A common complaint I hear from a lot of people I talk to is that they wish they had traveled more when they were younger. What’s interesting is that this complaint comes from people of all ages, from 23 all the way up to 80. To all except some of those right at the top of that spectrum, I ask this question:
What’s stopping you?
I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve been to a few places around the world now, and already I know that these people are on the right track in their thinking. Travel is possibly one of the most enriching and valuable things you can do for yourself. You’ll learn a ton of life lessons out there in the world! Here are just a few of the ones I’ve picked up so far.
Lesson #1: More stuff doesn’t equal more happiness
This lesson hit me right between the eyes during a trip my wife and I took to Indonesia. There, we met people who lived simple lives, yet seemed happier and more fulfilled than either of us travelers.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the key to happiness doesn’t sit with the next “thing” you think you need to have. And believe me, that’s been a tough lesson for me to learn too. I’ve only just begun working on it.
The reason it’s so tough is that, since we were young, we’ve been learning from the culture around us that buying more “stuff” is the secret to happiness. Having nice things means you can show others how well you’re doing, and they’ll respect you more because of it.
Ok, anyone reading that last line is calling bullshit on it, but isn’t that what it ultimately comes down to? Why do you need a bigger house? Designer furniture? A $3,000 fridge?
The reality is that I have no friggin idea how to reshape my mindset to get away from this way of thinking. I know it’s where I want to go, but I have no clue how to get there. I’m going to spend some time on this and make it the topic of a later post.
Point is, you don’t need to go to many places to realize that happiness isn’t about the things you have. But go to a few, because what you’ll find there will open your eyes in a way that staying home never could.
Lesson #2: There is a ton of beauty on this planet
We’re very lucky to live in Canada. This country alone has a diversity of landscape the likes of which very few other countries can claim.
But there are so many amazing things to see in other areas of the world too. Whether you’d appreciate the natural beauty of Hawaii or the architectural marvels of Rome, experiencing places like those will change you in ways you have to experience to understand.
Pictures don’t do them justice. Just get out and see them!
Lesson #3: Your way is not the only way
If you’ve never travelled, it can be a challenge to see things from a different point of view than your own. It can close you off to new experiences and ways of doing things too.
Here’s a good example. In other countries, they seem to have a slower pace of life than we do in North America. Yes, those countries have their problems, but it’s hard to ignore that feeling in your gut that keeps saying that they have it right as a society.
It’s also just sometimes a ton of fun to party and celebrate in a way you’re not used to. The first time I attended an Indian wedding, I was completely out of my element, and it was a blast. I’ve never seen so many people come together to celebrate the happy couple before, and participating in the customs and traditions of that style of wedding was a unique experience that I continue to treasure.
When you get out there and immerse yourself in local cultures and traditions, you develop a broader view of the world around you, and you begin to develop an important muscle: the ability to look at other points of view and bring the things that you like into your own way of being. It’s also how you end up with some of the best and most interesting stories to tell your friends and family!
We don’t know what we don’t know, and the only way to find out is to get out there and experience things you’ve never done or seen before!
Lesson #4: Most people are good people
Visit a few new places and make an effort to get to know the locals, and you’ll quickly learn that most of the stereotypes and prejudices you may have held have absolutely no merit.
I’ve heard stories of locals helping friends of mine navigate Portugal’s local transit system, with no one speaking a word of English. I’ve heard stories of the folks in Italy assisting a mother with her lost child… turns out that one was a miscommunication (she was actually trying to find the mummified bodies at a certain exhibit), but still!
For my own part, I’ve enjoy the hospitality of locals in Italy, I’ve shaken hands with elementary school teachers in Indonesia, and I’ve shared words with vendors in Mexico.
No matter where you go, you will find good people if you’re willing to look for them. Travel is the ultimate bias-buster. The more you do it, the easier it will become.
Lesson #5: Everybody ultimately wants the same things in life
This lesson ties into the last one, but it’s important enough that it needs its own shout-out. Here’s the thing:
No matter where we come from or what our background may be, we’re all after the same things in life.
We all want to be happy, feel safe, be respected and validated by those who matter to use, to love and be loved, and to spend more time on the things we care about most.
We may have our differences when it comes to things like appearance, or religion, or traditions, but ultimately we’re all the same deep down. We’re cut from the same cloth. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, until you go somewhere new and see and feel it firsthand.
Wrapping it Up
I could go on about all the things I’ve learn through my travel, but I’ll make that the subject of a future post. For now, I’ll end this post the way it began: by encouraging you to just get out and travel. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, and no matter how many blog posts you read on the lessons you learn abroad, you’ll never truly get it unless you go. So get out there!
If you do want to do some extra reading on the lessons others have learned while travelling, Benny over at Fluent in 3 Months wrote a great post on the subject. Check it out!