While I’ve always described myself as someone who loves to travel, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started to devote more time to it. Before that, I never really ventured further than Cyprus, the UK and a few countries in the Middle East.
When I was younger, I would never have even considered travelling solo as a woman. Growing up in a Cypriot household, you’re told that the world outside of Cyprus is a rather scary place – one that’s definitely not safe enough for women to explore on their own. And for all my education and confidence (I lived in Dubai on my own for five years after all), it’s an attitude that I didn’t manage to shake off until I turned 28.
We’re now more than a month into our RTW trip, and it’s already been an eye opener in so many ways that we never expected. I realise, for example, that I’m a very uptight person who needs to learn to relax. I also have zero patience, which is something I’m working on. In all honesty, I’m not too sure I like the person that I’m seeing in the mirror, and it’s this journey that’s helping me to realise so much about myself and the world that surrounds us.
While I know that not everyone can (or wants to) travel the way Ankit and I are travelling at the moment, you don’t necessarily have to strap on a backpack to reap the benefits of travel – all you have to do is plan a trip away from the cocoon of a resort, and you’ll enjoy some eye-opening experiences of your own.
So, here is why you should travel more:
It gives you perspective
When you’re living a fairly cushy life it’s easy to forget about what real struggle is – hunger, working hard to make ends meet, incurable diseases. While I’m not here to belittle anyone’s problems, I can almost guarantee that many of them are not half as bad as some people’s. And it’s travelling that’s helped me to truly realise this.
It’s hard not to get perspective when you encounter a homeless mother and her two children setting up camp for the night on a pavement, or a man who’s crawling on all fours because he cannot walk – both of which are things that I’ve seen during my first month here in Vietnam. Each time I see something like this, it acts as a reminder for me to stop worrying about things that are, in the grand scheme of things, really insignificant.
It helps you to become more empathetic
This is a continuation of the previous point. You see a lot of eye-opening things while you travel, particularly when you head into developing countries. Once you’ve seen what some people go through on a daily basis you end up thinking more carefully about how you interact with the people who surround you, whether that’s your loved ones or a complete stranger.
I’ve noticed that since I’ve been travelling, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the things that we don’t know about the strangers we interact with – you can never know for certain what any given person is going through in their life at any given time. And it’s travel that’s helping me to be kinder and more understanding.
It throws you out of your comfort zone
I rather like my comfort zone – it’s clean, safe and Friends is always on. But the truth is, my comfort zone bores me. It makes me restless. It makes me feel like I’m wasting time. Turns out, I’m not so comfortable in my comfort zone.
When you travel, you thrust yourself out of your bubble for a while, which is never a bad thing. I enjoy my most life-changing moments when I’m outside my comfort zone and in an entirely new place, and I’ve always made big changes to my life when I’ve returned home from a trip. I quit jobs, I move countries, I take up new courses.
It gives you life-changing experiences
As much as the aforementioned comfort zone may feel good, it’s hardly the sweet spot for life-changing experiences. I’m talking about those eureka moments following which you’re never the same again. I’m talking about those moments that take your breath away.
Being in Vietnam back in May was a life-changing experience for Ankit. In his own words: “From the moment we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I was so restless and I just had one thought in my head – this is what life is about, not driving a fancy car or living in a fancy house and wearing designer clothes. I just felt that the life I was living in Dubai was a lie. And the process began.”
It gives you the opportunity to see so many amazing new things
Our world is a spectacular place – from wonders of nature such as Iguaçu Falls to manmade masterpieces such as the Taj Mahal, there’s just so much to marvel at. So much so, that one lifetime isn’t enough to see it all. Don’t you want to witness as much of it as you can while you have the chance?
I get restless at the thought that I won’t even get to see a fraction of what’s out there before my time is up, but being on the road makes me feel that at least I’m doing what I can.
It teaches you patience
Nothing goes to plan when you travel – trains are late, buses never show up, accommodation is sometimes overbooked even when you have a reservation.
The more you travel, the more you learn to be patient, because you quickly realise that if you get worked up about every little change of plan you’ll spend most of your time miserable. Happiness is a state of mind after all – if you cannot change something, why get needlessly upset about it?
It enables you to meet so many different people from different walks of life
I’m currently typing this while I’m sat on my bunker on a train to Hoi An. To my left is an elderly guy and a nun, both Vietnamese. We’re unable to talk due to the language barrier, but I’ve already been offered a baguette for breakfast, we’ve shared a green orange together and we’ve communicated via our smiles.
This is just one scenario where I’m interacting with people I would probably never meet back in the UAE, Cyprus or the UK. You’re so much more likely to meet individuals with a different backstory to your own while you’re travelling than when you’re in the pub in your hometown. And it’s these little encounters that enrich you in so many different ways.
It opens you up to a world of new experiences
Sure you can probably take a Thai cooking class while you’re back home in Dubai, or you can learn Spanish at the local foreign language centre, but imagine doing these things with locals in the places in which they originated – imagine learning how to cook a Thai green curry in Chiang Mai, or how to speak Spanish in Spain?
Sounds a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
It opens your mind
I’d say I’m a very open-minded person, but the more I see the more I realise that even I could benefit from a broader perspective. And it’s travel that’s made me really re-think about how I see certain things.
Just when you think you’re okay with pretty much anything that you witness, you’ll see something that throws you and you’re left wondering whether you’re right to have the judgments that you have.
Take hocking up on the street as a trivial example. It’s a habit that physically repulses me, and yet a lot of men here in Vietnam seem to do it – it’s disgusting to me because I was brought up being told that it’s not the right thing to do. That does not mean that other people have the same experience of this. So who is right and who is wrong?
It helps you to appreciate your own life
I have never felt as thankful for my life – my family, my friends, my career, my health – as I do right now. So much so that I almost feel guilty for having been unhappy with so many things as I have in the past.
And it’s thanks to the perspective that I’ve been gaining while on the road that I’m feeling this way.
It makes you realise that despite our differences, we’re all remarkably similar
For all our differences – the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the Gods we worship, the traditions we follow – we are all pretty much the same. We all want for our families and ourselves to be safe, to have enough food to survive and to be healthy. When you break through all the social complexities and barriers you’ll find that this is what is at our core.
It brings you into the present moment
I wrote a whole blog post on this over at my personal website. Here’s an excerpt:
“Whether we’re busy staring at an ancient monument, trying to figure out how to navigate our way around a new city, or attempting to speak to a local in a foreign language, travelling helps us to disconnect from thoughts of the past or future and really ‘feel’ what is around us at that precise moment in time.”
You never get bored
Overnight buses, sleeper trains, airport delays – name me a traveller who hasn’t experienced them! When faced with long journeys, you find ways in which to entertain yourself – a good book, a movie on your iPad, a crossword puzzle.
If the conventional ways fail, all you have to do most of the time is just look around you. I just spent the last hour of the journey marvelling at the view out the window while listening to some music. So far I’ve seen workers out in the rice paddies, beautiful yellow pagodas, banana plantations and more palm trees than I’ve ever witnessed in my life.
The landscape here in Vietnam is something that’s so alien and mesmerising to me – it’s something I could never experience back home. And soon enough this landscape will be replaced with one in another country. It’s difficult to get bored when you travel like this.
It makes you richer – in experiences
There’s a popular travel quotation that says “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” And it’s true. As opposed to material belongings that usually break or go bad due to wear and tear, travel gives you something priceless, and that’s experiences – experiences that you’ll always remember, experiences that you’ll share when you get home, experiences that you’ll tell the grandkids someday.
It teaches you how to survive with fewer resources
I never thought I could live out of a backpack. How on earth do people do it, I’d ask myself, and yet here I am with just 55L to my name, doing it myself. And I’m saying things like “I actually brought too many t-shirts with me,” and “I’d like to get rid of some things when we’re back home.”
With limited space to carry stuff in, you don’t even think about buying new crap. When you’re at home, you have all the space in the world in which to accumulate belongings – not when you’re on the road, though, and it really makes you question how much you consume. I for one now only ever buy stuff I really need – not stuff I want, and I think it’s a good experience to go through at some point in life.
A tip from Ankit: Trust your instinct. There is no better time to give up your miserable job, start travelling and working for yourself and in a much more interesting career.