Being Thanksgiving and all, the blogosphere is filled with recently posted, thoughtful pieces about thankfulness and the like. Among travel blogs, I’ve come across a few introspective posts on what travel makes us thankful for, and all the eye-opening bits and personal transformation that come with being an intrepid, nomadic soul. I enjoy them, and there’s quite a few things I could think of myself (my American passport, to start with), but what about the reverse? Maybe I’m hitting on some of the same sentiments, but I wanted to talk today about why I’m thankful for travel and the opportunity to explore.
For the friendships
Travel encourages us, even forces us, to make new friends. When you are a stranger in an unfamiliar place, you can’t just hide in the comfort of your own home, relying on TV and old friends for company. You have to be brave and talk to someone you’ve never met before. Sometimes, when I’m on the road alone for awhile, it’s loneliness and the realization that I haven’t opened my mouth to say more than “one coffee, please,” that gets me out of my own head and striking up conversations with whoever will let me. I’ve met so many amazing and inspiring people this way.
I’m thankful that travel has taught this shy kid to be a bit more bold and see the whole world as a potential source of friendship, not just the sorts of people that look similar to you. Also, I’m thankful for all the like-minded people that I’ve accumulated as friends over the past few years, because believe me, I’ve found some good ones ;D
For what it teaches us about ourselves
In the semi-unstructured realm of travel, we have a lot of time to think introspectively and reflect on what we are experiencing, how we react to unfamiliar situations, and what that says about ourselves. It also puts us in new situations that bring out this really base self of everyone’s personality. I really believe that how you handle a stressful situation (like missing a bus or being ripped off) can reveal a lot about yourself, and that these situations are a way to practice bettering ourselves. Ditto for how we act around new people. In travel, as opposed to at home, we experience these sorts of things often, and get to learn something new about ourselves every day.
There’s also the concept of learning by contrast. I don’t think I fully understood what being an American meant until I studied abroad in Senegal and Malta. By learning what it meant to be Senegalese/Maltese/British/French/Spanish/etc. I was also learning about my own national identity and how we fit into the world. For this, I am thankful for travel.
For what it teaches us about others
Roaming the world exposes us to endless personalities, cultures, and outlooks on life. When face to face with our differences, I think we are more likely to break down stereotypes and understand that finer differences exist underneath any one label (i.e. Asian, Christian, lawyer, etc.). The humanity of the ‘other’ is impossible to escape, and so long as we travel with an open and inquisitive mind, we are likely to learn much more about others than we ever could have at home. Sometimes, even the context itself suddenly sheds light on something we may not have understood before. Sometimes, we also discover there’s a lot to learn from these other perspectives — maybe I didn’t have all the answers after all…
For the skills we pick up along the way
How else would I have figured out how to wash a pair jeans by hand, speak Malagasy, or drive a motorbike if not through travel? I guess I had all the resources to do so at home, just not the initiative. In this regard, I am thankful that travel doesn’t just create the opportunities to develop new skills, but pushes us to do so as well.
For the patience and good humor it gives us
Travel isn’t always sunny beaches and good food — it can be stressful, challenging, and downright upleasant at times. There’s nothing like a 36 hour bus ride on a hard metal bench to teach a girl how to meditate and be patient (and also, how to hold “it” in when you really have to pee) or vendors in a Moroccan market place asking you every 5 seconds “where are you from?” for you to practice fending off irritation by making jokes (“I’m from Japan, obviously…”). Anyone who has traveled for a long time (hopefully) has gained the ability to be patient and laugh off the small things. How could you survive it if you haven’t?
For the adventure
If you haven’t figured it out already, I love a good story, and even better, a good adventure. Travel, and even just applying that sense of wonder and discovery to your everday life back home, is my favorite way to have new adventures. I’m thankful for all the big and small adventures, everything from trying a new dish to trekking across the Simien Mountains, that travel has allowed me to embark on.
For showing us what’s really important in life
And finally, perhaps a combination of everything I’ve just mentioned, I am most thankful for travel because it has taught me what’s most important in life. Maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I don’t think careers and success are more important than friendship and happiness. They hold weight, for sure, but after living and traveling abroad for quite some time, I’m a little nervous to return to our materialistic, progress-obsessed nation (this fear has mostly come out of reading Cosmo magazines on my Kindle…). For all the running around and 60 hour work weeks we do, I don’t believe we’re really becoming a happier and more satisfied, just creating more cravings and demands. After experiencing life at a much more basic level, maybe it’s better to strive to have enough in the ways of material posessions and to be comfortable than all these unnecessary excesses. Maybe, everything we do in life should be towards making it a better, more pleasant place for others, and enjoying every day, rather than working our butts off so that “some day” we’ll be well off.