I started travelling, not holidays, not getaways, but really travelling when I was 18. It started in the US with a brother and a job, it escalated to Mauritius with a group of strangers and a volunteer stint, and then it evolved to the Middle East with a backpack and a guide book. I gave my heart to the wonders of travel and I never really got it back.
There is a reason why travellers never want to stop travelling. It’s the same reason why college kids go on Gap Years and why frustrated working adults quit their jobs and spend all their savings on flight tickets.
It is simply because every time you leave your comfort to venture into a foreign land, you return a different person. You return knowing more than any amount of textbooks, lectures, and Travel TVs had taught you. Travelling is not about seeing a new place, it is the journey of learning.
Here are 6 reasons why travelling is the best education you can get:
1. You participate in culture
For sure documentaries taught you loads about world cultures, but have you ever had to consciously cover up your arms and legs before stepping out onto the streets? Have you ever had to carefully switch seats on the bus to make sure the person next to you is of the same gender? Or forcefully slurp your yummy bowl of noodles? When you travel you don’t only see first hand a different culture and its history, you participate in their customs and quirks. Like it or not, when you are the only foreigner, you will naturally open up and immerse yourself in these new cultures. You learn to eat with your right hand in India; when in Germany, calling your German hosts Herr or Frau becomes second nature. Oh, how many Europeans I’ve met told me they’ve grown a liking to the Asian “hole-in-the-floor toilet”! One English guy even tried convincing his mother to install a water hose next to the toilet bowl in their London home!
So, don’t worry about culture shock, you’ll get use to it (and perhaps love it) pretty soon.
2. You are exposed
It is when you travel that you are exposed – exposed to the contrast between poverty and extravagance, exposed to the slow decrepitation of amazing natural heritages, to greed, to man-made disasters, to the force of nature, to sexism, to kindness, to the effect of politics and pollution and the list goes on and on. You experience these issues, and it’s only natural that one or the other issue hits you so hard in the heart that it’s so painful you start to care.
For me it is nature. When I travel and I see how amazing Mother Earth can be, at the same time, I’m exposed to how human development is giving her a very bad case of cancer. That has made me a passionate greenie at heart- I started to learn about conservation, I live greener, I even volunteered to help save elephants for a wildlife research group! Having a cause close to my heart and actively fighting for it made me feel like I’m contributing my part for a better society. I may be a rather extreme example, but for many people life becomes less of the pursuit of the latest smartphones. Life becomes more meaningful when you find something you care about enough to make you a kinder, bigger soul.
3. You care about world issues
Caring about causes extend way more than just a charity case. When you travel, you make a connection with the country, you make good friends of different nationalities whether it’s a local or a fellow traveller. What happens then? 1) You grow a curiousity about the country’s past and future, and 2) You start to care about the country.
More often than not, you will start to take extra notice about the world issues happening in the news. If you don’t already read the news, you’ll actually start reading and following it too. It is not until I met Yassmeen that I started to really care about the Egypt (double) revolution, reading and following every update. Yes before this I knew of some political revolution thingy in Egypt, but now it’s an issue close to heart. I take a double take every time I spot the word “Egypt” on the news. News becomes more interesting when it involves something, somewhere, or someone you care about.
4. You learn from other people
Unless you have an extreme case of anti-social or are extremely unfriendly, you will meet people and make friends on your travels. You will share travel stories, you will awe at the places they’ve been and the experiences they’ve had. You will meet the young guy who’s been travelling non-stop for months and years; the brave girl who is backpacking through dangerous cities alone, and that worldly guy who gave up his six-digit career to take up diving. The many personalities, the many stories, the endless opportunities and experiences to learn from. You won’t venture out and stumble upon people like this when you are occupied at home with your Facebook friends. These people you meet, they are all searching for something, whether it is happiness, answers, or a calling. Is a one-year travelling stint your thing? Should you go after your passion or a comfortable career? Who better to find your answers from than the people who had walked the road less travelled?
5. You discover yourself
If there is one thing you discover more than the country itself when you travel, it’s yourself. When you travel, you are in alien territory and you are responsible for yourself. With little to no one to depend on, you have to make sure you survive the journey and not end up lost in the middle of nowhere. The amazing thing about being independent and self-reliant when you travel is that it brings out traits in you that have long been smothered by the comforts of home and dependency. Your six senses become more aware, you are humble, you lose your sense of shame and ask for directions using funny arm gestures, and you are suddenly capable of reading hand signals. You learn tonnes about yourself too. You learn that you’re more of a beach person than a mountain person, or that you actually enjoy eating on your own. You are suddenly more open and brave to strike a conversation with a stranger and you somehow can’t stop but shamelessly pour your heart out (you won’t see him after tomorrow anyways). Here’s a secret: sometimes, you can learn more about yourself in those two-hour chat with that one stranger than you do from constantly sharing your problems with your mom.
And when you do end up lost in the middle of nowhere, you will, by hook or by crook or by a hitchhiker’s kind heart, amass the superpower needed to find your way back to safety.
Life’s a little sweeter after you’ve gone and return. The colours are more vibrant, the smell of home food is more loving, the sound of your annoying friend’s laugh will still be annoying but damn did you miss that face! The comforts of home, that’s a given.
You saw the poverty in Cambodia and you appreciate your little luxuries a little bit more, you saw the gorgeous cascading mountains in New Zealand, you love Mother Nature a little bit more, you saw how bloody the political system in the Middle East is, and amazingly, you appreciate your own messed up government by a teeny, tiny bit more. You become grateful for what you already have, and you take the bad with a pinch of salt. For what you don’t have, well, we always need role models to learn from. When that appreciation starts to fade, that’s your cue to start planning your next adventure again!
So go forth and venture something new. Never stop exploring. You will learn things you could learn no other way. For “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”.
– This story was originally published on www.meimeichu.com – read more from Mei Mei Chu here.
Zafigo republished this story in full with permission from the author to hopefully bring the story and the author to a larger audience, simply because good authors and stories should be read by as many people as possible! If you are keen on Zafigo republishing your stories that will be of interest and useful to women travellers especially in Asia and the Middle East, please get in touch with us at [email protected]