Over the last few years I’ve begun traveling extensively. This is in large part due to work, but also because I love exploring our world’s cultures and natural wonders. Traveling doesn’t exclusively mean visiting far off lands, it can be as simple as getting a few states away. No matter how far you go, I believe traveling changes your thinking, behaviors and expectations for the better. As Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Twain was so right – travel opens our eyes, allows us to adapt to change, and most importantly, teaches us to view ourselves and others as global citizens – rising above political and geographical ties to see all humankind as one. I’ve reflected on my own experiences and pulled together seven lessons traveling teaches you that I believe are invaluable.
1. You are the change you need. - Traveling to countries where you aren’t familiar with the customs and language can lead you to one of two behaviors–you either adapt to your surrounding or you expect others to change for you. The latter isn’t the route to go. When you visit another place, you should respect their way of life, trying to abide by their laws and adopting as much language as possible. Expecting them to change for you is just plain silly. When you’re forced to quickly adapt to your surroundings while on the road, you learn how to more effectively do this in other areas of your life. We always hear that you can’t change another person. It’s true. The greatest thing we can do is change our way of thinking and determine how to can appreciate or manage a situation that makes us a little uncomfortable.
2. The importance of being ok in your own skin. - Traveling can bring out the best and worst in people. When with our friends, we quickly learn their nuances; when alone, we explore our own personalities and coping mechanisms. It can be frightening to backpack or travel for business alone to an unfamiliar place. Too much silence, a heightened sense of self-awareness…we can get inside our own heads sometimes. But if you can learn to be comfortable in your own skin and appreciate the alone time–really focus on your surroundings–then you’ll be more confident in life. You’ll understand that being independent and alone can be empowering and open you up to a world of emotions and opportunities.
3. Diversity is the spice of life. - If there is one thing you should take away from travel it’s that we are all different. Traditions, beliefs, beauty ideals and practices can be drastically different from country to country (even between cities) and it’s magical. Diversity is what makes us individuals, but also ties us together to create a vibrant world. When you embrace cultural and environmental differences, you can look at those in your own community without judgement and more appreciation – even if you seem to have nothing in common with them.
4. Technology can make or break a trip. - There are plenty of places worldwide that have limited internet access. This can be a blessing, as it forces you to absorb your surroundings and interaction with people you encounter instead of relying on likes and chats from people back home. At the same time, the internet can come in handy when sharing your experiences and whereabouts with family. It can help break down language barriers with locals too. There are good and bad points either way, but it really teaches you about moderation, living in the moment and how to use technology in the best, and least intrusive, way. This holds true in our day-to-day lives as well, which is why a digital detox can refresh your body and soul.
5. The best relationships can come from the most unexpected places. - Traveling opens you up to new ideas and allows you to connect with people you otherwise wouldn’t encounter. That means meeting like-minded people, people who make you see life in a new way, and meeting those who inspire you. Whether you find love far away or meet a future best friend, you will enrich each other’s lives. Once separated, you’ll learn to nourish relationships that are important to you and appreciate those temporary friendships that are there for a purpose, if only for a short time.
6. You learn to think on your feet. - It’s nice to think that every trip runs smoothly. The reality is that unexpected mishaps can strike at any moment. You can miss flights, get lost, lose items or fall ill. It’s how we handle these hiccups that matters most. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, and need a plan immediately, you learn the skill of trusting your instinct and acting fast. You’ll stop sweating the small stuff because when something feels off, you’ll know that all you need to do is create a new plan of attack. After changing plans on the fly a couple of times, you’ll feel like a pro and travel with much less stress.
7. A greater thirst for life. - The most wonderful gift traveling has given me is the desire to dream and reach for more. After my first few trips to other countries I was completely awaken by the experience. I wanted to learn more about different cultures, my creativity was heightened, and I was much happier in the end. Once you’ve explored an area outside of your immediate surrounding, your mind takes over and runs wild with an appreciation for the new. That lust you feel for the next adventure can be channeled into your work or passion pursuits, ultimately aiding in your overall success.
Have you traveled much? What do you think you learned about yourself and the world around you?