I first started traveling when I was basically still a kid, although I didn’t think so at the time.
When I look back now – I was only a boy – 17 years old and full of dreams – heading off on my first excursion away from home to the Canary Islands, where I planned to work and live, and did for a while.
Of course, I had no idea where the road would take me, and no idea I’d end up on the far side of the world exploring Australia and Asia for a decade. That’s the beauty of adventure, isn’t it? We never know where were going to end up or where we’ll pass through before we get there.
Yet now that I’m heading home for a while, this time more permanently, in a way that will alter my travel style forever from nomad to ‘city breaker’ and ‘holidaymaker’, I’ve begun to reflect on how all this travel has changed me.
I like to think I’ve made an impact on at least some people in some positive ways during all this travel. Yet, when I flip it around and look within, I see that everyone I have met along the way and every place I have visited has left its mark on me, too.
These are some ways I think travel has changed me. You might recognize them in yourself, too.
How Travel Changes You
Travel Vanquishes Your Ideals & Naivete
When I first set off on the road, I was full of these ideals and the world was black and white to me. There were good people and bad people, there were beautiful places and ugly places, and I believed that all I had to do was smile and bluff my way through things and I’d be OK.
Travelling changed all of my ideals. It did away with most of them if I’m honest, but it instilled some new ones in me in the process.
Talking to people from all walks of life, who have been through many different situations, will challenge your beliefs about things quickly. Things don’t seem the same over a few beers in a foreign country, far away from home, friends and family. You realize that it’s your environment that causes you to think the way you do to a large extent, and when you travel, a lot of those habitual ways of thinking get left behind with the old job and the ex-lover.
Travel brings a lot of new people across your path. I still believe there are good and bad people, but the lines are a lot more blurred than they used to be. I still believe there are beautiful and ugly places, but I’ve also learned there’s ugliness in some of the beauty and there’s beauty even in the ugliest of situations.
Travel does away with naïve, idealistic perceptions of the world and develops a more mature, flexible perspective on things. At least, it did for me.
Travel Teaches Lots of New Life Skills
Whatever path we take in life, it’s virtually guaranteed that we’ll learn and grow as we go. If we don’t actively pursue growth, life will force it upon us. If there’s any inherent purpose to life at all, I believe growth is it, and when I view the world this way it seems to make a lot more sense to me.
I’ve learned some cool life skills from traveling and through the experiences I’ve had on the road. From negotiating with people I don’t share a common cultural background or even language with, to quickly evaluating and reading people and their intentions, to actual bona fide, usable skills like teaching and writing, I’ve developed in many ways through travel.
I don’t think learning and growing is in any way exclusive to travel. I do believe, however, the fact that most travelers and backpackers are out on their own and have to largely fend for themselves causes us to grow faster in some areas.
Travel Teaches You About Who You Are
One of the big questions I struggled with a lot when I was younger was “Who am I?” – it’s a big one for sure, and being of philosophical bent I spent a lot of time pondering it and got nowhere.
Travel taught me, and still teaches me every day, who I am. Mostly it does this by teaching me who I am not, eg by putting me in situations where I’m out of my depth, deeply uncomfortable, etc.
By learning what we don’t like, whether it be food, people, places or anything else, we ironically learn more about what we do like, and by extent learn more about who we are.
I’ve learned more about who I am since I began traveling than I did in my entire life beforehand. I’m much more self-aware and self-assured than I was before, largely as a result of the experiences I’ve had along the way and the perceptions, sensations, feelings and views I’ve gathered along the way.
An old friend of mine summed this up best for me when he said, “Sometimes you have to go somewhere you don’t belong to find out where you do.”
Change the reference from location with anything else, be it a person, type of food or job, and the same truth applies!
Travel Destroys Notions of Absolute Truth
I think we’re all fairly opinionated and sure we’re right when we’re young, especially as teenagers. Unfortunately, some people never let go of this habit and remain sure they’re always right and stuck in their ways all of their lives.
I think I had an early glimpse into the fact that there are two sides to every story by growing up in a conflict zone. I had an early inkling that the ‘terrorists’ were the ‘good guys’ to someone else, and although it wasn’t a conscious thing, it did start me questioning things early in my life and wondering who was right and who was wrong.
Travel just further compounded this and sped up my journey to my current belief that there is no absolute truth, just perspective. You can look at the same situation through different lenses and see something completely different than you saw before. It’s strange at first, but eventually you just accept that life is a matter of perspective and how something looks depends on your vantage point to a large extent.
Nobody is going to argue that having the shits in a cockroach infested hotel can be viewed as a good thing, but apart from these fundamental ‘physical’ truths, everything else is largely very flexible and travel for a long period of time will make you much less sure that you’re right.
Travel Makes You Appreciate Home
Like many people, I set off in search of somewhere better, sure I had grown up in the worst place in the world and unable to contain my excitement about getting out of it.
Yet, looking back now, I was so lucky and privileged to have grown up where I did with the people I did!
I had a loving family, great friends, and lived in Ireland, one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on earth. We have a health service you can get help from even if you have no money, we have a school system that gives all kids a fair start, and we have a clean, well looked after environment.
I only learned this when I traveled. Of course, I also became aware of the limitations of my own country, like the lack of financial opportunity as compared to places like Australia and the USA, but traveling long term instilled in me a deep appreciation, and I’d go as far as to say a passionate love for, my own country.
I plan to return soon and I’m super excited. I used to absolutely dread returning from trips abroad, but now that I’ve traveled far and wide, I always love coming home.
That’s one of the most beautiful things about travel, in my opinion – it causes you to see the world through new eyes, including home.
What do you think? How has travel changed you? Is there anything you appreciate now that you didn’t before? What have you learned from your travels? We’d love to hear from you.