When I was in university, I spent 4 months studying abroad in England, and the trip quite literally changed my life. Most obviously, it changed because I met Joe, who I am now married to and traveling the world with. But it changed my life in subtle ways as well, slowly changing my attitudes and behaviors. Here are 9 ways I believe that traveling can change your life.
1. You learn to be easy-going when things don’t go your way
I’ll be honest with you: I’m not known for being the most easy-going person around. (And all my family members said, “Amen.”) Firstly, I get easily stressed and flustered, and have been known to have panic attacks. Secondly, I’m constantly uncomfortable. I get cold easily, I get hot easily, I get tired walking, I have knee pain and hip pain, and when any of this happens I struggle not to complain about it. And if Joe so much as suggests that I just “chill out,” well… you can imagine how well that goes over. In a nutshell: I’m not exactly the ideal candidate for traveling. Because, in case you didn’t know, traveling involves a lot of walking, being exposed to the elements, and dealing with unexpected problems.
But I love seeing new places even more than I like being comfortable, so I push on. And the more I do, the easier it gets. I still get stressed and have bad moments. I still might start crying if we get lost and I’m sweating profusely. But I’ve learned to acknowledge that I’m upset about something and then move on.
When we were in Morocco, I got a little worked up because I struggled more than everyone else to climb up a sand dune. It was embarrassing. By the time I got to the top, I was crying. But I said to myself, “Kayla, you’re in the f@#$% Sahara Desert watching the sunset; don’t ruin this moment by crying about all your poor life choices.” So I calmed down, moved on, and had one of the best nights of my life.
The more you push yourself outside your comfort zone, the bigger your comfort zone will get.
2. You’re reminded that you’re not the center of the universe
I don’t think most of us would actually admit we think we are. But it’s a natural human mentality; you spend your life thinking about what’s happening to you, how things affect you, etc. This isn’t inherently bad. It’s important though to be reminded that there are 7 billion + other people on the planet doing the same thing.
We often base our opinions on how things affect us as individuals, rather than considering how humanity as a whole is affected. Going to new cities and seeing all the people who live there reinforces how many people occupy just as important a space on this planet as you do. It forces you to think more about how your actions affect the world around you, and consider what you can do to make a difference.
Almost paradoxically, it also reminds you that the tiny things that happen in your day to day life aren’t actually that big of a deal. Not necessarily in a bad way; more in a freeing way. You realize your daily worries and decisions don’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things. The universe will carry on either way.
3. You’re reminded that there are other cultures with different perspectives and different needs
Whenever you grow up being told certain things are right or normal, you automatically project that onto the rest of the world. But it’s not fair to hold other groups of people to all the same ideals that you have. Some things are clearly violations of human rights, such as child slavery or sex trafficking. However, this doesn’t mean everything that’s different to your norm is bad.
Head coverings are a prime example of this. Because we don’t wear them in a lot of cultures, many people don’t understand the practice and feel that women are being oppressed and forced to wear them. I certainly can’t speak for those women myself; I’m sure there are women who do feel forced. But there are a lot of women who choose to cover their heads because of their personal and religious beliefs. And sometimes it’s just practical! When we were in the desert in Morocco we covered our heads and faces – not because we had to, but because there was sand blowing everywhere. I’d happily cover my head in other countries if it’s needed to respect their culture.
I’ve seen people take issue with it without taking the time to understand it. It’s important to realize we’re all influenced by the beliefs we’re taught as a child. People who live differently are just living with what they know, and it’s not right to judge them as being wrong.
4. You learn to be more patient with non-native English speakers
I grew up in an English speaking area that doesn’t get a lot of tourists, and used to struggle with getting frustrated when customers at my job didn’t speak English very well. There’s this pervasive attitude in parts of America that “if they want to move here, they better learn English.” I do think that we should all learn the primary language of wherever we choose to live. But once I started traveling, I realized how ignorant and arrogant my previous attitude had been.
It’s not right to be impatient or condescending when people don’t speak their second or third language as well as I speak my first (and only) language. When I was in France or the Netherlands, I had to take a couple of trains by myself. I had no idea what the signs said and I couldn’t understand the announcements made over the speakers. More than once I found myself at the mercy of kind strangers who helped me along the way. We would never think that we shouldn’t visit Paris or Amsterdam until we can fluently speak their language, so why do we put this pressure on people coming to America? They are trying, and their stumbling over words does not reflect a lack of intelligence.
5. You learn that you don’t actually need many of your belongings
I’m a bit of a shopaholic and a collector of things. Books, movies, magazines, souvenirs, scarves, lipstick, skincare. I have too much of all of it. But we’ve been living out of luggage a lot since December. Our first two trips we took suitcases, but since then we’ve actually been traveling with a backpack each. It’s so freeing to go somewhere and only have to worry about what’s on your back without lugging a suitcase around. It also has forced us to really consider what we take on each trip. Joe was already a minimal packer, but truthfully I like to have outfit options and 10 different shades of lipstick with me.
But taking just a few outfits and minimal products means that I never spend long getting ready in the morning, because I don’t have to make many decisions. When I come home and see the wardrobe full of clothes and shoes, the buckets full of makeup, the stacks of books, or the random trinkets I’ve collected, I realize how unnecessary most of it is. Sure, a lot of it does make me happy, and I enjoy getting to use those things when I’m home. But once again, there’s this decision fatigue – choosing what to wear, picking which book to read. I’m not saying I’m ready to throw out all my stuff and have one bucket of belongings, but it has made me think twice before shopping the sales on ASOS.
6. You learn to appreciate everyday conveniences
I’m from America, the land of convenience. Oklahoma in particular really caters to making things as comfortable as possible. We have central heat and air, countless fast food drive-thrus, and tumble dryers that don’t take two hours to dry your clothes. These things aren’t common in England, much less the more remote locations of the world. While traveling you’re constantly dealing with a lack of the conveniences you’re used to. I’m so much more appreciative of those things now; things like good WiFi, access to a kettle, or even just McDonald’s can make me infinitely happier. It truly is the little things in life.
7. You become less afraid of the unknown
Before I studied abroad, I was a serious worrier. I’ve always had my fair share of phobias in life (I am genuinely afraid of the dark – it’s kinda ridiculous). My nervousness extended to spending time in foreign countries. I don’t know if it’s is a common mindset in other countries, but I think there’s this idea in the USA that the rest of the world is a much scarier place to be. People were worried about me when I was studying, and I’ve had people ask me if I get scared living in London. Sure, I get nervous riding the tube sometimes, or feel afraid walking by a group of men at night. But those things aren’t London specific.
Bad things do happen to people while traveling – just like bad things can happen when you stay home. That’s unfortunately the world we live in. But I’ve become so much less apprehensive of some unknown horror happening every time I go to a new place. I’ve gotten lost in Paris by myself; I’ve had to walk alone in a sketchy area of Barcelona at 2am. (I had to do the same in OKC once and to be honest I’m not sure which was scarier.) Things happen, and you have to stay level-headed and figure it out. As time goes on you realize that the world isn’t such a scary place and there are still a lot of good people in it.
8. You find it harder to settle down
When I first came to England, I was absolutely obsessed with it. I loved the country, the people, the accents, all the old buildings. But after awhile the clouds wear you down a bit. We’ve visited beautiful, sunny places like Australia and Morocco, and it has made us think, “Do we really want to settle down in this gloomy country one day?”
I have no idea how we’re gonna pick one place to stay one day. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be challenging to lose that sense of “home.” Having moved from the USA to England and now spending all this time traveling, I definitely have a sense of displacement that may never go away.
The more we travel, the more we want to push back that whole settling down thing anyway. There’s so many stunning places to see that it seems a shame to spend most of our lives in one place. Our travel list keeps growing, and we’re hoping this is a life we can live for several years to come.
9. You may become insufferable talking about your travels
Sorry but I couldn’t not include this one. Everyone always makes fun of people who travel abroad and how they come back relating everything to that one time in “Barthelona.” (I mean, I literally did that a couple points ago.)
While it’s a funny joke, it is important to realize that a lot of people will not care that much about your adventures. You’ll come back from these life-changing experiences, and some people will be really unimpressed with it. Whether they’re tired of hearing about it or jealous, the interest will die long before you’ve grown tired of talking about it.
It’s really helpful to have other friends who have traveled as well, so you can spend all day swapping stories. You can say things about “When I was in Paris…” without anyone batting an eyelid or thinking you’re pretentious.
Are there any ways that travel has significantly changed or impacted your life?
Comment below to let us know; we’d really love to hear about it.