I’ve always enjoyed travel and once I entered the workforce and started earning a salary, I made it a big part of my life. I used every ounce of personal time off and holidays to see and experience as much as possible. After leaving that job and becoming a full-time travel blogger, those travels have naturally only increased – some months I’m gone more than I am home. A few personal issues lately though have made me take stock of the effects that travel has had on me as a person and I’ve been pretty surprised. I’ve changed a lot, mostly in positive ways, since I made travel my career and so I thought I’d sit down and share some of those ways in which I’ve evolved on a personal level. The ways in which I think I have become a better person, why that is and why I’m not alone in enjoying these changes.
Lately a close friend found themselves in tough times. Nothing was going right and even a certain degree of personal tragedy came into play. They did not handle it well and I found myself playing the role of counselor, of trying to get them through this rough patch and that’s when I first started thinking about this topic in earnest. This was not the person I was even a few short years ago. Not in regards to the empathy, I’ve always had that, but in the advice I doled out. I encouraged them to stay positive, that one’s outlook on life dictated everything and that as hard as it was to believe at the time, this too shall pass. Who was this guy? If you know me, you know that historically I do not err on the side of positivity, quite the contrary. And yet there I was, sounding more like a new age psychotherapist than the Matt I used to know. That’s a good thing though, I like the person I am today and so I decided to turn the bright light on me today, to look at the ways travel has changed me for the better and how even a modest travel schedule can change anyone, no matter who you are or where you go.
I alluded to this in the introduction, but travel has undoubtedly made me a much more positive person. Throughout my life I have always tended to be sarcastic, slightly negative and usually the Eeyore of the group. No longer, although I am very happy to say that the sarcasm is still very well maintained. I’m not sure exactly how or why travel has made me more positive on a daily basis, although I do have some theories. The main reason is also the most obvious, I’m working a job of my own construction and following my passions in life. I’ve written about this ad nauseam, but there’s a tremendous power in leaving a career that is draining and unsatisfying and instead pursuing a profession that is your true calling in life. That’s what I’m doing here, and the reverberations that change has made throughout every other aspect in my life is astounding. It’s amazing how one element of life, like a job, can impact every other facet, but it does. For perhaps the first time in my life I’m happy, optimistic about the future and I want others to feel the same way. I’m not saying that every day is a walk in the park, but I’m able to take a long view approach to problems that I was frankly incapable of doing just a few short years ago.
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, like the time I was in South Africa and decided to bungee jump off of a soccer stadium. 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 leap. 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.
I live in Washington, DC and am therefore a natural born cynic prone to cranky outbursts. Over the years though I have been drawn out of my shell of skepticism through the people I meet, most notably when I’m not at home. All over the country and the world, I have seen countless examples of good acts and genuine kindness from mere strangers. This has a unique pay-it-forward effect. I truly believe that this behavior is imprinted on all of us as we travel and when it comes time for us to aid someone in need, we are standing by the ready to help and assist. Sure, there are always going to be bad actors and unfortunate events that happen when we travel, but on the whole it is a wonderfully positive experience that (almost) always makes me proud of my fellow man. Then I come home to Washington…
I have my foibles, as we all do; I’m prone to getting annoyed fairly quickly and my personality errs on the side of crankiness. Travel has helped temper these negative sides of my personality. When commingled with the gentle maturity that aging provides, travel has made me a much more patient and even tolerant person. It’s hard not to improve in these areas when you travel; delays, lost possessions and other travel mishaps teach us all to slow down and relax. Tolerance comes from meeting so many new people from around the world and understanding that we’re really not so different after all.
I’m not naïve enough to think that if people only traveled more then not only would their lives be better, but the world would also be a much nicer place to live. No, travel is not the only factor or the only way to achieve these goals, but it helps. Aside from beautiful monuments and delicious new cuisines, the act of travel is an important rite in modern life. It is full of ritual and custom and together along with the actual experience, this is what changes us the most. Waiting in line at the airport for the 50th time eventually teaches us patience. Pushing ourselves well beyond our comfort zone makes us more confident. Seeing how other people around the world, learning their stories and listening to their opinions, this is not only what makes us kinder people, but ultimately more positive people as well. If you’re reading this post I’m willing to bet that you are better off than a vast majority of residents on the planet, whether you realize it or not. Well, it’s time to realize that and to make the necessary changes in your own life to be happy and grateful and not negative and spoiled.