Traveling around the world is not just about how many places you have seen or where you went. It is also about the internal journey of self. How it makes you feel and think. Traveling has added so much to my life. And, I think everyone would agree that it makes everyone who does it a better person. Whether it is traveling solo around the world or to another state for a two week tour of the national parks, travel makes you a better person.
The first thing that comes to mind is that when you go on a trip, you try things you normally wouldn’t get to do, like riding a mule down into the Grand Canyon or taking a zip line ride across the Amazon forest, or going on a tour of an African wildlife reserve to see the local elephant herds. Doing things that are out of your ordinary experience is amazing. Some of the things I have been able to do include a helicopter ride into a dormant volcano in Kauai to see the beautiful waterfalls cascading into the lush green interior of the volcano (hope it doesn’t decide to explode); getting to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris (it was much smaller in size than I imagined in my mind before seeing it – I always thought it was a large painting but it turns out that it is a rather intimate portrait), claim staking on Victoria Island in Canada with my geologist friends, climbing Mount Seftan in Mount Cook National Park and staying in the mountain huts and lots of other things. My point is that without travel I wouldn’t have been able to experience the world like this and because of this I learned many things. These and many other experiences make me a better person than I was before I went as I learned about the world and about my perceptions of it both before, during and after traveling.
The people you meet while traveling that are awesome. I have met so many people that have helped me out with directions or given me a ticket to someplace or exchanged information about how to do something or recommended food to try or places to go. And it is not just about that. It is about having a moment of connection that is fun and interesting. Meeting the locals and talking to them about the loaf of bread that is a local favorite or just hearing their views which can be different than your own on world events. Even people watching is fun when you are on the road.
Traveling makes you flexible. You have to be because if you are not you are going to be very disappointed. Sometimes your flight is cancelled or you miss the boat or you can’t get the place you wanted to stay in. Lots of things change and you have to be able to go with the flow. Things like you booked a kayak tour but its too windy and the company does not want to risk having people out on the water. That’s okay. Let’s go horseback riding on the beach instead. Once I booked a hot air balloon ride and it rained so no ride into the sky. Same with river rafting near Taos. We had beautiful weather but the day we were booked to go river rafting a huge storm came in and it actually snowed. The river guide still said he would go but I didn’t want to be on a river on a freezing cold day in shorts with no wetsuit. In any case, you have to go with your gut sometimes. If it doesn’t sound safe, then you should walk away. Don’t force the issue just because you came all this way, or you have it in your head that you have to do it. Usually something else will come up that is just as interesting.
Sometimes you just have to take a chance and this also means you need to be willing to change your plans and not be rigid. Having some time and the ability to go south instead of north or to take a side trip to some place that you found out about on your trip is just what you need to do. Why not do something different and off the beaten path? Sometimes these quirky, out of the way trips are the best ones of all.
New Foods, new sensations. Travel is all about new food. Think Anthony Bourdain, only its you! Try that Texas Barbecue or the cactus fries or the local bananas from the rainforest or a chili that is the real deal. I think that some of the most fun foods are those from street vendors where you get to meet the people and talk to them as they make your food. Recently out in New Mexico I met an older Native American lady. She was a Navajo. She was making fry bread and native tacos and selling them from a little tin shed on the road. She told me she was cold and that she was doing her bit to help raise money for her community church. So she made the fry bread for us. It was delicious. But the main thing was that I got to talk to her and learn a little about her life.
Making conversation on the road become second nature. All you have to do is be friendly and smile and ask questions. People love to tell you about their lives and the places where they live or where they are from. So it is not hard to meet people and to make conversation. Sometimes you even get invited to events or to their place for a meal. Be open (but with caution), to talking to people as it will really make a big difference in your experience. Having an open mind and heart will make it a lot easier to listen.
You learn to think in different ways when you travel. Things you take for granted or ways of doing things may not be the norm somewhere else. This is a reason in itself for traveling – learning to see things in many ways. Your way is not the only way.
Problem solving goes hand in hand with gaining confidence. Having to organize your trip and to actually make the trip and come back in itself means you did a lot. It is not easy to travel especially if you are going somewhere completely foreign to you. So you can be proud of yourself for making your trip a success and for enjoying and enduring (because some things will be an endurance test – think of the Amazing Race – that’s endurance).
Traveling also makes you less insular and more open minded. You realize that there are many opinions, many ideas and many colors in this world. Everything from food to art to music to modes of living and methods of travel are all different. There is no right or wrong. Also, you realize that things like popularity are created – what is popular in one culture may be a dud in another. So I think this helps you to be more understanding and open and less set in your ways. And most importantly I think travel helps you to see, to really see and to listen and to have empathy and compassion for others while having the experiences of a lifetime.
This is why traveling makes you a better person; a better self, both inside and out.
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