I lived in Thailand for six months after graduating college.
It wasn’t a missions trip or a “study abroad” opportunity. I moved to Thailand because I wanted to live somewhere completely out of my comfort zone, on my own, while teaching English.
Months before I left, I did what most 20-something female travel idealists would do: I made a “travel” Pinterest board.
I saw pictures of people scuba diving, hiking, and exploring exotic places. I found lists of foods to try, cities to visit, mountains to climb. I saw picture after picture of beautiful, confident women traveling and seeing incredible places. In just a few months, I was about to be one of them.
I was hyped.
Not once did I really put in perspective the fact that I’d be living alone on, literally, the other side of the planet. That I’d be leaving my long-term boyfriend, when we had never been apart for more than a week. That I’d be responsible for 600 kids (kindergarten to 3rd graders) in Thailand.
But I wasn’t nervous in moving to Thailand. Not one bit. I didn’t shed a tear when I left my family and my now-husband, Mike. Because Pinterest showed me all the exotic places I’d experience all by myself. I was thrilled to be moving abroad.
I’m an independent woman, I thought. I can do anything.
And then I landed in Thailand and it hit me. All. At. Once.
I’m not so independent.
After over 35 hours of travel, I got off the plane, went to my hotel, and started bawling.
I had no idea where I was, I didn’t speak the language, and I was hungry. I felt such an immediate, overwhelming fear. I didn’t know a single person in all of Thailand. I was completely out of my element.
But wasn’t that the whole reason I moved across the world?
It took me a few days of pep talks from my family, serious self-evaluation and hours of prayer time before I started to appreciate Thailand. I felt betrayed by all the things I read and saw on Pinterest. I felt like either something was seriously wrong with me or that Pinterest had a whole lot of explaining to do.
But I learned that the answer was neither and both.
Pinterest perpetuates perfection.
I put so much stock in the feelings I got from looking at Pinterest boards, but I never took a moment to put such a potential life change in perspective. I was too worried about being independent, fearless and confident to let realism get in my way.
Is Pinterest to blame? Not necessarily. Social media illustrates fun ideas. It displays photos of exotic places, foods to try and places to see. All of those things are great and helpful in figuring out if you want to travel somewhere new.
But most of the travel pictures posted on Pinterest unintentionally — or perhaps even intentionally — perpetuate a desire to be perfect. They perpetuate a certain standard that a lot of hipsters and 20 and 30-something women often feel bombarded with.
Anyone who’s traveled will usually tell everyone else that they should, too. Being a “traveler” is like a social status promotion. If you’ve traveled, then people must assume you’re open-minded, a critical thinker and independent. Sometimes that’s spot on, and other times it’s not.
In a society that has historically marginalized woman from being characterized as capable and self-reliant, it feels all the more important to be considered a “traveler,” or “adventurer,” or “wanderer.” But that doesn’t mean traveling is necessarily the answer.
And not everyone has the means to travel, because it’s financially burdensome, stressful, and requires good health. Also, not everyone actually wants to go out of their comfort zone. And for those of us who do, is it because we actually want to learn from another culture? Or is it because we want to be deemed “independent”?
Travel to learn.
For me, almost every time I’ve traveled, it’s been out of a desire to be seen as “independent” — not out of a desire to learn. It wasn’t until I started living in Thailand and learning from Thai people that I recognized my need to be seen as capable, self-reliant and independent.
Maybe you’re a total adventure seeker, and every time you travel you do so consciously and without allowing pride to cloud your judgment. Or, maybe you’re like me and allow pride to interject.
Here’s my advice: Before going on a trip, check your motives.
Are you using a missions trip as an excuse to see the world? Are you using an international trip as an opportunity to prove your independence?
Or, in your travels, do you want to learn from a culture that might teach you a thing or two about the goodness of God and the diversity of His kingdom?
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Travel to learn from others; don’t travel to gain status.