I believe that travel is important for everyone, regardless of station or walk of life. It’s so much more than just seeing pretty things and eating delicious food, travel is a powerful force to change us all for the better. To once again and try to convince the world about this power, I decided to highlight some of the many superpowers that travels imparts to all of us who hit the road in the spirit of exploration and adventure.
1. Stronger than a locomotive – Yes, it’s true, traveling helps us be healthier people. A recent study shows a whole host of benefits including a lower risk of heart disease and coronary death in people who take annual vacations. No surprise there really, taking a vacation helps us relax and calm down in what is an increasingly stressful world. The act of travel itself is also healthy, I know I get much more exercise when I’m on the road than when I’m at home. That same study also showed a lower percentage of depression amongst people who travel, so getting out there and seeing the world helps us be happier people too. Happier people are of course healthier people, so the act of travel helps us physically and mentally. Most Americans do not use all of their annual vacation days, a shocking statistic given how few we get in the first place. Trips don’t have to be long or expensive for you to realize health benefits, the simple act of taking time off and leaving the house, even on a short trip, yields tremendous superpowers.
2. Powerfully Patient – I’m not what one would classically define as a patient person. I don’t go crazy, make explosive scenes in public or anything like that, but I do fume silently. I’ve noticed though that the more I travel, and the more I deal with adversity beyond my control, the more patient I am. At one time I was the person in the airport complaining (but never yelling) to airlines employees about delays and lost bags. At one time I was the guy who got frustrated at long lines and annoying tourists. Over time I’ve mellowed though and more than age, I think it’s the act of travel that has helped me become more patient. Travel has taught me that life frequently throws curve balls at us and many times we can do nothing about them. Instead being patient yields many more benefits than getting angry ever will.
3. Smarter than a MENSA member – I’ve been talking with and quietly observing people who travel frequently for a long time and I have come to the conclusion that traveling makes us inherently smarter people, whether we like it or not. We can’t help but learn about the history and culture of countries and cities we visit. We learn about foreign currencies and geography. We learn about customs and politics. We become much better global citizens and smarter every time we travel for fun. Don’t believe me? Just try playing Trivial Pursuit with someone who travels a lot and you’ll see what I mean.
4. Able to face any fear – The biggest impediment to travel is fear. Fear of the new and unknown, fear of danger and risk. Visiting new places helps us conquer these fears, to push our travel envelopes and become more confident in ourselves. Travel also gives us the ability to face specific fears. For some reason many people take on a mantle of bravery when they go on vacation and do and try things they would never do at home. I experience this frequently, most recently in South Africa. I have a fear of heights but I still found myself standing on top of a soccer stadium in Durban, jumping on the highest bungee swing in the world. I still can’t believe I did it and I really don’t want to do it again, but the fact is that I did it once. I faced my fears and literally made the jump. Many of us experience this same phenomenon, whether it’s trying out a new language (fear of making a mistake) or swimming with sharks (fear of being eaten), we all become braver, more confident people when we travel.
5. Empathy worthy of Mother Theresa – Just as travel makes us more patient, I think it makes us nicer, more empathetic people as well. The greatest weapon we have against wars and conflict is interpersonal connections between people. Once we meet someone new and different we learn that they really aren’t so new and different after all. Most people around the world have the same desires. We all want happy lives, for our families to be successful and to live a life that is meaningful. How we get there may be different, but the motivations are the same. It’s impossible to travel and not be moved by gentle moments of kindness, smiles from people who may have very little to be happy about. Coming back we find ourselves engaged with the new cultures we’ve experienced, looking for ways to give back. People who travel frequently are amongst the most philanthropic people I know, always seeking ways they can help the wonderful people they’ve met on their travels. A great corporate example of this is G Adventures, that through their Planeterra initiative tries to help the communities they visit. Many companies do this and with good reason. It’s hard to not care about someone that you meet in person.
What other superpowers do you think travel gives us?