Have you heard of people come back from long trips and say ‘Travel changed us. We are now better people’. What does travel do to change you ? We had written about our learning from India360 earlier. But this time I want to give a very objective view on how travel can change you based on a renowned model of measuring personality traits
Big 5 Personality Traits
Let’s consider the traits measured in the Big 5 personality tests and how travel impacts them. Big 5 is one of the most respected personality tests that identifies and measures the various major personality types in a person. The Five traits are:
- Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
- Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
- Extroversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
- Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached)
- Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)
Let’s look at the impact of travel on each one of them:
Openness to experience
People want to travel not just in search of new places but also in search of new experiences. While one may only think of the Instagram perfect photos while booking the trip, there is much more to travel that what is seen in the photos. A traveler often ends up in completely unknown situations and tries to make the best out of the serendipity.
On our way to Leh, our bus with only 6 passengers got stranded in a town called Waka, about a few Km’s from Kargil. After several failed attempts, we managed to hitch hike with two guys from Srinagar who were on a official visit to Leh. We not only reached earlier than scheduled, we also had the opportunity to stop in many places in between and take pics and free local guidance.
Do you know where you want to be 5 years from now? or Do you never give dinner a thought until you get hungry? Travel requires you to be a bit of both. You need broad plans of where you need to go, what routes will take you there what the best options for your budget are etc. But unlike a Mumbaikar on a daily commute, you cannot plan to leave home at 6:05, so as to catch the the 6:32 Semi- Fast and be at work for the 7:30 meeting.
Your new places work on a different timetable that you will never know until you reach there. For Eg: We found in Uttrakhand all buses leave the bus stand before 3 pm. After 5 pm, even if there is broad daylight, one will not even get a taxi to cover a short distance of 10+ km. We had to work a lot of our plans around it.
During our trip around Uttarakhand, we got stuck in a small town called Hindolakhal. It had no hotels and no taxis. So even though our destination was less than 25 km away, we were stuck. We were accommodated for the night by a local Garhwali whom we had just met for 5 mins in a crowded shared taxi.
This is one other trait a traveler needs to play in both ends of extroversion. A backpacker has to often reach out to find out how to commute, where to stay, where to eat, ask people he had just met for favours like ‘Can you keep an eye on my bag, until I get back from the toilet’ to ‘Can I hitch hike with you for I missed the only bus that goes out in the morning?’
A backpacker also finds himself alone most of the time. Until one is reasonably content with themselves, doing thing by themselves backpacking or solo travel is hard. In my first solo trip, I sat by the Pondicherry beach promenade, admiring the ocean and feeling the wind in complete bliss. I heard some passers by comment, ‘Ayyo pavam (Poor thing!!), she’s sitting all alone!!’ with real pitiful looks.
Agreeable people are interested in others, empathetic and helpful. People with low agreeable scores are often argumentative, show little interest in others and resort to insults.
For a backpacker, being disagreeable could mean getting thrown out of homes / hostels into the streets. For a person like me, who can argue anything to death, I learnt the merit of keeping my opinions to myself. We heard opinions, stories and advices from religious fanatics, amorous confessions, a recluse who had abandoned his family but still seeks financial support from them, a man who had beheaded 5 people etc. We heard them as non-judgemental as we could be and without giving our own opinions.
A sense of curiosity during travel may teach a lot about people and their practices. For example, the Uttarakhand last departure at 3 PM rule was primarily driven by the fact most of their bus routes span several 100’s of kms of mountain road with tough terrains and they want to ensure that a bus reaches the destination in broad day light. So at 3 PM, only 3- 4 hrs of day light is left, anything later would be cutting it too short. It may risk passengers being stranded or worse having to drive in tough conditions endangering the lives of people. When you are interested in other peoples lives, they are also interested in yours and treat you as a guest rather than as an intrusion in their everyday lives.
Neuroticism indicates how one handles stressful situations – do you panic, get stressed out a lot and lose sleep over nothing? or Are you totally in control of yourself and handle the situation with calm and poise. Needless to say which is a more useful attitude to have.
Backpacking is like a combat training of a different kind. You meet with unique situations everyday, that over a period you feel confident that it will all work out fine as it had several other times earlier. After a day long hike from Kedarnath, spending a sleepless cold night in a shed due to no hotel availability, a long travel of a few 100 km’s of mountain roads in less than ideal conditions, Hari was suffering from a bad motion sickness. We reached the hotel and realized his phone was missing.
I asked, “what are we going to do now?”
Hari said, “I am going to take a nap for 30 mins. We’ll think about it after we get up.” We postponed our worrying and went off to sleep. After we woke up with a clear head, we made a few last ditch attempts to trace his phone. None of them proved fruitful. Next 2.5 months he stayed without a phone. He’s written about that experience here.
We grow through the challenges that we go through.
Travel can break perceptions and change your world views in no time. So are you ready to expand your world? Get ready then to pack your bags and set out for an adventure !! The world is waiting.