Travel for You and No One Else

As someone who recently returned to work from an awesome vacation, this article called “Your colleagues don’t want to hear about your awesome vacation” caught my attention. It featured a study that was published in Science Daily where the study author says:

“The participants in our study mistakenly thought that having an extraordinary experience would make them the star of the conversation,” (…). “But they were wrong, because to be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities.” In other words, being extraordinary is isolating and could lead to negative, rather than positive feelings. 

The article author then goes on to say the takeaway of the study is: If you expect your super-awesome vacation to lead to great conversations with friends and colleagues when you get home, think again—and hide the photos.”

I have so many issues with this statement, and my experiences have been very different. I know that nobody wants to be around the person who won’t stop talking about the places they’ve been, and doing so can actually be a symptom of reverse culture shock, but every time I have returned from somewhere, people have asked me a lot of questions about the place and stated that they want to see my pictures. 

I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock myself when I returned to Canada after living in Mali for 5 months. For me what was alienating was not that I wasn’t the centre of attention, but that it was so hard to explain to everyone just how truly life changing that experience was. No I wasn’t just backpacking around Africa for 6 months, I had made a home and learned to live within a new culture. I had made friends and learned to love my host family. I experienced things, good and bad, that I know most people I know will never experience. I was different and changed but people treated me the same. Just like when I had moved to Bamako, I had to learn to live a new normal when I returned to Canada. One where my friends and family may not always understand what I had experienced and eventually I learned that there was no point trying to explain it. People asking about my time there wanted the highlight reel, rather than the whole, complex and gritty truth.  In the end, I think that it is enough to be eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to experience something that was so epic, to me

Looking for something to do during a weekend in Bamako? Get your fortune told to you.


3 years after returning from Mali, I met up with one of my friends I made there in Montreal. We wandered from dive bar to dive bar and stayed out until the wee hours of the morning drinking cheap draught beer and sharing stories and memories of our time there, as well as our experiences when we got home. “It was just so….epic, for reasons I can’t really explain” my friend would say multiple times throughout the evening, and I understood her. The night was cathartic, and I left feeling like I wasn’t alone in having a hard time readjusting. 

I doubt most of my Canadian friends will ever experience fish head on plantains…

More recently, since returning from a 5 week adventure travel excursion to East Africa, my coworkers, friends and family have all emphatically asked to see my pictures and quizzed me on what were my highlights to the point that their interest surprised me. I was expecting the nonchalance that the study participants experienced, but instead received genuine, earnest interest. That being said, I don’t bring it up in every conversation even though it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in my life recently, and I always make sure to ask questions about what is new and exciting in the person’s life who I may be talking to. 

Finally, while it might be true that if you’re travelling so that you can be the most exciting, adventurous, and cultured person around, you may be disappointed if you don’t get an enormous amount of attention once you return home. But if you’re travelling for the many other reasons there are, and never mind that it is downright good for you, then whether or not your colleagues think you’re a rockstar, should not influence your decision to travel. The takeaway here is: travel is for you, and no one else. 




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2 Replies to “Travel for You and No One Else”

  1. Thank you for this post, Thea. It's really good to remember to be an active participant in a conversation and not just talk the whole time – something I'm going to work hard to do when I return to Canada for Christmas. Thanks again and huge hugs!

  2. Thanks Erin! To me, it's all about finding a balance between sharing your excitement about your new place with your loved ones, but making sure you hear from them too. We can discuss more when you're in town, can't wait to see you!

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