I can’t count how many times I’ve preached the benefits of travel — my catchphrase might as well be “travel is the greatest gift you can give yourself” — and I believe that to be 100% true.
I’ve been blessed enough to have had the opportunity to see a lot of this world in my two short decades of life, and there’s still plenty I’m itching to see. And along my journeys, as a semi-new traveler, I’ve learned a thing or two.
1. The world is a bigger place than you could ever imagine.
We’ve all heard the saying that “it’s a small world,” (they even have a Disneyland ride to illustrate the point), and while this old cliche is true in the sense of meeting people across the world who knows someone you know, or finding some obscure common interest with a person you’ve just met, it’s not true in all settings.
The world is bigger than your home town, or your home state (if you’re American), or your home country, or your home continent.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — growing up in America (especially in the West) can be like growing up in an incubator. It’s a huge country and it’s hard — and expensive — to leave. It’s easy to get into the mindset that the United States is the center of the universe and traveling is the only way broadens that train of thought.
Travel teaches you that there are thousands of different people, different places, different cultures and languages that you’ve never seen, that you can learn from. It breaks you from your country-sized incubator, hatches you, opens your eyes to the world beyond your borders.
2. It’s ok to be very, very, very far out of your comfort zone.
There’s nothing quite like stripping down in an open shower in the capital city of Hungary, completely naked and surrounded by bustling locker rooms full of strangers, before putting on a tiny bikini and wading out into the gargantuan and equally crowded communal Szechenyi spa.
If you’re open to saying yes, travel can push you farther out of your comfort zone than you thought possible. Whether you’re zip lining through the Costa Rican rainforest or tanning on a nude beach in Spain or even just sharing a spa with strangers in Budapest, you’ll find that the greatest adventures are the ones you’ve never imagined having.
Say yes, be open, and step outside your comfort zone. It may be the best decision you make.
3. You become a fish out of water.
Speaking of being uncomfortable, travel teaches you what it’s like to feel like you don’t exactly belong. Whether it’s because your accent marks you as a foreigner, or because the locals speak a language or can’t understand, or because you’re in a country where no one looks like you, seeing the world has a way of letting you know what it’s like to be an outsider.
This feeling of foreignness also teaches humility, and understanding. Once you can recognize the privilege that comes with being in a place where you can understand the language, the people, the culture, you can empathize with immigrants, with travelers that don’t speak English, with those far from their homes in a place they don’t entirely understand.
4. You find that your true home can be a place very far away.
I was raised in Northern California and go to school in Southern California, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as at home in my home state as I did when I lived in London for a spring.
And that’s ok – I’m not the only one it happened to. Some people are just meant to find a home far away from the place they come from, and even though it’s painful to leave, I know one day I’ll be back.
On your adventures, the same thing may happen to you — whether you fall in love with a small Irish town or the streets of Paris or a boat off the coast of Greece, you may very well find your heart singing for a place half a world away.
5. Diversity is beautiful — and important.
We live in a hectic, often racially-charged world, and for some that makes it hard to see cultural differences as something to celebrated. But the fact of the matter is that the world would be a very boring place if everyone looked the same, spoke the same language, believed in the same things.
Diversity is as essential a thread in the web of humanity as anything else, maybe even more so, and it should never be erased or used as an excuse for oppression and persecution.
The most open-minded people are those who see the world, the whole world, and all the people in it. Traveling — especially internationally — opens your eyes to the beauty that is diversity, and hopefully you’ll bring that idea back home.