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Can travel change you?

Some argue that travel sets the stage for personal growth. See pictures of paradise.
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Many a travel writer has offered up colorful, anecdotal evidence that travel is a life-changing affair. Books like "Eat Pray Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert, and movie classics like "City Slickers" present travel as an adventure likely to heal your spirit, alter your outlook and leave you with a smile on your face -- and perhaps even a calf on a leash (in Billy Crystal's character's case). Who hasn't been wooed by the potentially transformative powers of a trip to a faraway place? "I've always believed that happiness is just around the corner," writes Eric Weiner in his travel book "Geography of Bliss." "The trick is finding the right corner."

If you're turning corners in places far from your home turf in hopes of lucking upon personal transformation, you might actually be on the right track. Travel does, in fact, set a nice stage for personal change, and there are several reasons why: First of all, there's a placebo effect. When we embark on a trip, we expect change that we don't expect at home -- we swallow the travel pill willingly, believing that it will flood our veins with personal growth. We've already mentally committed and made ourselves vulnerable to change before we've even left [source: Kottler].

And then there are other factors that make it easier for us to change our behavior during travel. Especially if you travel alone, you're completely severed from the usual influences. There's no one to shoot you a sideways glance if you act differently from your usual self, which gives you room to try out new behaviors [source: Kottler]. "When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road," said travel writer William Least Heat-Moon.

Not only that, but your senses are heightened -- you smell, hear and see things you wouldn't notice at home -- and your emotions are aroused. You experience fear and anxiety about simple things like hailing a cab, finding a market and ordering food in a language you barely speak. These factors make you vulnerable to change. They also put you in a position where you must behave differently to have your basic needs met. After all, you have to eat to live; so, being proactive becomes imperative, rather than optional [source: Kottler].

How else does travel set the stage for personal growth?