Although I feel like my journey to explore the world has only just begun, it already feels like I’ve learned so much. Traveling forces us to break away from our routines and pushes us outside of our comfort zones. Learning new languages, eating foreign foods, understanding different cultures, and seeing different walks of life with your own eyes will broaden your horizons and allow you to see yourself and the world in a new light. The list below, while not a comprehensive one, are some key takeaways from my personal experiences while traveling.
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
1. It’s OK to be Alone
I know this may seem obvious for some, but learning that I enjoy being alone was something I didn’t expect when I first started to travel. I had always enjoyed the company of my select group of friends and could not imagine actually wanting to be alone until I spontaneously decided to join a group of 30 strangers on a road trip across western Europe. The constant bus rides, the endless city hopping, forced group activities, and of course, sharing a hostel with five other women made me realize that not only did I want to be alone at times, but that it’s totally normal to want space! If you find yourself in a similar, politely excuse yourself from your travel companions and do something you want to do on your own. Whether you want to visit a museum solo, take a walk in the park, or take a nap at the hotel, feel free to do so without feeling guilty. Once you’re re-charged, you can re-join your group you will feel so much better.
2. Appreciate the Little Things
Many of us begin our travels with the expectation that we will marvel at stunning landscapes, indulge in decadent exotic cuisines, and embark on high adrenaline excursions that we may not even think to talk about our smaller experiences. It’s so easy to get lost in new and foreign locales when we travel, but at some point you will realize how much you appreciate the little things (like not being worried about having enough coins to pay for the bathroom!). The next time you tell your family and friends about the Instagram-worthy landmarks you visited, remember to tell them about the time a fellow traveler helped you find the right bus route, when a stranger gifted you with a free handmade tea set, or even that time a local helped tow you back to the city when your car broke down at night on a mountaintop in Iran (true story!). You may even come to find that these experiences are what make your travels so memorable.
3. You Don’t Have to “Find Yourself”
Movies like Eat, Pray, Love and Into the Wild (you know, where there’s a main character that has some major life-altering situation that leads to them taking a trip where they endure challenges, face hard truths about themselves, and then after two hours have suddenly figured out exactly who they are) sometimes make us feel like we have to have all of our problems solved by the time we return home from a trip. While movies like that are inspiring, they are not always realistic. Many of us experience the same type of situations, such as breakups, divorce, and death, that have also inspired these characters to embark on their journeys. The only difference between us and these characters is that we may not have all of questions answered or all of our problems solved when we return. While I fully believe that creating distance from stressful situations will help you gain clarity on your situation, accept that it’s OK to still be hurt or confused (even more confused!) when you pack your bags to return home.
4. Break the Barriers of Your Comfort Zone
I don’t know what it is about being in another country or city, but I swear I feel like I’m a completely person! If you were to ask anyone who hasn’t traveled with me what I’m like, they will probably tell you that I’m cautious and definitely not a thrill-seeker — basically, a huge scaredy cat! Now go talk to the people that I have traveled with and they will you about the time I ziplined upside down in Mexico (and loved it!), went shark cage diving in Hawaii (no plexi glass!), and did a free-fall jump on a Tarzan rope (did I mention I have a slight fear of heights?). Oh, and my normal need to plan for everything? Nope, when I travel I am the queen of YOLO and ~going with the flow~. Believe me when I say that if my stubbornly comfortable self can completely transform when I am traveling, so can you! Think about what it is you are afraid of and face your fears. Break out of your comfort zone and you will discover all the ways in which you can grow.
5. There’s No Place Like Home
This may sound counterintuitive for a travel post, but I still believe that at the end of your trip (especially after an entire day of traveling!) there’s nothing quite like being in the comfort of your own bed, in your own home, without worrying about catching your next flight and constantly being on the go. This may be my comfort-seeking self speaking again, but after several days, weeks, or even months away, there is just something special about being back home where you can simply just be.