Lately I’ve gotten to travel a lot, and I’ll be the first to admit how fortunate I am to have had these experiences. (I’ll also be the first to tell you that traveling can be affordable if you’re willing to do some planning). I’ve spent more weekends out-of-state than I have at home this past month – from an impromptu weekend in NYC to nine days in California – and I still haven’t fully unpacked my bags, already anticipating the next weekend adventure.
I’m working on a full California recap (for those of you who aren’t over it already, courtesy of my nonstop Instagramming), but for now, I just wanted to reflect upon a few things that I always forget until I travel, and that I’m betting ring true for you, too. . .
- Your comfort zone is overrated: I love my routines, from my morning coffee to my bedtime books, but humans are highly adaptable creatures, and I always seem to forget this until I fly off to a new time zone. Part of the beauty of traveling is finding yourself in new situations, and realizing that you can thrive in an environment that isn’t your norm. You learn to sleep in strange places, eat different foods, and embrace the culture of whatever place you’re visiting. It’s a lesson that I try to remember in my everyday life, where I tend to hate change, and only take very well-calculated risks. Life is short, and you’re going to miss some awesome sunsets if you’re not willing to get a little dirty and a little tired climbing to see them.
- Asking for help won’t kill you: The only thing I might hate more than change is not being 100% self-sufficient, all the time. Any of my friends can tell you that I’ll fight you for the check, Google before texting, and once during a blizzard in college tried to dig my car out using a bowl, rather than ask the apartment next door if I could borrow their shovel. I’d like to think I’ve grown a little wiser since then, but the reality is that I still hate asking for help, even when I know it’s the smartest, quickest, and easiest way to accomplish something. Traveling is humbling because despite my tendency to be overly prepared for everything, I still constantly find myself asking for assistance – restaurant recommendations from my barista, directions from my cabbie, the stranger on Southwest to pass the free peanuts – and it’s an important reminder that I don’t have to have the answer to everything, but I do have to be willing to ask for it.
- Your instincts are nearly always right: The flip side of the “ask for help” mantra is to always go with your gut. Part of being a smart traveler is knowing when something – or someone – seems off, and not doing something stupid solely for the sake of experience. I’ve learned to trust my instincts when traveling, but I struggle to buy into them as easily when I’m home, often telling myself that I’m reading too much into something. Learn to listen to that little voice inside your head . . . it isn’t always paranoid.
- Patience really is a virtue: I am so, so, so bad at being patient. I can’t sit still, I’ll go somewhere else if the line is too long, and I sometimes debate how many years of my life I’d be willing to give up if I never had to sit in traffic again. Travel, unfortunately, requires a great deal of patience. You wait for the bus, for people to find their tickets, for your group to make up its mind, for your food to arrive, for the weather to improve, for the layover to end, for EVERYTHING. The old cliché is true: you can enjoy the journey just as much as the destination . . . but you have to learn to be patient. For me, this is one of the toughest life lessons to swallow. I want to be good at everything, immediately, and I have no patience with myself if I’m not a prodigy on the first try. I want to own a house, and have a successful career, and a perfect game plan for my life, and I get frustrated when I haven’t achieved all these things in my twenties. I want people to move at my pace, and I’m not nearly as patient with my family and friends as I should be. But I’m working on it . . . so please be patient with me!
- Perspective is everything: Oh, boy, is this one true. Traveling gives me so much perspective on so many things: how big the world is, how much I still have to see and to learn, how lucky I am to live in America, how I overlook everyday blessings, like being able to walk on my own two legs through the security line or up a Mayan ruin. It reminds me how fleeting life is, and how happiness isn’t tied to income or many of the achievements with which we so readily associate it. I’ve been to some stunningly wealthy parts of the world where everyone’s nasty and rude to their waiter, and I’ve been to some dirt-poor regions where people readily opened their homes to total strangers. It’s easy to remember this when you’re in a sunny new place, but it’s harder to remember when it’s Monday and your computer’s crashed and you have two-hundred emails and a headache. The latter, of course, is the time when it matters most.
- We’re more alike than different: The more people I meet, the more convinced I am that we are not so dissimilar. It’s a rare vacation where I don’t wind up having a great conversation with a total stranger, either in a random bar or stuck in that dreaded middle seat on a long flight. I think if we were all forced to put down our phones and have conversations, this world would be a much better place.
- An open mind is your biggest asset: In that same vein, “don’t-knock-it-’til-you’ve-tried-it” is pretty solid advice. From escargot to modern art, I’ve gotten better at listening, observing, and trying, before writing something off. I’d like to think that this has made me a more well-rounded individual, a more creative problem-solver, and a more decent human being.
In short, TRAVEL MORE! You’ll always come back better than you left.