4 years ago I sipped on my first cup of the mind-expanding psychedelic Ayahuasca, in the heart of the Peruvian jungle. Alongside having my reality shattered, I experienced what felt like a powerful cosmic nudge to get out of my comfort zone and travel the world.
After receiving the message, I saved for a few months, left my soul-crushing day job, packed my bags, and hopped on a one-way flight to Sri Lanka. For three years since then, I’ve been backpacking throughout dozens of countries across the globe.
As I sit down and reflect on my time abroad, I realize how strangely similar travel is to the psychedelic experience. Jason Silva, described by The Atlantic as “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age”, talks about the strange overlap between the two in this interview:
“Travel exposes us to novel, new situations. New situations trigger new impressions, new reflections, new thoughts. And all of that is mediated by neurochemistry, which means that we’re getting high. We’re getting a chemical rush from this exposure to novelty.” 1
Having been deeply engrossed in the two worlds of travel and psychedelics for the past few years, I can attest to Silva’s sentiments. In this article I’m going to explain why travel can be thought of as a mind-expanding psychedelic.
1. Travel Is Mind-Revealing
The word psychedelic is rooted in Ancient Greek and literally translates to mind-revealing – Psykhe (meaning mind or soul) and dêlos (meaning manifest or visible). Powerful psychedelics such as Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin), LSD or Peyote act as a mirror, allowing you to see deep truths about your core self that you were never aware of previously.
Travel acts in the same manner. Simply put, our environment shapes us. Family, friends, jobs, and our culture collectively mold your thoughts, beliefs, value systems, assumptions, and actions – many of which many not be in alignment with your core self.
By exposing yourself to different cultures, languages, belief systems, and more, you’re quickly stripped from all previously held reference points. As these layers are peeled away, you’re left with a more naked, truthful, raw version of yourself. When this occurs, you may be illuminated with aspects of your identity you never realized previously.
2. Travel Is Mind-Opening
As we enter the current psychedelic renaissance, new studies are coming out every month on its efficacy. One of the more promising discoveries has come out of John Hopkins University, which concluded that psilocybin can trigger lasting personality change. 2
Their study found that participants who were exposed to a high-dose psilocybin session had a significantly higher than baseline Openness score for their personality (which encompasses aesthetic appreciation and sensitivity, imagination and fantasy, and broad-minded tolerance of others’ viewpoints and values).
A similar study was done by Friedrich-Schiller-University, comparing personality change of German college students studying abroad versus students that did not. Sure enough, after returning home the study abroad students showed higher scores for Openness versus those that stayed at home. 3
Travel, like psychedelics, can quickly lift you out of deeply-held vantage points you previously (and sometimes rigidily) viewed the world through. By learning new linguistic systems, befriending those from radically different upbringings, exposing yourself to different political/economic systems, you slowly begin to download a new set of world perspectives, broadening your mind in the process.
3. Travel Is Awe-Inducing
Author, philosopher, and neuroscientist Sam Harris once said “The power of psychedelics is that they often reveal, in the space of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.” 4
Psychedelic experiences can powerfully flood sensory systems with entirely novel content – dazzling fractal patterns, tear-inducing musical pieces, or intense feelings of love and appreciation, leaving passengers in a state of pure awe towards the cosmos.
Travel can lead to many of these same wonderous, “jaw-to-the-floor” type of experiences. The first day I arrived in Sri Lanka, I intentionally told the taxi driver to drop me off at the busiest market in the city of Colombo. As I stepped out of the cab, I was engulfed in a completely new and mind-blowing world. The smells of spices from street food vendors, the strange sounds of the Sinhalese language shouted from one person to the next, vibrant new colors and clothing I’d never seen before – all of this hit me at once, leaving me in a similar state of awe towards the world.
Taking The Travel Plunge
The mind-revealing, perspective-broadening, awe-inducing qualities experienced through travel can make it seem like a psychedelic in itself. The trip can lead to lifelong impacts in a relatively short period of time – shaping your beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts about the world (and your place in it).
Akin to taking a psychedelic, it may feel scary to venture down the rabbit hole of world travel, but if you can find the courage to step into the unknown, you may find beauty there you wouldn’t have uncovered otherwise.
- DOPE Life, 4 Jan. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwTevNZctbM&list=PLkUH2B0fpk11HUcfS1V8f93YIWDpzIyUa.
- MacLean, Katherine A., Matthew W. Johnson, and Roland R. Griffiths. “Mystical experiences occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness.” Journal of Psychopharmacology 25.11 (2011): 1453-1461.
- Zimmermann, Julia, and Franz J. Neyer. “Do we become a different person when hitting the road? Personality development of sojourners.” Journal of personality and social psychology 105.3 (2013): 515.
- Harris, Sam. “Drugs and the Meaning of Life.” Audio blog post. N.p., 4 July 2011. Web.