While on a five-week overseas trip in Europe recently, I got thinking about how eye-opening international travel can be. Travel is obviously really exciting and fun, and yes, it’s so great to learn about other cultures and the history of those places. But you also gain some other intrinsic benefits from travel - you learn a lot about yourself and open your eyes to different experiences. Here are the top five things I learned from travel this time around.
You’re more tolerant than you thought
You're actually capable of putting up with much more than you have always thought. This is of particular relevance if you are part of a tour group and/or staying in hostel accommodation.
Snoring, screaming babies, noisy room mates, people cutting queues in front of you, large crowds, slow service, long lines, clothes dryers that just keep eating the damn tokens, that guy on the tour bus who hasn't showered for 3 days…are you picking up what I’m putting down?
When you travel, especially overseas, things don’t always go to plan. There are language barriers and cultural differences that can lead to miscommunications or delays. You soon learn to accept that some things will go wrong, and when they do, you take them in your stride and just get on with it. If only we could be a bit more like this in ‘normal life’, things might just be a little bit easier and we’d probably all be a lot less angry, too.
Life’s better lived outside of your comfort zone
For some reason, when we travel abroad, we seem to find it easier to leave our inhibitions at home. How many times have you heard the phrase "Say Yes to Everything" being touted to a friend who was off on a trip!? It's a shame we can't always hold on to the feeling we have while travelling overseas, that exhilarating feeling of absolute freedom, the confidence and spontaneity, and the drive to try new things and meet new people.
When you're travelling, it seems completely normal to talk to almost anyone. Travelling overseas usually provides us with a timely reminder to open our minds to new experiences, to living in the moment, to be a little adventurous. When we are more adventurous and do something a little risky, we not only get a thrilling little adrenaline rush, we might also get some sort of other benefit - for example you might make a new friend, win a karaoke competition or even end up meeting some new travel companions.
I'm not saying you have to go bungee jumping or swim with sharks. Being adventurous means different things to different people. To me, being adventurous could mean booking a pub crawl even though the thought of going out drinking with twenty complete strangers is completely intimidating, and the thought of a hangover in your 30’s is even more terrifying!
Some of the best times I have had while travelling have been when I’ve been on my own. As I was saying above, when we travel it’s like we are different people. Going on a day trip by ourselves or taking ourselves on a sunset river cruise seems like a normal thing to do and it is of course, heaps of fun. I’m making it my mission to do more stuff on my own when I’m at home too!
Your life is pretty freaking awesome
When you travel to foreign countries, you tend to get some perspective on how your problems sit in the context of the larger world. It might be something as simple as meeting fellow travellers who are shocked to hear that in your country, you get 4 weeks of paid leave per year (and they only get two!). You might see poverty like you've never experienced, you may get approached in the street by a beggar, showing you a photo of their wife and three small children. You might be shown hospitality by a family who can barely afford to eat but who will treat you as a guest of honour, gladly cook you a meal and proudly give you a tour of the village, without a moment's hesitation.
When I was in Greece, I spoke to people who had lived through the crash of the economy in recent times, referred to as ‘the crisis’. It became pretty clear to me that the effects of the economic crisis in Greece are far deeper than financial. People lost their homes, their lifetime savings, their businesses. The stress it caused tore families apart, and left the youth disenchanted, feeling they had no futures or hopes to ever get ahead. Just taking a walk through the streets of Athens gives you insight into the tragic situation; shopfronts boarded up, whole blocks absolutely covered in graffiti, beggars on every street corner.
Drive through the hills of Mykonos or Santorini, and you'll notice an unmentionable amount of unfinished homes, sitting there sadly, bare bones against the dramatic landscape, incomplete and battered by the unforgiving winds. One elderly man we met on Santorini told us of how he believes Greece will become a nation of 'old people', because the youth are looking for any chance to leave Greece and seek better opportunities abroad.
Travelling abroad exposes you to situations that would not normally occur in your normal life, some of them simply joyous, some of them totally confronting. These experiences will leave a mark on you, and your own life will be put into perspective. You come home knowing more about the world around you and hopefully feeling richer for the experience.
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You can survive with less stuff than you realise
I am actually embarrassed to admit to the amount of junk I own. I have a ridiculous amount of clothes, some of which I have not even worn. I have books, DVDs and CDs that have sat unused on the shelf for years. Not to mention all of the duplicate kitchen appliances I own. All this stuff that barely gets used.
When you travel, you live out of a pack or suitcase for an extended period of time, without all the creature comforts, and you not only survive, it feels nice. You feel ‘lighter’ without all that clutter, all that stuff sitting around you, collecting dust and emotionally weighing you down. It’s actually quite freeing.
I came home from my recent overseas holiday and proceeded to cull heaps of clothes, books and home wares. I even culled my CD and DVD collection, and cleaned out my pantry. I plan to hold a garage sale soon ( hint: a great way to make money for more travel!), and whatever is left will be donated to charity.
Travellers are fantastic people
If you are willing to get out of your comfort zone (see above), you will inevitably meet some awesome people while you’re travelling. Whenever I have been travelling, I’ve met people from all walks of life who were also travelling, and almost all of them have been absolutely lovely.
Because you’re both in the same boat, you’ll have lots in common and be able to share hints and tips. When you’re lost, a fellow traveller will help with directions and might even go a step further and recommend a great cafe or bar you should check out while you’re in town.
If you’re travelling solo and want to meet people, head to the hostel bar. Travellers at hostels are generally social creatures, so it will only be a matter of time before you make a new friend if you park yourself in the bar. On my recent trip, we met the best people at bars. We met a a couple of German girls who we ended up hiring a car with two days later, exploring the island of Mykonos. In Hvar, we met a Dutch couple who invited us to go boating with them the following day.
I also met a young Aussie guy in Berlin who, after knowing me literally 24 hours, gifted me his ‘Oyster’ card for London public transport. It had about $20 on it, enough to get me around London for the 24 hours that I would be there. I was so touched by this, since backpackers are usually on a tight budget and this guy had only just met me. Travellers are super cool people. Keep an open mind, get out of your comfort zone, and you’ll see for yourself.
That concludes the list of important things you learn when you travel
BONUS CONTENT! Here’s some of the other cool stuff you learn while travelling:
You can operate on a lot less sleep than you originally thought.
You can drink WAY more beer than you had ever imagined.
Being hungover on a bus or plane is not ideal.
Do you have anything you learnt while travelling that you’d like to share? Please share in the comments below, I’d love to hear your stories!