I firmly believe that long-term travel changes people. I know it has changed me and I know it’s made me a better person. The thing about change is that it’s unnatural. Humans in general like a routine and like to be comfortable. Change is uncomfortable and almost always comes with a lot of uncertainty. When I think back on my travels there are a few things I know specifically travel has been able to help me do; things I wouldn’t have been able to push myself to do on my own.
Travel has helped me…
When I came back from my first long trip abroad, the adjustment back to “normal life” hit me hard. How I lived my “regular life” in college was not how I lived my life during my travels. So which one did I want? Which one was really me? Which one made me truly happy? Did I want to be a gypsy my whole life? Did I want to have kids and get married? I didn’t know. I was utterly and completely confused and lost. So while travel gave me my greatest high, it also caused me to hit rock bottom.
Find myself again
I found that rock bottom was the perfect place to build a foundation for a new life, and that’s exactly what I did. I got my degree, got a job doing something I love, bought a dog, met and got engaged to the love of my life and all of a sudden I had the perfect combination of roots and wings. Which is exactly what I never knew I always wanted. My career in freelance TV and radio work and freelance travel writing gives me the opportunity to travel with and be with my fiancé while he plays professional baseball. Some people say I’m lucky. That’s fine, they can think that, but I’ve worked for what I have. I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, but I’ve always learned. It takes courage to unapologetically be the person you want to be and live the life you want to live.
Deal with my Problems
My first trip abroad was sparked by me feeling overwhelmed with some tricky things going on in my life. I thought a long term trip would be fun, but I also knew it would help me put off the things I was avoiding and struggling with the most. And it did help me put things off..for a month. When I got home, the problems I was running from were right there waiting for me. I never again used travel as a crutch to run from things. I bit the bullet and dealt with the problems I had let pile up. From then on I used travel as a way to enrich my life more, not run from it, and I enjoyed my travels more because of it.
One of the hardest things I realized during my first long-term trip abroad is that when you’re gone, life at home doesn’t stand still. When you travel long-term you can be so disconnected from your “normal” everyday life that it’s hard to remember your friends, family, and routines are not set on pause waiting for you to come back and press play. In fact, usually things are very different when you get back. Everything from the weather, to the songs on the radio, to new habits my friends formed when I was gone, took me by surprise when I got home. You can spend time trying to make sense of it all, but in reality you need to learn to let it go. Accept the change for what it is and let. it. go.
Reach for more
Here’s the truth: the life you dream of, the job you dream of, the significant other you dream of is possible. Everything you dream of is possible. But you have to reach for it, and keep reaching. Traveling the world is attainable. I’m not anymore special than anyone else out there. The second I took my first trip abroad I knew I wanted more. I didn’t just want to go on a once in a life time trip and tell the same stories over and over again. I felt alive and I wanted more, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of what makes you happy and sets your soul on fire. In fact, I think there’s something wrong with settling for anything less. There is more out there, and it can be yours, reach for it.
I’ve flown around the world, by myself, to a country where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t have a phone, and didn’t have any clue where I was going. Was I scared shitless at times? Hell yes! Was I lonely at times? Hell yes! But it forced me to be in a situation that no one else could bail me out of. I had to take care of it, I had to figure it out, and I had to rely on myself; and guess what? I did! It’s amazing how strong and capable a person can be when they have no other option.
Surprisingly, some of the deepest conversations I’ve ever had have been with people I met while traveling. I remember staying at the On On Hotel in Phuket, Thailand. There was a small lobby area where travelers would gather and socialize. One night there was about 12 of us around this table. We were from all around the world, were all different ages, and came from all different walks of life. We stayed out around that lobby table until 4 am drinking a bottle of Whiskey and sharing our life stories with one another. We laughed our butts off, we even cried some, we drank waaay to much whiskey, but damn we were vulnerable. We told each other about our lives back home, about our hopes and dreams, about why we were traveling, about everything. It is amazing how open and honest and raw you will be with someone when you know you will probably never see them again. As long as I live, I will never forget that night and the way it felt to be completely 100% vulnerable; to speak about the deepest parts of my life without fear of how I would be perceived.
Meet people from all over the world
I have met people from every continent on the planet. I’ve met 20-somethings on gap years. I’ve meet 30-somethings taking sabbaticals from their jobs. I’ve met trust fund babies who are blowing all their parents money. I’ve met people searching for jobs, happiness, love, freedom, everything. I’ve heard their stories, I’ve connected with them, and I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of them.
Open my mind
It amazing how much you can learn about other people and their culture when you open your mind and block out your preconceived notions. During my first trip to Thailand, we rented a long-tail from a local Thai man who took us around the Phi Phi Islands for the day. We pulled up close to an island with a beautiful beach, but the area we were getting out around had small little rocks all along the bottom of the ocean floor. I kept tripping over the rocks as I was moving from the boat to the shore. The Thai man helped me up, chuckled at me and said “I don’t know why you Americans are always in such a hurry. No one in a hurry here!”
He was right, the culture in Asia is so much slower than what we’re used to here in America. No one wears watches, and you’d be hard pressed to find a clock in a hostel or hotel. No one is in a hurry. In their culture and according to their way of living, life is best enjoyed when it is taken slowly. It was hard for me to get used to not caring what time it was, and it was hard for me to not adhere to some type of schedule. When I finally got the hang of it, it was the most freeing feeling imaginable.
The more of this world I see, the more I realize how small I am and how much more there is out there. It’s hard to see children begging in the streets in Siem Reap, and people living in huts on the side of the road in Vang Vieng and think that my problems are more important or more valid than theirs. That doesn’t mean my problems don’t matter, it just means we all need to realize how small we are in the grand scheme of things, and that the world is so much bigger than anything you could ever imagine it to be. There are 7 billion people on this planet, and at the end of the day, no matter what our color, gender, language, religion, or sexual preference, we’re all searching for the same thing: love, happiness, and belonging.