When you’ve been away for a while, everything feels so different after you return home again.
As you step out the front door and embark on your journey, you don’t know what to expect. Sure, you might have watched some videos and read about your chosen destination. You probably have an itinerary planned out. Maybe you joined a tour.
But until you’ve lived, breathed, and seen somewhere with your own eyes, nothing compares to experiencing it in person. Books may be useful for gaining insight and knowledge, but they don’t quite capture the vividness and emotions associated with a place.
After visiting most continents (Australia and Antarctica are still on the to-visit list), I can definitely say that every place is memorable in its own way. Interestingly enough, even if two people visit the same sights, they can have incredibly dissimilar experiences. The people, place, and things you encounter are specific to you.
Travel is not simply about visiting various points of interest. It’s hopefully not about hopping off a large bus into an air-conditioned museum and back on again. Instead, it’s about those unplanned moments that you bump into unexpectedly.
A funny interaction with a street performer. Trading stories with a fellow traveler. Finding an interesting combination of foods that shockingly delight your taste buds. All these experiences mold you into something slightly different from before.
Travel’s unplanned events cause you to reflect on how you operate your life. They cause you to reassess your worldview. When you set foot in your home again, you feel as if you’ve come back a little bit wiser, a little bit worldlier.
Travel changes you as a person in these five ways:
1. It makes your everyday problems look minuscule.
When a lack of access to clean drinking water is the accepted norm in a region, it puts things into perspective. Firstly, it makes those everyday annoyances, such as the hitting the morning traffic jam, seem minor in comparison. Secondly, you realize that most problems you face in your life are temporary, and thus, fixable.
If your computer breaks down, you either get it fixed or buy a new one. If you lose your job, you either look for another one or find an alternative method to generate income. These occurrences can range from being minor nuisances to downright stressful.
But guess what? In some places, these aren’t even issues because they aren’t available options in the first place. How can slow internet be an issue when internet isn’t even available? How can your child skipping homework be a problem when education isn’t accessible?
While we all have problems to be fix and improvements to make, putting them into perspective helps us appreciate how much we already have.
2. You realize people are, essentially, the same.
It’s easy to generalize a group of people, especially if they live far, far away in a region that lies somewhere halfway across the world. When you think of the people in a country, it’s almost inevitable that certain preconceived notions will come up.
You might have heard something from friends or watched various media clippings and then formed opinions. It’s as if an entire nation of people form a single monolith, faceless and uniform. That is, until you get up close.
When you travel, you get to see people on a personal level. You might even get to chat with people and learn about their lives. You learn that a group of people contains a variety of personalities. Each individual has their own set of hopes, dreams, and fears.
Ironically, it’s this variation in each group of people that makes you realize: people are essentially the same. Sure, every country has its own set of cultures, customs, and traditions. We are all different and yet, across the globe, all humans go through the same stages in life with their own needs and wants.
It’s this knowledge that helps us empathize with the people we meet and an understanding for what drives others’ behavior.
3. You integrate new ideas into your life.
When you’ve been fully immersed in a country, it isn’t easy to simply leave it all behind and return home empty handed. Instead, you end up bringing parts of the places you’ve visited back with you.
It could be something concrete, such as a souvenir you place on your desk. Or, you might add some spice to your everyday life by cooking with saffron after eating paella in Spain.
It could be something intangible, such as a deep and profound moment that hits you immediately and lingers long afterward. For instance, you see people spending their evenings outside chatting and enjoying music while the children play soccer together. These sights are a reminder of how valuable it is to create more face-to-face time with your loved ones (as opposed to the face-to-screen time so prevalent today).
Whatever it is you bring back, it’s that difference in lifestyle which helps you bring more meaning and purpose into your own world. You grasp what you see in other places and blend it into your own to create a way of living suitable for you.
4. You learn different things about yourself.
The funny thing about traveling is that it reveals our many sides, like a multi-faceted gem. When you’re stuck in an everyday routine, you and everyone else only see a few different sides of yourself. At work, you’re a polite, professional self. At home, you’re a relaxed, calm self. Amongst friends, you’re a funny and cheerful self.
But when you’re traveling in a completely new environment, you’re exposed to places that force you to behave differently than you would at home. And when you do, you might be surprised at this new self that gets revealed in the process.
For example, going on a horseback ride might make you realize you enjoy the thrill of an adventure. You might discover that you can be assertive or even aggressive when bargaining with a street vendor. Not quite the traits when dealing with your boss at home, is it?
Often, we don’t even realize that we carry these traits within ourselves. They only surface when placed somewhere away from our usual environments. In the process, you learn about who and what you are, which determines the decisions you choose to take. These decisions then influence the path you travel down in the future.
5. You adapt to change.
Things usually don’t go the way you want them to when you’re in a foreign place. Hiccups occur. Maybe you underestimated how tricky it would be to navigate around, or you didn’t follow the expected social norms in a restaurant.
No matter what, you learn to be quick on your feet and solve problems as efficiently as possible. Sometimes, you have to change around your plans or spend time in one place when you thought you’d already be somewhere else.
You learn to stay calm and deal with things as they come. You embrace the randomness that gets thrown at you. You become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Eventually, there comes a point when you aren’t daunted at being presented a good challenge.
Travel is What You Make of It
Travel is a variety of things. It can be incredibly fun. It can calm you down. It can make you ecstatic. Or, it can give you a thrill that you didn’t foresee.
There are also those times when it isn’t so fun. It’s tough, it’s tiring, and sometimes painful.
“I don’t know why you bother,” a cab driver once said. “It seems so frustrating.”
And he’s right. Travel can be frustrating, especially because it forces you out of the comfort zone.
Yet those difficult times are also the biggest opportunities for growth. During these growth spurts, you morph into someone who can take on challenges thrown at you, if only for the sheer fact that you’ve done it before.
P.S. If you’ve been thinking about traveling, I suggest Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. The book explains how you can take time off from real life and see the world in a way that creates meaningful experiences. Through anecdotes and examples, it gives readers the inspiration to travel on their own terms.