Travel has been one of the biggest influences on who I am today (aside from a few other minor details like “my amazing and supportive parents and how they shaped my character”, “my opportunity to obtain a quality education”, “my privilege that comes from being born who and where I was born”, etc).
But you know, trivialities aside, travel has been pretty high up there. It’s helped me become happier, more confident, more mature, more empathetic, and BETTER AT LIFE IN GENERAL! AND SO CAN YOU!
Are you ready to learn the solution to leading a happier, more positive life? The solution to taking obstacles in stride? The solution to keeping your eyes on the bigger picture? The solution to not getting mired down in the tiny details of your everyday life? Well good news, folks. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’ll cure everything. It’s just four letters long:
Yeah, you heard me. Get outta here.
There’s a whole world of people out there who are ready to teach you a thing or two about how things really work, and what your priorities should really be. Except they won’t have any idea that they’re doing the teaching, and you will suddenly become painfully aware that you have a hell of a lot of learning to do.
Once you’ve learned to gracefully accept that you are a student in the school of life (everyone gets accepted there, whether it’s their top choice or not), your daily lessons are going to be pretty mind-blowing. Let’s take a look at the curriculum, and why it’s going to make your life better all-around.
1. You will learn to tell the difference between things you CAN control, and things you CAN’T–and stop worrying about the latter.
There are very few other things in life that can bring the same peace of mind as being able to let go of things you can’t control. It allows you to focus your efforts on things you can indeed make a difference in, while peacefully accepting the facts of scenarios you can’t change.
Have you ever seen one of those faux-vintage wooden signs written in cheesy italics hanging in someone’s bathroom that says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”? While it certainly can’t hurt to pray about it every time you sit on the toilet, what’s really guaranteed to get you there is finally buying that plane/bus/train ticket. Before you know it you’ll have more strength, patience, and wisdom than you know what to do with.
Let’s use an example: You just found out that the 12pm bus that you were planning on taking has been cancelled. Step number one is to ask yourself, “is there any possible action that I could take right now that would change what has happened?” In this case, there is literally nothing you could possibly do to re-institute the 12pm bus schedule. No matter what your actions are, this particular fact is not going to change. Thus, worrying about it is an absolutely fruitless activity and a waste of your energy.
Would you rather be filled with anger and frustration at the fact that your day is ruined? Or feel excited about having an extra afternoon to keep exploring the city you’re in?
The choice is yours!
2. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Traveling alone can be scary at first. No one to have your back if something goes wrong, no one to hang out with, no one to share a bus seat with, no one to eat with, no one to confirm that you really did just see a guy riding through rural Guatemala on a homemade bicycle with five tiny customized baskets jury rigged on the front, each carrying a tiny brown Chihuahua with their paws up on the rims of the baskets (real life story, to this day I regret having witnessed it alone because I sometimes wonder if it was a figment of my imagination and my heat-addled brain…BUT I KNOW WHAT I SAW!)
However, despite this single admitted downside, pretty soon you’ll start to find all of this actually quite liberating. No one to argue with over where to eat dinner; no one to stop you from staying at a hostel that only has one free bed; no one to stop you from going out when they’re tired and you’re not.
You’ll also realize that there actually is someone who has your back.
Believe it or not, you’ll find that you can take care of yourself; you can find safe places to stay and delicious food to eat; you can make lots of new friends; you don’t need anyone else to survive–and have fun!–in a foreign land.
So don’t be surprised when this turns you into a confident and highly independent problem solver in all areas of your life, from daily tasks, to work, to love. Because once you’ve learned to trust yourself, you don’t need to lean on anyone else.
The thought “I don’t know if I can do this” will start to cross your mind less and less, until you’ve suddenly found yourself possessing of an unwavering confidence in nearly all endeavors.
The question is not “can I do this?” but “how will I do this?”
3. You will learn your worth, and surround yourself with people who complement it.
In a fantastic chain of learning events, from your new realization that you don’t need anyone else to get by, your self-value will rise, accompanied by your standards for the people that you choose to add to your life.
When you’re happy on your own and fully knowing of your own capabilities and worth, you are strong by yourself. You don’t need to lean on other people, things, or behaviors like a crutch for what you think you’re missing.
No longer will negative energy satisfy your need for social interaction and attention.
No longer will you seek out people who take from your energy rather than add to your happiness.
You will know exactly what you’re deserving of. And what’s more, you won’t settle for anything less, because until that person/opportunity/friend/lover/activity/job comes along, you will be doing damn fine on your own!
4. You will learn how to enjoy hanging out with yourself.
If we’re being totally honest, you’re a pretty cool person, and you know it. You have done so many unique things, met fascinating people, and gone cliff-diving in places you would not tell your mother about. You may quite possibly now be a fully qualified Interesting Person!
Now, of course, there’s a difference between liking yourself and thinking you’re better than everyone around you. If you engage in the latter, you run the risk of become an Interesting-on-the-Surface-But-Actually-Very-Self-Absorbed-and-Overall-Pretty-Douchey Person. Please, for the sake of everyone around you, just don’t.
But assuming you’re going to be just a regular Interesting Person (because you’re now awesome like that), you’ll find that after traveling by yourself, alone time is no longer depressing or intimidating–in fact, it is a quite welcome respite from the distractions of the noisy world around you, and a much-anticipated chance to hang out with yourself.
You might even find yourself missing alone time just like you miss hanging out with your best friend. You’ve become one of your own best friends, and that’s pretty damn cool!
4. You will have a better smile.
No, I’m not saying your teeth will become whiter. I’m pretty sure that has more to do with maintaining meticulous daily oral hygiene habits, which may or may not be negatively affected by spending weeks or months in low-budget hostels. Not to worry though, I’m talking about a different aspect of your smile.
In your travels, you are going to meet many people along the way who, under absolutely no obligation, go out of their way to help you–for no reason other than pure human kindness.
Sometimes it will be just a bonus (three mangos for the price of two, just because she likes you), other times they will be saving your ass (giving you a ride back from the mountains into town, because your dumb ass missed the last bus).
Once you’ve experienced pure human kindness–motivated by nothing other than benevolence, hospitality, and humanity–you will know what it is to want to express pure human gratitude. The kind that you might not be able to fully express with words–especially if it’s not your native language.
So how do you express your gratitude and goodwill?
You may not understand it now, but the answer will be stunningly automatic.
I’m not talking about the half-smile you give to the cashier when they say “HI HOW ARE YOU DID YOU FIND EVERYTHING OKAY” and you say “YES GOOD AND YOU” and they don’t even answer because both of you know that you don’t actually care how they’re doing.
I’m not talking about the forced grimace when you accidentally make eye contact with a former classmate across Starbucks and are obligated to converse despite the fact that neither of you have any interest in reconnecting over whatever tiny shred of acquaintance you once had.
I’m talking about a wide, radiant smile across your whole face. Not just with your teeth: smile with your lips, your eyes, your eyebrows, your laugh lines, your cheeks, your chin, your forehead, even your ears.
Allow your face to be filled with child-like joy and pleasure. Try to find that feeling of pure expression that, sometime between being a kid and “growing up”, we learned to hide.
A smile that expresses what words or gifts will never convey.
A smile that thanks someone for their humanity by showing them yours.
5. You will become more empathetic.
Quite simple: once you’ve traveled to places where people see the world differently, you develop a better ability to see things from other people’s perspectives. Everyone has a story–farmers in Laos, business dads in Hong Kong, baristas in Prague, bus drivers in Guatemala, real estate moguls in Brazil–and until you get to know them, you don’t know anything about their lives.
The anthropologist Wade Davis put it quite eloquently:
“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you.
They are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”
Once you’ve realized this– that people who live differently than you “are not failed attempts at being you”–a door will suddenly open in front of you, opening your eyes to the myriad of possibilities for human lives, and a world where you are able to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Go ahead, share that meal with a new person. Talk about life and learn about where they come from, how they think, what makes them happy and sad. Be a sponge of knowledge, of language, of feelings. You’ll find it increasingly hard to stick to stereotypes from behind a computer screen–and you will be better off for it.
So good luck trying to continue with your high-stress, boring life and negative attitude after you have learned about the beauty of everything around you, the stories you have yet to learn, the kindness of people all over the world, and your own strength. Something tells me you’re going to start seeing the things around you quite differently 🙂