In order to be a better person, one must learn and grow -- and there is no better teacher tasked for the job than travel. Most of us who are lucky enough to have the option of leisure travel exist in a world of immediate gratification. We avoid most lines and interaction with others by operating online, we stream on demand, and we are (usually) instantly understood by our friends and families thanks to common a language and culture.
Travel has the tendency to shake things up. No matter what type of trip you take or if you travel alone or with a group, travel will put you face-to-face with challenges and revelations, some profound and some fleeting. The takeaways and how you handle these situations help you become a better person along the way. As avid travelers and lifelong learners ourselves, here are 11 ways we've found that travel can take you on a journey to becoming a better you.
1. It teaches you patience and to take things in stride.
Patience is a virtue that, unfortunately, not everyone is born with. But it can be learned — and let us tell you, travel is one whopper of a teacher. There’s nothing like a snag in a well-weaved travel plan or impenetrable language barrier to teach you patience. Many times while traveling you don’t have the option to walk away, to avoid the 17-hour layover, or book online. Every hiccup, every long line, every miscommunication encountered while traveling becomes a lesson in patience, and as a result, you learn to take things in stride when things get frazzled both at home and abroad.
2. It makes you self-aware.
We aren’t talking about the anxiety-driven self-awareness here — though there can be some of this in new places, too. We mean being aware of your behavior and how it is perceived and received by the culture you are visiting. While at home, we are surrounded by many like-cultured and like-minded people, including friends and family that know us, and don’t often have to think about how we are being perceived. But being in a foreign culture, even if it’s just in a different region of our own country, can quickly open your eyes to subtle and not-so-subtle differences in how we speak, operate, and communicate. This can make us evaluate ourselves with fresh eyes, and in turn, also make us more sensitive to visitors into our own culture.
3. It teaches you tolerance.
Piggybacking on both patience and self-awareness, tolerance is another virtue picked up while traveling and is often the result of becoming a more patient and more self-aware human. Once people are removed from what they know and become the visitor, the outsider, and the non-native speaker — in other words, the minority — it illuminates the experience of others and makes for a more tolerant world. Travel also pushes people to be more tolerant with their loved ones as nothing tests a relationship like traveling together.
4. It piques curiosity.
Shaking up your surroundings plops you in a whole new world full of wonder and curiosity. Once you start learning more about a culture’s traditions, foods, beliefs, and social systems, it can get addictive. Travel opens your mind to new possibilities and opportunities that, in turn, make many folks more curious about what else is out there, from small things like what regional specialities are on the local McDonald’s menu to larger aspects of culture like how social rules are constructed with certain populations.
5. It teaches you to be in the present.
One of the best gifts that travel can give a person is the gift of being in the present. Sure, it sounds easy, but living in the present can be pretty hard on a day-to-day basis when we’ve got deadlines and shoulda-woulda-couldas hanging over our heads. People don’t tend to go on vacation and cling to the last thing they did or speed through what’s happening in anticipation of an activity that’s yet to come. In other words, when traveling, we take time to fully enjoy each stage of our vacation. Travel offers a mental escape from daily pressures and responsibilities, and allows us to operate in the present, to experience things as they are happening, enjoy them, and then move forward with excitement about what’s next. This allows us to be happier with less stress, which enables us to be better in the long run, especially if we can bring the practice home.
6. It makes you aware of your surroundings.
Much like travel makes you self-aware, it can also make you hyper-aware of your surroundings. We mean this both in that you should be on alert for your personal safety and belongings while traveling and that you are more aware of your surroundings because they are fresh. When everything around you is something new, you try to take it all in, soaking in all the details so you don’t miss a thing. At home, there are probably things that you overlook every day because you are used to them. Often when we return from traveling, we notice that our brain is still absorbing everything with big eyes, and it’s not uncommon for us to notice small details — even full buildings — that we never seemed to see before. This can also go beyond just physical things, as you may even scout new activities to try when you’re back home. Remember that your hometown is someone else’s vacation destination.
7. It teaches responsibility.
If you ever want to teach someone about responsibility, send them on a trip. At the most basic level, travel teaches people to be responsible in the sense that you must get to where you need to be on time, you must bring the necessary things with you, and you must follow the laws of where you are going. On a higher level, travel teaches people about their responsibility to the world and to each other. When you visit a beautiful beach that’s littered with trash, you’re more likely (we hope) to avoid littering, to teach your kids about littering, to recycle, or maybe even to volunteer for beach cleanup back home. The more we see of the world, the more ways we should be able to see how we fit into this world and our impact on it.
8. It challenges you and helps build confidence.
Travel is a great confidence builder. Travelers often choose vacations to try new things and face fears, whether it’s a new type of food, activity like snorkeling, or just meeting new people along the way. These things can be challenging, even to the most seasoned traveler and outgoing person, and experiencing them and conquering them helps to build confidence. Pushing yourself to the top of that mountain, engaging in a conversation with a language barrier, or even just being able to navigate a foreign city can be rewarding, and gives people a barometer on what they can (and sometimes can’t) handle, which is a truly empowering feeling.
9. It encourages you to try new things.
We’ve already talked about how travel can challenge you, pique your curiosity, and help build confidence, and it’s this combination that can also encourage you to try new things, both at home and while on the road. People who travel know that trying something new is exciting, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the curiosity and confidence from challenging yourself on vacation continued long after you returned home. Whether it’s just generally being up for something new or taking the plunge on learning a new language, traveling encourages us to broaden our world and grow as a person.
10. It teaches you what kind of person you are.
If you ever want to learn what type of person you are, just take a trip. From the planning stages to unpacking once you’re back home, travel teaches you a lot about who you are — and it may be surprising. Perhaps you view yourself as a diehard planner, but realized your favorite parts of the trip were the ones when spontaneity struck. Travel is a great way to not only discover the world, but discover what you do and do not prefer, how you react to certain situations, and how you actually like to spend your free time. And as they say, to know thyself is to love thyself.
11. It opens your personal world.
As we’ve already mentioned, most of us tend to live in a bubble of some sort. We tend to stick to our spots and safe spaces, often missing out on people and places that are just outside the perimeter. Travel allows us to go beyond the bubble to experience other bubbles, and in the process opens our world. We can’t tell you how many long-time travel friends we’ve made over the years, simply by striking up conversations with strangers on trips — strangers with different political beliefs, religions, life stories, cultures, and languages. But that’s the thing about travel — it changes the filter in which you view and experience the world, for the better. It exposes you to truth, breaks stereotypes, and gives you a glimpse into a world that you wouldn’t normally have access to. And as far as making us better people, it has made all the difference.
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