until dad had each one put down, because he said he did not like them.
    I earned money by helping the milk man from the age of 6 and I did jobs for nabors. After being humiliated, at the age of 12, by my teacher at gym class because he said I stank and did not wash, which was true as I was not taught to wash and we did not have a bath. I started to buy my own cloths using money earned from delivering papers and I also gave my mum half of what I earned.
    My freedom came through education although I was hopeless at school, which I left at 14. As soon as I was able I got a job and studied via night school, I wanted to learn about everything.
    I then met and married my wife, who gave me a reason to be, I have been happily married to for 45 years. Although my wife and I were told we would never be able to have children, we had 2 and we both did our best to bring up with all the love and affection that I never had.
    Like you, I had more than a few jobs but my last one was the best; I was a teacher in College and University. The best part of my job was trying to make a difference by inspiring my students, getting them to inspire and help each other and getting them to think for themselves and do amazing things with their lives. My motto was if an average person like me can do well and pass exams and achieve good things then they could also.
    At the age of 51 my health started to cause me problems and I saw a shrink and he got me to talk about my childhood. All of the stuff that was buried deep came to the surface in a huge rush. I was told that it is a bad idea for people to bottle up pain from early life as it can lead to physical health problems later on. When I got home I told my wife for the first time all about my child hood. In an odd sort of way it was like I was hearing all about it for the first time myself.
    My sons partner asked me recently if I would change the things that happened to me as a child, and I said no, as I would not be who I am today if I changed any thing that happened. I like who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin.

    I think it is a good idea to have a life audit every once in a while because as you go through life and learn and experience new things your perspective changes and things that were once important when seen through new mindsets no longer have the same impact. One of my old professors, who taught me counselling, told me that his did his PHD on what he called Personscapes. Think of a of a landscape and how that changes over time and with the seasons, George argued that each person has a Person scape.
    Take Care Mate

    • Wow! What an incredible story! Thanks so much for sharing this with us Mike.

      I know how hard it is to write that stuff, and to be open and honest – and then hit “publish”. I think it’s a tremendous service to share your story in this way. In one sense, putting it out there in the world sort of lets it go. At least that’s how I felt about the stuff I wrote in Vagabond Dreams. And in a larger sense, sharing your story with honesty, from the heart, frees other people to uncover and share their own story too. It’s a big step on the road to real freedom.

  • I agree with everything you said and have had the same struggles of late (is it because we’re in our 40’s?) but I thought I would tell you what Dad always told me. True success is how you deal with your failures, no one likes it but it sure builds character.

    Talk to you soon,

    • Yeah, 40’s is definitely the typical time for a midlife crisis! But I think that’s because it’s a natural time to reevaluate one’s life and decisions. And the path we’ve each taken. To look honestly at our needs and to either let them go or choose to embrace them. It’s certainly not fun. In fact, it’s pretty miserable. But I think it can be an incredibly liberating process when approached from a position of deep honesty and acceptance (rather than an adolescent lashing out). There’s still plenty of time to get it right. The only question is, will you step up and do what it takes, no matter what? You already know the answer deep inside, in that still place at the centre of all of us. But the hard part is to act on it.


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