The real world means packing up and leaving your comfort zone, the familiar, your safe place, and experiencing unknown things – a new place, new people who may not understand you, unfamiliar customs, the list goes on. Traveling is being in the real world, and here are 10 vital lessons that it will teach you.
To be more patient
Being American and from a big city, the fast-paced lifestyle is inevitably engrained in me. Waiting for anything – food at a restaurant, lines for the restroom, even waiting for a professor or boss to email me back – drives me crazy. The biggest lesson I’ve learned through my travels and backpacking is that it’s okay to wait and have lag time, and if something happens to go wrong, to be patient when seeking help. Though it seems that way, traveling isn’t at all luxurious like advertisements and glamorous Instagram accounts make it out to be. Your flight gets cancelled because the pilot is sick and you’re stuck in the airport, you catch a stomach bug and you’re on bedrest, your bus is late, you get on the wrong train, bad weather will minimize outdoor activities – it happens on every trip, and trust me, it builds character. If things always went smoothly, the adventure wouldn’t exist. Patience is truly a virtue and you’ll learn to tackle the circumstances as they come, which will make you appreciate the experience even more.
To leave your comfort zone
People don’t enjoy traveling because it means leaving behind what’s comfortable for them, whether it’s their group of friends, air-condition, their favorite foods, pets, the list goes on. Just getting on a plane and going is the first step. It’s exhilarating to forget what’s familiar for a bit and expand your horizons. Once you do, there is no better feeling than taking on unfamiliar territory and making it familiar. All it takes is pulling the trigger, and you’ll come home with endless stories.
To be more curious
I recently listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast called “From Curiosity to Discovery” and I loved every second of it. Fully understanding something that was once just an idea makes traveling so worth while. Being in new territory will probe new ideas and curiosities – what the local customs are, the local food, what language is spoken, and religious practices. Traveling and interacting with locals and natives will give you a better understanding, and therefore turning these curiosities into discoveries. This will then make you hungry to learn more, ask questions, and completely immerse yourself into a new place.
To appreciate other cultures
It’s easy to question and judge cultures that are different than yours. Traveling or living somewhere completely different gives you a new perspective that’s different from just hearing or reading about it. The act of being somewhere new allows you to fully immerse yourself and appreciate that new place, from the people, the language, the clothing, and everything in between. Taking the time to come out of your shell and interact with the local culture is the way to experience and appreciate it fully. Again, this can’t be taught, only experienced.
To live simply
Believe it or not, you can survive with very, very little and get by just fine. Most people around the world do. Traveling extensively forces you to pack so lightly that you’ll go home overwhelmed by how much you actually own. Not only that, but sleeping in rundown guesthouses, hostels with bed bugs, and tents pitched anywhere that you can find space really isn’t the end of the world, you just learn to live with it. Steering away from lavish meals on the town and fancy cocktails on outdoor patios is another experience you may have to sacrifice while traveling if you want to save enough to travel longer. As a result, you’ll come home and realize that you don’t need anything more than the essentials to survive.
To find beauty in small things
Returning from a trip, a study abroad experience, or a weekend away feels rejuvenating once we return. New perspective is gained. A home cooked meal will mean so much more to you because you missed it for so long. The person who smiled at you on the street becomes your best friend. Seeing a statue or monument in your hometown will remind you of the one you saw abroad. It’s really the small things that give us joy in life, and they’re usually free. Traveling is one way to learn this.