While I’ve never had to search very far for a reason to travel, I’m always amazed when I meet people who have never ventured much further than their own county line (parishes here in Louisiana). And even more floored when I hear someone proclaim that they have no desire to!
While to each their own, in times such as these I can’t help but think of how much travel has directly developed my empathy. Travel continuously forces me to step back and examine myself, question my preconceived (and more often than not, erroneous) notions, and face down any self-righteousness I may have developed. Simply put, I am who I am because of travel.
I could go on and on counting the reasons why I believe everyone, including YOU, should pack a bag and leave their comfort zone. But for the sake of everyone’s time, I’ll give you my favorite five:
1. Establish Self-Confidence
I met one of my best and oldest friends in elementary school. In a small school, the arrival of a new student happened to be a BIG deal, especially one that talked “funny”. Here in the South “funny” meant saying “you guys” instead of “y’all”. But instead of demurely hanging her head when ignorant kids jeered and snickered at her accent, she simply cocked her head and said something (probably offensive) to them in a completely foreign language, to the shock of the entire class (teacher included).
Her natural nonchalant demeanor, and the ability to speak roughly five different languages rather fluently, was the result of having lived in numerous countries, many of which third world. You see, she, along with her parents and 8 brothers and sisters, were missionaries. After all she’d seen, the people she’d met, and lives she’d touched, the pettiness of playground insults had no effect on her.
It was like a superpower! Intrigued by her self-assurance, I just had to be her friend! And what luck she rode my bus! We talked endlessly about the places she had been, the bizarre foods she had eaten, and where she wanted to go next. To this day, her self-confidence is both encouraging and contagious.
Travel instills a surety in oneself seldom acquired any other way. After all, once you know you are capable of eating alligator, zip-lining hundreds of feet above the jungle floor, or shredding an epic air guitar (as evidenced below) in ancient amphitheaters, it’s hard to hang your head over much.
2. Dispel YOUR Preconceived notions
Time and time again, I have arrived at a destination with an opinion already formed in my mind on what I will find there just to find I couldn’t be more wrong.
That’s not saying I wasn’t prepared. I would research Visa requirements, exchange rates, tipping etiquette, etc. but what I would fail to adequately postulate was the “personality” of a place.
For example, my family and I vacationed in Greece and Turkey back in 2011. I just knew that I was going to fall head over heels in love with Greece and all it had to offer, but to say I was more than a little apprehensive about Turkey was putting it mildly.
While Greece’s natural beauty found in its countrysides, coasts, and islands floored me – just as I imagined – my days spent in Turkey turned out to be some of my favorite from the entire trip. My fears of Turkey being stoic, aloof, and possibly even hostile were completely unwarranted.
We encountered an enthusiastic guide that accompanied us to Ephesus, a merchant that danced, sang, and praised Allah at my feet after I bought his art, and a smiling woman who took the time to instruct me on the proper way to tie knots when making rugs.
I was smitten with Turkey.
Did I experience stoniness? Maybe. I don’t remember, I was too busy falling in love with the Turkey others wanted to show me to notice otherwise. I’m sure, had I actively looked for it, that I would have found indifference at every turn and proved myself right. Instead, I allowed the people to passionately reveal their home to me instead of forcing my preconceived limitations into place. Sometimes, that takes courage but I promise it rarely leads to disappointment.
3. Become An Ambassador
While on another family trip abroad, we were continually asked where we were from. When answering “Texas”, we inevitably received responses somewhere along the lines of “Texas!?!, Do you ride horses everywhere?” or “Oh Texas! Where are your boots?”, and – my personal favorite – “John Wayne! BANG! BANG!” while making guns and pew pews with their hands.
There was even one waiter that confided in us that he was learning English in order to change his life and move to California. When asked where in California he wanted to move to, he blinked and said “California”. He believed California was a large city much like Chicago or New York.
He also thought all Texans rode horses everywhere they went (womp womp).
On such occasions, instead of being insulted or offended by the stereotype, we enjoy the opportunity to share our unique culture with them…even if its just teaching them the proper use of the word “Y’all”.
4.Meet New People and Build Connections
I’m a collector by nature. I amass books, artwork, recipes, and little oddities that speak of the place from which I visited. I pick up rocks and shells everywhere I go and take more pictures than is probably healthy.
I love surrounding myself with meaningful pieces and reminders of beautiful places I’ve visited. But even more than that, I love gathering new friends.
These human connections fling open new doors, crash through barriers, and cultivate broadminded and unique insights. Whether its Facebook, Instagram, or just an exchange of emails, staying connected with new friends has never been easier. Having that sincere connection with one another remains perhaps, the most rewarding aspect of travel.
5. Bring Stories to Life
Intrinsically, we humans hunger for stories. We always have. Since the beginning of time, cultures from every corner of the globe have expressed some form of storytelling. It permeates and influences every aspect of life from daily morning routines to the composing of masterpieces.
Even today it remains an fundamental part of our everyday life. From the scriptures read on Sunday mornings to the TV dramas we binge watch on Netflix to the novels we can’t put down. We are plucked from the here-and-now and transported, if only in our minds, to someplace completely foreign. This is the power of storytelling.
So imagine the awe when you actually feel the morning dew soaking into your shoes as you stand upon war-scarred battlefields of long ago. Or smell the unmistakable scent of well-worn leather and stale popcorn as you explore the stadium where your childhood hero played ball. Theses stories take on flesh. Suddenly, they aren’t stories anymore but something tangible. Relevant.
What was once just a story that took place on some dot on some faraway map now resonates with significance. And I believe that resonance, above all, drives wanderlust. Which, consequently, turns you into a storyteller.
Whether you’re a history buff, a believer seeking divine inspiration, or a fan following in the footsteps of your role model, what are your favorite reasons to travel?