I have been traveling for the past 6 years of my life, and almost always independently. In no way, shape or form am I the same person as when I started embarking upon travel all those years ago. Travel has been a therapy for me, and has led me away from sadness and insecurity to independence and truly being happy in my own skin.
Any traveler will relate to the nervous excitement felt when walking up a hot vestibule to a plane door, shuffling past the seats, hearing the sound of the seat belt buckling, gazing out the window as the engines roar, and feeling yourself lift into the sky, onward to a new adventure, to the unknown. This feeling has fueled my desires to keep seeing, learning, and exploring new things at any chance I can.
I never feel as strong, inspired and alive as I do when I am traveling, and I think that’s why travel can be so addicting. Travel, with its challenges as much as its successes, brings forth the most raw and passionate emotions that no amount of cynicism can repress. It has helped shaped me as a person – into a better version of myself. Change happens slowly and discreetly on the road. But, after more than five years of travel, here are the top 7 things that travel has surely helped me with:
When I was younger I was incredibly shy. When I reached high school I enrolled in drama classes in order to help bring me out of my shell. After having performed several monologues and other plays I overcame a huge barrier and felt myself communicating with others at much greater of ease. Fast forward to my university years where I continued joining clubs such as swing dancing, the dance team, the school newspaper, even the juggling club in order to help with my shyness, and soon after that is when I decided to book my first Euro trip. Every year after that I kept up my traveling, and although that first trip was packed with vulnerability and regrets (some people seemed to enjoy making my life hell), I honestly feel like I can stand up and talk to anyone now. How I wish to go back in time and put certain people in their place instead of just taking it and feeling worthless, but I sure as hell will never make that mistake again.
So many scenarios arise in solo travel where you are forced to step out of your comfort zone, do things that scare you, and simply trust that everything will work itself out. I’ve learned that it truly does, and the most important thing is to be confident in yourself, your abilities, and your decisions. The worst thing you can do is allow others to treat you poorly. I have learned to disregard negative people with a dismissive wave of the hand, stand up for myself, shut any curtains of vulnerability, and be strong.
Is there really a greater way to express independence than traveling solo? Not that I’m aware of! Everything from keeping yourself company on a long airport layover, a long flight, or while strolling the streets of a new place and feeling content while doing so is a really wonderful thing to me. Figuring things out on your own is a great feeling and doing things at your own pace and in your own way is always a very welcome breath of fresh air.
3. Let things go I can’t control
This is one of the toughest things for me, in both travel and everyday life. In that first 6 week Euro trip of mine, I let the negativity and actions of others just cling to me, and I carried it with me for almost the entire trip, greatly affecting my outlook on almost everything. It is incredibly hard to shake some things off and simply let them go. No matter how easy it may sound, it is still so challenging for me. I’m an emotional and sensitive person – people’s attitudes and emotions will rub off on me, no matter what. But I can still choose how to react and how to let it affect me. My travels from then on were filled with so much more peace and acceptance as I refused to cling to things or beat myself up. “It’s done, move on” has been my mantra for quite some time now.
When I’m not traveling, events from the past have the tendency to creep back up on me and try to envelope me again. I think that’s why I exercise so much. When I travel, that is my therapy for everything it feels since I take away so many positives from it. When I am not traveling, working out gets me through the tough times. Both things make me feel incredibly strong and happy being me. Both things make me look in the mirror and smile.
4. The world isn’t always a scary place
The world is not as scary as the media would lead you to believe. If you’re like most people and get your opinion of the world from the news and movies, you probably view it as a dangerous and scary place. A place where terrorism is widespread, people kidnap tourists, and the likelihood of being mugged or harmed is high. The reality, of course, is that the world is not actually scary at all, so long as you are smart and take the time to research, research, research and of course, keep an open mind and see for yourself.
Having an open mind will help you realize that stereotypes never represent everyone. You cannot judge a culture if you do not understand it – and basing your understanding on a stereotype does not equal understanding. Before you pass judgment on traditions or beliefs, take some time to get to know the culture you are judging first.
5. Live life to the fullest
When the real point of traveling shows its face, I am reminded time and time again how much I have to be grateful for. Why do we travel if not to experience the lives of others; to be a part of a culture that is not our own? This is what I am most grateful for from traveling: learning to appreciate and be grateful for all that I see, learn, experience, and have, and applying it to my everyday life at home.
6. The value of money on things vs. experiences
Loving travel and wanting to do as much of it as possible has really taught me to simplify my life, spending money on experiences rather than things. I believe that travel really is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.
7. Be honest with myself
The ability to be honest with my feelings and emotions (mainly through this blog and my travel journals) has only helped me learn from previous mistakes and continue growing into a more culturally aware and appreciative person. My first travel journal I ended up ripping up and throwing in the garbage after I got home. Why? I hated the things I was focusing on and how I was focusing on them. It made me so angry I couldn’t stand to keep the thing around, so I got rid of it, and at the same time I learned how to better steer my writing to reach a more positive outcome.