Travel: The Greatest Teacher
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | December 19th, 2020
As 2020 nears its close, I can't help but reflect back on everything travel has taught me over the years. After all, it has been almost ten months since John and I were able to travel due to COVID, so I've had quite a bit of time to reminisce about exactly what it is I love so much about travel. What I found was that as much as I love exploring beautiful cities, indulging in delicious local foods, and marveling at one of a kind sights, nothing compares to the life lessons that travel has taught me. Sure, travel has so many enjoyable moments, but it's the times when one is challenged and inconvenienced where the magic happens. There's a change that travel ignites inside. A journey inward that can only be achieved by a journey outward. Most travelers set out looking for adventure and fun, not realizing that they are about to gain so much more. As I think back to my first few years of traveling, I had such different viewpoints on life. Money and material things were high on my list, and I had no clue how the rest of the world was living. I still have much more to learn, but my priorities and focus have shifted greatly. When I think back on the greatest lessons travel has taught me, I think about these crucial lessons.
Experiences Over Things
What is the most important thing travel has taught me? This is it! Life is not meant to be all work, work, work....just to collect stuff. Life is meant to be LIVED! The more you travel, the more you realize that you actually need very little to be happy. It's not the houses, cars, clothes, and electronics that will make you happy - it's the experiences. At the end of your life, will you be happier with all of the things you've accumulated, or all of the experiences you had? I certainly choose the latter, and I find that the more I travel, the less important material things are to me.
Health is Everything
If travel will teach you anything, it's that your health is your greatest asset. Living comfortably in America, we often take our health for granted. If we get ill, we can easily see a doctor, and we're usually better within a few days or weeks. When traveling, if you get sick, it can be more challenging to get aid because of inconveniences, such as lack of health insurance or language barriers. When this happens, you're quick to realize just how important your health is, and you'll want to make life changes to live as healthy as possible. After years of traveling, a healthy diet and regular exercise are top priorities. Your health is everything, treasure it!
Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
This life lesson always makes me think of the Jack Canfield quote "Everything you want is on the other side of fear." When I first started traveling internationally, I was nervous about so many things - flying, terrorism, language barriers, food poisoning, being American. I was so nervous about these things because the places and experiences were unfamiliar to me, and I was comfortable in my safe bubble at home. I'm so glad that I decided to push myself to travel to the places that made me uncomfortable, because I was then able to see how incorrect the fear was. Not one of my worries occurred while traveling (well...John did get food poisoning once, but it really wasn't that bad.) I now try to push myself outside of my comfort zone whenever possible, because let me tell you, amazing things happen on the other side of fear.
Try New Things
This brings me to my next point. You'll never know what you're missing if you don't try new things. As a creature of habit, I didn't begin to expand my horizons until I started traveling. For me, eating at the same restaurants and doing the same things every week was fine, and comfortable. Once I began traveling, I realized just how much I had been missing. Travel opens your eyes to a plethora of new experiences, and it pushes you to try them. After a while, trying new things will become part of your new normal, and it will be so rewarding.
The World Isn't as Scary as the News Portrays It & We're More Alike Than You Think
Most people get their opinions of the world from their local news sources, and this can often portray the world as a scary place. In reality, most countries are very safe to visit, if not safer than the USA. Once you've traveled to these "scary" places, you'll realize that these countries are not to be feared. After I visited Egypt in 2017, I realized that this "dangerous" country has some of the kindest people in the world, and not once did I feel uneasy during my trip. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most everyone in the world wants the same things in life - love and happiness. We're all working toward a similar goal - live our life as best as we can. If this life lesson can teach you anything, it's that we should not fear one another. We're more alike than you think.
Kindness is the Universal Language
Kindness is a universal language that everyone understands. We've all met friendly, and not so friendly people in our lives, but it's the friendly ones that truly leave a mark on our hearts. Being in a foreign country comes with an abundance of challenges, and when a stranger goes out of their way to help you, you can't help but feel extra appreciative of that person and their kindness. In turn, you want to spread kindness, too. I can still think of certain individuals that did kind things for me while traveling, and I'll never forget them. Sure, I met some rude people, too, but I can barely recall them. It's the kind people who touch your soul. Kindness is contagious, and it feels great! So get out there and spread kindness!
This was a tough lesson for me. I definitely wasn't the most patient person, and it's frankly something I still struggle with from time to time. But travel has a funny way of bringing any flaw you have to the surface, and poking at it until you decide it's time to work on it. If you struggle with any sort of patience issues then travel will be your greatest teacher. From delayed flights and lost luggage to cancelled plans and language barriers, you'll get thrown one patience curveball after the next. Albeit frustrating, remember, within every obstacle lies a lesson. After each lesson is learned, you'll look back and see just how much your patience has grown.
Be More Flexible & Spontaneous
Travel does not always go according to plan - flights get cancelled, trains get delayed, the weather doesn't always cooperate, stuff happens! The best thing you can do is be open-minded and spontaneous. On top of teaching you patience, travel will also teach you to be more flexible. If it's raining on a day you planned to sunbathe, find a cool museum to explore. If your hotel isn't what you expected, move to a different one. If your luggage is lost, head to a local store and buy some new apparel. Embrace the uncertainty of travel and life. You never know where it may lead you.
Ah....gratitude. The small act that has changed my life immensely. We often get so caught up in the ebbs and flows of life that we barely have a moment to stop and be thankful for everything wonderful we have. We're usually too busy thinking about what we don't have, and trying to figure out the easiest and quickest way to get it, that we're missing the point of life. When you travel to countries where people have so much less than you do, but are happier, you realize that they have something you don't - gratitude. They're thankful for the things we tend to overlook, such as clean drinking water, food, and a roof over their heads. If you want to start practicing gratitude daily, but don't know where to start, those three things are a good place to begin. If you can add health, love, and happiness to your list, well I'd say you're a pretty lucky person.
Appreciate the Little Things
When you travel, it feels as though life slows down a bit. There's more time to appreciate the little things, such as a beautiful sunset, a stroll with a loved one, a delicious meal, or a nice conversation with a stranger. If you've ever visited a third world country, you'll even quickly learn to appreciate something as minor as a comfortable bed or a clean bathroom. Travel teaches us that it's the little things that matter the most in life. Once you return home, this lesson will definitely stick with you, and you'll find yourself appreciating the little things more than you used to, and you'll be much happier because of it.
A Simple Life is a Good Life
Less is more. That saying surely rings true when talking about travel, and life. No one wants to carry around heavy suitcases and bags from city to city while traveling. Plus, you really don't need a lot of things in order to have a successful and enjoyable trip. Well, the same goes for life. It's proven that a life of excess brings nothing but stress and constant restlessness, while a simple life brings happiness and serenity. As I mentioned in the gratitude lesson, you may see a lot of people with a lot less than you have while traveling. You may notice how happy they are. They have what is truly important in life - health, shelter, food, clothing, and love - and they don't have much desire for anything more. They believe that a simple life is a good life, and I must concur.
Nature Heals & Needs to Be Protected
Not everyone ends up in nature during their travels, but those who do surely return home more refreshed and relaxed than those who visit cities. Why? Because nature is proven to heal our minds and bodies. If you travel a lot in nature, you'll find yourself craving it more and more because of its amazing health benefits. On a negative note, sometimes while traveling, you'll witness the fragility of nature, such as deforestation, dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, and animal cruelty. During one of my first trips, I realized just how little I knew about the state of our Earth, and the animals that inhabit it. After returning home, I knew I needed to do better. I adopted a more eco-friendly diet (less meat and dairy), stopped using single-use plastic, recycled better, and began making donations to animal organizations that help protect wildlife. Nature is very important to us, the planet, and the animals, and it needs to be protected at all costs - an important lesson that only travel can teach you.