Here's the thing about epiphanies: you often don't realise you're having them. These grand realisations about life and the world around you take a while to settle in – it can be days, or weeks, or months before they hit home.
By then, your worldview has changed. And you realise that it probably happened that morning you sat and watched the sun set over the temples of Bagan, or the night you spent walking the streets of Shinjuku, or the afternoon you hung out on a beach in Mexico.
Certain destinations tend to change you, to alter the way you feel about the world, and sometimes even the way you feel about yourself. Sometimes these life-changing places are the ones you would expect, the beautiful natural environments, the mountains and deserts and forests. But sometimes they're cities, bustling and huge, snapshots of humanity that bring about your epiphanic change.
If you travel to alter the way you see life, and the world, and even yourself, then these are the destinations to visit.
Atacama Desert, Chile
Many a traveller has had an epiphany while staring at the night sky, contemplating the insignificance of our lives on Earth as they take in the endless universe around them. It must surely happen on a nightly basis in Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the best places in the world to stargaze given its high elevation and extremely dry, clear air.
If you want to change the way you see the Islamic world, you need do nothing more than spend an afternoon sitting in Naqsh-e Jahan square in central Esfahan. Here you'll see groups of school kids taking selfies; you'll see old men walking and chatting; groups of women huddled in conversation; families playing; kids laughing. And almost all of them, at some point, will come over and say hello.
All it takes is a single night spent prowling the streets of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest hubs, to realise that as much as you think you've seen the world – you haven't seen everything yet. Just a few hours on these neon-lit pavements, walking past shopping malls and dive bars, pachinko parlours and music venues, ramen restaurants and record stores, and a whole new universe has opened up.
See also: Tokyo's unmissable quirky attractions
I'm struck by the same epiphany pretty much every time I visit Berlin: the realisation that there's another way to live your life, that the pursuit of a big house and a nice car and a high-flying job might not be as important as creating something original, or spending time with your friends, or doing something to make the world better. Unfortunately, that's easy to forget again once you leave.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Like the Atacama, this huge salt lake in Bolivia – at 11,000 square kilometres, it's slightly bigger than the island of Corsica – challenges any notions of your significance in the world. With little else to do there but sit and stare out into the empty distance, it's also the perfect spot for some deep pondering about all the things you can usually ignore.
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
The big realisation here? The grand epiphany you're sure to have? It's that sometimes, just sometimes, the popular places are the best. Sometimes the clichés are there for a reason. When you're sitting on a warm patch of rock at the end of Ipanema, drinking a caipirinha while watching the sun set over a beach still filled with sunbathers, surfers, football players, joggers and everyone else, you'll be congratulating yourself for being so unimaginative.
All you need for your Bagan epiphany is a good viewpoint, a perfect spot to watch the sun set in a shower of orange hues of every shade over the hundreds of temples that dot the horizon. There are few better places to witness the end of the day than in Bagan, and it's sure to inspire something deep within you.
See also: Twenty reasons to visit Myanmar
Loisaba Conservancy, Kenya
Your big epiphany could come during the day, as you spend the sunlit hours roaming the Kenyan countryside in the Loisaba Conservancy, spotting elephant, giraffe, lion and maybe even wild dogs. Then again it could come at night, while you're lying under the dark sky in a "star bed", a mattress that's wheeled out onto the balcony of your bungalow so you can sleep out in the open. Both experiences are life changing.
No one comes away from a visit to Mumbai unchanged. There's just so much here to take in, the sheer weight of humanity is almost overwhelming. You see all there is to see in Mumbai, the full spectrum of existence, and it's both a beautiful and confronting thing. No one walks away from that without a slightly different worldview.
See also: Where to escape the mayhem of Mumbai
There's this story that does the rounds on Facebook every now and then, about a Mexican fisherman in a small village who's advised by an American investment banker to work harder, make lots of money, open a cannery, put it on the stock market, make millions and eventually, after 15 years or so, retire to a small village, where he'll be able to fish all day. That small village could well be Zipolite, a little coastal settlement in the state of Oaxaca – the kind of place where you'll want to ditch your old life, buy a fishing boat and never work another day again.
Where are the best places in the world to have an epiphany? Which destinations have changed your life?
See also: Best countries to visit in 2017
Listen: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.