I have no memories of my first travel experience, which occurred when I was less than one years old. My parents brought me back to their hometown of Hong Kong to visit relatives, and I can only trust that I was in fact there from stories my relatives tell (apparently I took my first steps in Hong Kong,) and from old family photos.
Thankfully, my other travel experiences have been more memorable, especially after graduating from school where I had the freedom to explore the world on my own terms. I’ve traveled in many different forms – roadtrips with friends, backpacking by myself for weeks or months at a time, going on cruises with family, or moving to a foreign country alone. I live for the crack-of-dawn wake up times to catch my ride to the airport in anticipation of my next destination. Friends and family think my life is just one long series of vacations and adventures, but each time I manage to get away, I’m reminded of why I travel in the first place.
So what are these reasons?
1. Getting out of routine.
Despite my travel lifestyle, I maintain a 9-5 job, taking my vacation days or using the time in-between jobs to travel. Living in one place for an extended period of time, seeing the same people day in day out, and doing the same activities every week can really take the color out of life. Appreciation for life is lost when I’m seeing and doing the same things over and over again. When I travel, I am forced to break out of my routine, and in doing so my eyes are inadvertently forced to open to my surroundings, allowing me to appreciate even the little things, such as managing to get to find a bus stop in a foreign country!
2. Realizing what I need, and don’t need, in life.
Living in our civilized first world country, we all are guilty of accumulating too many material possessions. I love the feeling of liberation when I’m able to pick up my 50L backpack, and stuff everything I need for several months at a time in it. For my last trip, I went to South America on a one-way ticket with minimal clothing to accommodate for weather from sweltering heat to freezing cold, my camera, my iPad, my phone, and a few other essential items. Not once did I feel like I was lacking in any material items, and I can definitely say that I had a much more enriching experience than my mundane routine life at home!
3. The people.
I don’t know about you, but when I am at home, I am definitely not meeting new people every day and making friends immediately with them. Maybe it’s the “don’t talk to strangers” mentality that was instilled in my childhood, or maybe it’s the fact that we’re all busy in our own little bubble all the time. Traveling – especially alone – gets me out of that comfort zone and has me talking to random people much more often and hitting off immediately with people abroad. Maybe it’s the fact that the people I meet abroad all share the same passion for travel as me, but each encounter I’ve made with people (whether it be a short-term travel buddy, or friends I’ve made and kept in touch with) has brought memories that brings a smile to my face.
I’ve taken geography classes in school, and we were educated on the politics, cultures, and histories of different countries abroad. Did they have any lasting impact on me? No. I learn through doing, not reading, and travel has given me the best education on how to handle different cultures, how much the politics has effect on a country and its people, and geographic knowledge of different cities and countries. To me, it’s like reading about sports but never going on the field to practice or play. Maybe I’ll learn the theory (if I remember things I learn from my school books), but I have to learn how to apply it before it becomes useful.
“The world is a scary place” – that’s what I’ve been told my entire life, and it was only breaking out of familiarity and traveling to an unfamiliar destination that I’ve realized that the world is much less scary than portrayed. I’ve learned how to trust my gut instincts more on a certain place or people, rather than through pre-conceived notions. I’ve learned that getting lost in a new destination is not the end of the world; it gives me an opportunity to explore a new place and maybe make a new friend along the way!
6. Being adventurous.
How often can I meet a new person at home, immediately hit off with them, and have them ask, “Hey, I’m going to the next city over today. Want to come?” and I respond with a yes? Or going up to a stranger and saying, “Are you headed this way? Want to split a taxi?” and they respond happily with a “Sure!” Probably never. Traveling abroad, I’ve had that happen way too many times that I’ve lost track.
7. Greater compassion.
Too often I have heard of tragedy in the world news, and people commenting on how it’s “so sad, but it’s so far away that it’s not relevant to me”. Maybe if I didn’t start traveling, I would have the same mentality. Thankfully, because I have seen a lot of the world, I’m able to relate more closely to the countries in the news.
8. Learning about myself.
I travel to see the world, but I also travel to learn about myself. When abroad, I will definitely encounter unknown or challenging situations where I am forced to learn to rely on my gut instincts, and discover strengths and weaknesses I never knew about myself before. When everything that makes me “me” at home means nothing abroad (my job title, my salary, which area I live in at home, what car I drive, etc), I discover who I really am on the inside.