August 1, 2017

Just Go There

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain

List-style blog posts flood the internet covering just about every topic one can think of. Travel-related lists are no exception, but I wanted to create my own list of reasons why I think everyone should do at least some world traveling based on my personal experiences. And by world traveling, I don’t mean a week at an island resort or spending time in another country as American-like as possible. I’m talking about raw traveling… exploring places off the beaten path, diving into the culture, and making a real effort to live like and get to know the locals. Even better, if you’re brave enough, go solo. Travelers who venture solo will all tell you the same thing: it’s life-changing.

I wrote this on a long bus ride while traveling a few years ago and have never shared it, but it seems appropriate here:

When you spend time alone, in a foreign place, far from anything or anyone familiar, the mindset and habits linked to society back home start to dissipate. Appearance, money, awards, status – they become trivial.

You meet people and fall in love with them because they’re interesting, adventurous, vulnerable, kind, and happy. And because they inspire you to be the same. Suddenly, it’s blatantly clear what matters most to you in life, and you reflect on how you’re living it and who you’re choosing to spend it with.

For a speck of time, you’re completely aware of the insignificance of your existence, and still, you’re not trying to matter. Being overwhelmed with joy simply for existing, and nothing more, is the freest and purest you’ll ever feel.

Regardless of whether you go alone or with companions, there are definite benefits to traveling. Here are just nine reasons why you shouldn’t hesitate to book an adventure.

1. Learn about your own culture

The best way to learn about your own culture is to hear about it from those outside of it. I learn something new about America every time I venture beyond its metaphorical walls (at least until Trump builds physical walls). You get to look at our culture through the eyes of other people. You become conscious of where we deviate from the normalcies of the rest of the world. You realize the importance of removing bias and seeing both sides of a story. Traveling doesn’t just impact the way you think about other cultures, it affects the way you view your own.

2. Grow as a person

Stepping outside your comfort zone is the best and perhaps the only way you grow as a human being. Believe me, traveling will force you to do just that. It can put you in tough situations facing new cities and ways to navigate, unfamiliar customs, foreign languages, unconventional clothing, differing expectations in behavior and communication styles, varying races and attitudes towards Americans, and so forth. The challenges you face stack up and it’s an empowering thing to overcome those. You will undoubtedly grow as an individual the more you explore the corners of the world and talk to the people who fill them.

3. You can never be too humble

Wisdom doesn’t just come with age, it comes with experience. Experience is gained by doing, trying, or even thinking new things. Traveling is a slap-in-the-face reminder that human life is not based on your little world. The older I get (or rather, the more experiences I gain), the less I feel like I know and the hungrier I am for knowledge. My days of being confident that I’ve figured it all out are over. When you physically see for yourself that the world is so much more diverse and complicated than you ever imagined, you soon realize you’re nothing special. It sounds pessimistic, but that’s an amazing thing.

4. Acceptance > Fear

After some time traveling, you will understand in a very real way that there’s no Us and Them, there’s only We. Everyone everywhere is fundamentally the same. We have hopes, desires, and fears. We love, we hate. We have highs, we have lows. The number of things that connect us far exceeds the things that make us different. It’s the small differences we latch onto because we tend to fear what we don’t understand. Add in the media’s exaggerated and less-than-factual coverage of everything bad in this world, and you’ve got a recipe for panic. Traveling helps you realize how distorted your view of the world through CNN, Fox News, and Facebook really is. You’ll find yourself wanting to understand people and situations fully before making assumptions, passing judgment, or spreading fear. You become aware of the problems that irrational fears create. The more places you go and people you meet, the more you genuinely relate to others. Despite differences, you start to approach people and situations with trust and acceptance rather than fear and criticism. And imagine the benefits of that globally…

5. Empathy makes you a better person

Most everyone is aware there’s a significant portion of the world living in poverty. However, if you’ve never witnessed it first hand – taken in the sights, the sounds, the smells or the stories of the people who live in such extreme conditions – then it’s pretty unfathomable. Watching footage or reading about famines, sex trafficking, child armies, rape, war, natural disasters, hate crimes and more takes on a whole new meaning when you have a personal connection with the people on the other side. You lose the ego that can sometimes develop when you can’t relate to a race, religion, lifestyle, or specific region of the world. It compels you to help others and give back in ways you never considered before.

6. Ignorance is not bliss

I am going to cheat on this one because blogger, Emily Verdouw, described it SO perfectly I have to share her thoughts verbatim: “I’ve never come away from a trip, without a preconceived idea, a prejudice, completely shattered. No matter how hard we try, we only know how to believe, think and act within the parameters of what we’ve been taught. So although we may try to enter into a new culture with what we think is an open mind, we can walk away realizing just how closed it actually was. You don’t know until you’re educated. And the best way to educate yourself about another culture, religion, another country’s politics or way of life, is by putting yourself right… there… in it.”

7. Time slows down

For most people, life is about 90% routine, which unfortunately makes it go by incredibly freaking fast. We’ve all said at one point something along the lines of, “Can you believe it’s been five years already?!” Traveling is a chance to escape routine, and when you do, time accrues at a slower rate. Two weeks of traveling feels significantly longer than two weeks of normal home life. I’ve returned from month-long trips feeling like I was gone for six. It’s an odd but wonderful sensation because you feel like you lived SO much only sparing a small amount of time. You truly get the biggest bang for your buck.

8. Because YOLO

We’re not guaranteed old age. Shocker, I know. We’re advised to live life to the fullest and spend each day like it’s our last. I mean YOLO (you only live once) right? It sounds great, but how many of us are actually successful in doing this? It’s a challenging thing to achieve when our lives are built around routine and habits. When you walk or drive by the same buildings every day, work with the same people, perform the same daily at-home tasks, etc., it’s nearly impossible to live in each moment.

I can certainly accept that traveling isn’t for everyone. Even still, I challenge people who barely try and say they are happiest just being home in their routines. I grew up in an amazing household where I LOVED being home. I still do, so I get it. However, being comfortable is not the same thing as being your best or happiest. When you travel, your senses are heightened as you experience so many firsts. Just like a child discovering life, you are able to truly be present in each moment without any effort at all. It’s no wonder so many people become addicted to traveling – it’s a rush of adrenaline, excitement, and adventure. “The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.” (Jon Krakauer) Time is our most precious asset, and we never know how much we’re going to get. In other words, don’t be afraid to change it up and live it up. You can’t know what you’re missing in life if you don’t put yourself out there.

9. Learn to be more easygoing

Nothing teaches you to let go of control quite like traveling. When you travel, sooo many things are outside your control. Flights, lost luggage, weather, accommodation mix-ups, lack of phone service or wi-fi, getting lost, miscommunication, and that’s barely scratching the surface. As always, you have two choices when things go wrong: shake it off and adjust, or let it ruin your day. If you choose the latter, one day ruined, or even a few hours of getting worked up is costly on a short vacation. You learn that it’s just not worth it. You come to expect things to go wrong when you travel so you stop over planning and go with the flow. When things don’t go perfect, you’re not surprised. You have the confidence and experience to know it’ll all work out, and you relax a little (or a lot) because you know some of the best experiences you have come from winging it. You have a heck of a lot more fun in bad situations because you keep yourself open to letting other good experiences fill the time. When you’re pissed, you’re closed off to fun, even if it presents itself. That learned mentality transfers over to life in general, and you’ll find yourself, as a whole, becoming a much more easygoing and optimistic person.

10. Fall in love with new people

Traveling wouldn’t be as magical without the people you meet along the journey. It’s nothing short of amazing how quickly you can connect with a total stranger when you’re both vulnerable and open. I walk away with new people that I love every trip. I appreciate social media so much for making it possible to stay connected with all the beautiful souls I meet on my adventures. I continue to learn from each and every one of them even after our brief, though unforgettable, time together ends. I realize I will never see many of these people again, which makes saying goodbye tough, but I will forever carry a piece of them with me because, in one way or another, large or small, they changed me, and I’ll never be the same.

Trust me, you won’t either.