Travel will make you a better person.
It sounds arrogant, doesn’t it? The insinuation being that who you were before was “worse” in some way. Or maybe some people who haven’t traveled will read that and assume that the underlying assumption is that those who travel are better than those who don’t, or that I’m making a value judgement based on my preferred lifestyle which automatically denigrates theirs.
My assertion here that travel will make you a better person is not arrogant, and if it strikes you that way, please hear me out.
If there is one thing that my travels continue to underscore, it is that pride is my biggest struggle and arrogance lurks just below the surface. Every time the discussion devolves into “us” and “them” or my thought process struggles with a reality elsewhere, the solution to which seems so “simple” to my “Western” way of thinking, I am reminded that I have work to do. Travel is nothing if not a continual and painful lesson in humility. However, my assertion here that travel will make you a better person is not arrogant, and if it strikes you that way, please hear me out.
Let’s begin with what I’m not saying
I’m not saying that only people of travel have worth. I’m not saying that a lifestyle that takes a person around the globe is somehow better, or more enlightened than one that does not. I’m not saying that you are a “worse” person now, before you’ve traveled. I’m not saying anything at all, in fact, about the generalities.
What I am saying is that we are shaped by our experiences, and travel changes us. It changes us on an individual and very personal level, in ways that bleed over into every aspect of how we live our lives. Or at least it can, if we let it.
There is really no way to convey what you saw, what you experienced, and how it changed you on the inside, even when everything external looks the same.
If you’ve traveled, even a little bit, you know this to be true. You’ve struggled to put into words the experience you had with a homeless mother and her hungry child, or the simple joy of a village full of kids with nothing but a ball to make fun with; and make fun they did. There is really no way to convey what you saw, what you experienced, and how it changed you on the inside, even when everything external looks the same. Your physical body went traveling and came back with a tan, but the nebulous you is still out there and can never fully return.
Travel takes what you had to offer when you picked up your backpack and builds on it, molds it, and shapes you in the process.
It’s not that travel somehow magically improves on everyone who strikes out, it’s that travel affects an individual, and then that individual, forever changed, interacts differently, with herself, with friends, with family, and in the market place. Travel takes what you had to offer when you picked up your backpack and builds on it, molds it, and shapes you in the process. You return, not better than anyone else, but a better version of yourself.
Overflowing into daily life
And then those changes, imperceptible at first, overflow into your every day life.
You become a better friend for having walked alone in the world and knowing what it is to miss people. Relationships may matter more. You may find yourself open to strangers in ways that you were not, because you know what it is to be taken in as an alien yourself. You may find that your trust in humankind and our basic goodness increases once you breakdown the walls of “us” vs “them.”
You become a better partner for taking the time to learn more about who you are and your place in the world. Travel teaches you the insignificance of your own life, and paradoxically, the supreme importance of the impact of one person on the world. If you’ve traveled for a while, it’s much harder to make life all about “you” and much easier to be willing to be flexible, to give, and to see other points of view, all things that will serve us well in relationships.
You become a better parent for having a bit of perspective on how the other half lives, and understanding that, in fact, it’s not the “other half,” it’s more like the other 80%. All of a sudden those lists of what you “need” for a baby and cost calculators for child rearing seem ridiculous. Because they are. You’ll be less likely to fill the landfill with colourful plastic and the happy trash that goes with toddlerhood when you have seen kids with bare feet, a stick, and a ball develop just as nicely as a coddled mini-Manhattanite. You’ll have a desire to show your child the world where perhaps before your instinct was to try to protect her from it. You’ll be less worried about the many, well marketed “right” ways to parent and more accepting of the reality that there are as many ways to raise well adjusted kids as there are caring parents who are doing their best.
You may find that one of the results of your travels is an intense desire to be part of the solution, to make a difference in your family, in your neighbourhood, or in your community, which affects the whole world.
You become a better employee, or entrepreneur for having some international experience and perspective on the diversity of the world marketplace. Not only will you have valuable new connections, you’ll have new skills that allow you to build bridges between cultures and add value to your particular niche in the business world.
You become a better citizen for having seen what works and what doesn’t in other parts of the world. On the one hand, you’ll gain a first hand appreciation for the many blessings of being born into a first world country. On the other hand, you’ll come face to face with the reality that “our” way of doing any number of things isn’t the only, or the best way. Spending time in a communist dictatorship will renew your conviction to vote and be part of the political process. You may find that one of the results of your travels is an intense desire to be part of the solution, to make a difference in your family, in your neighbourhood, or in your community, which affects the whole world.
Lots of folks come home from a journey with an intense desire to change the world. Some of them do it in big ways: they start NGOs, they volunteer their time, they move to India and live in communities where they empower little girls with education, healthcare, and tools to escape cycles of poverty and desperation, like a friend of mine has.
Our travels, what we’ve learned and how we’ve been changed by them, will leak out of every pore if we let them.
What’s not as obvious, not as sexy, but just as powerful is the myriad of small ways in which the rest of us, who come home and go about normal life, change the world. Our travels, what we’ve learned and how we’ve been changed by them, will leak out of every pore if we let them. We’ll be different friends, partners, parents, employees, coaches, activists, community members and citizens, of our individual countries and the world; if we have the courage to live authentic lives instead of just blend back in.
So let me ask you, how has travel changed you? How has it changed how you live your life?