Whether you go on a yoga retreat or a climbing tour, travel is a mental adventure. Oh, there’s surprise, fear, anxiety, wonderment and peace. That roller coaster of ideas and emotions is what activates your learning. Here are three ways in which travel makes you a richer person.
1. You learn about yourself.
When you travel, you are confronted with new landscapes, people, traditions, weather, etc. Some experiences may be exhilarating and others disturbing. There are three things you will most likely learn about yourself: a) how well you adapt to change; b) how good you are at making decisions; c) how you face challenges.
Adapting and adopting a different lifestyle can show you personal traits you weren’t aware of. Let’s say you book a trip to the Amazon rainforest where you don’t have electricity or internet and the bathroom is any tree you choose. Oh, and no electricity means no fridge which means no cold beer. Can you give up Facebook, Game of Thrones, ice cream and Heineken? Will you embrace the simplicity or dread the lack? How long can you last there until you pop? There is only one way to find out! But why is this important? Because in your life you will go through different phases and many changes, such as moving to a new city, taking a new job, getting married, etc. A trip is like having a different life momentarily.
Travel requires some level of planning, but even if you are very spontaneous, you eventually will have to make decisions. Should you stay another night here or there? Should you take the bus or fly? Do you book the cruise or the hotel? Do you eat the grub and the guinea pig? Some decisions will be critical, others less so. Do you get stressed over them? If you travel with a partner, is it easier or more difficult to decide? Life is all about making decisions and dealing with the consequences.
And with the decision to travel to a strange place come the challenges. What will you do if you miss a flight or the airline misplaced your luggage? How do you react if you are pickpocketed? What happens if you get a stomach flu? Do you blame others or take action and solve the issue? Do you keep your peace or feel defeated? The same can happen at home, but being in a foreign place certainly activates your survival instinct much quicker. Every challenge is a life lesson.
2. You learn about the world.
The best way to understand the world is to go out and see it. You can read about indigenous communities in the Andes, but wouldn’t it be more fun to visit them and learn about their culture directly? Imagine sharing or preparing a meal with them. Experiencing different ways of life broadens your mind and promotes tolerance and empathy. You might see photos of the Easter procession in Quito and wonder why is it that people do it? You might not understand the cultural and religious significance unless you walk with them and feel the energy. Travel also fosters gratitude for the things you have back home. You might take for granted that the supermarket is next door, but when you have to walk kilometers to get fresh water or you need to go hunting in the forest for a few days, you will truly appreciate these modern conveniences.
When you travel, you also become aware of the social, economic and ecological problems around the world. You can learn of ways in which you can help, which can be as simple as talking about it with your friends and spreading the word. When you experience a place, you care for it and feel the need to protect it. Have you noticed that when you hear news about a place you know, you pay more attention? You can watch a documentary about Galapagos, but imagine yourself swimming with the sea lions and taking a selfie with a giant tortoise. These memories are more likely to awaken your environmental consciousness.
3. Your travel stories inspire people.
Sharing your stories can teach people important lessons. It also makes you an interesting and fun person to be around, because you can entertain them! But you don’t have to go far to harvest your story, it can be right in your country or state. Here are some of mine: that time I camped in the Amazon rainforest and shared the tent with a tarantula. Or when I made flower offerings with two local women for the Buddha Festival in Laos. And that time I stayed in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. And when I snorkeled with white-tip sharks and penguins in Galapagos. That time I took a dip in the freezing waters of the Norwegian fjords. Or when I encounter a family of Andean bears in the highlands of Ecuador. The stories are endless and will always make a conversation last longer, apart from encouraging people to go explore themselves and create their own adventures.