I’ve been lucky to have had a number of opportunities to travel abroad, starting with a school trip to Europe when I was 15. So far, I’ve traveled to locations in North, Central, and South America; Western Europe; and Australia. There are many, many more places I hope to go. Travel is expensive, but to me, the experiences are well worth making sacrifices in other areas. The world is a big place, full of beauty and adventures waiting to be had. In addition to the obvious, here are a few less expected benefits of traveling.
- You learn how little you actually need. Packing light is a great way to figure out what you really need to live, and the more big trips you pack for, the more you can do without. Sure, you could check two huge suitcases, but do you really want to lug those around with you? Bringing too much stuff can limit your mobility and get in the way (especially if you’re, say, backpacking across Europe). I try to stick to a carry-on and avoid checking bags, both because I don’t want to pay the bag-check fee and because I don’t want my bag to get lost. The side effect is that I’ve come to see that a small selection of possessions can meet all of my needs. This realization has affected my mindset when I’m at home. Do I really need to buy more stuff? Probably not. In general, life is simpler (and less expensive) when you own fewer things.
- You get to be an outsider. This can be uncomfortable for some people, but it’s a good kind of discomfort that makes you a more empathetic and adaptable person. Placing yourself in a different culture where you don’t understand everything and have to ask for help allows you to connect to others in ways you likely wouldn’t if you had stayed at home. Having the experience of being an outsider can make you more sensitive to people who are outsiders in your own culture. It can also make you a lot more humble.
- It’s a great excuse to learn a new language, assuming you’re visiting a place whose primary language is not your own. Read my recent post about language-learning.
- It can force you to disconnect. The advantages of disconnecting from electronics are well-documented, but unplugging can be difficult. When I travel outside the U.S., I usually don’t buy an international data plan for my phone because they’re expensive and I don’t really need one. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to stay at a hotel with reliable, unlimited wi-fi, but that’s often not the case. In some places, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find free wi-fi anywhere. In others, my internet time has been limited to the brief periods of time that I happen to be at a coffee shop with public wi-fi. I try to let people know before I leave that my connectivity will be limited so that they aren’t expecting quick responses from me and won’t get concerned if they don’t hear back right away. Although breaking the phone-checking habit is tough, it can be so freeing to know that I couldn’t check my email or Facebook even if I wanted to. It’s like a forced detox — rehab for technology addiction.
What unexpected benefits have you noticed while traveling?
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