Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Travel a Waste of Time? Here are some of the Things Travel has done for me

When it comes to travel, there are two types of people: those who like to travel and those who don’t. I am a traveler. I love to travel. I believe that travel is something that everyone should indulge in at least every once and a while. I don’t understand people who have no desire to travel. I can understand people who can’t travel or, more accurately think they can’t travel. It is my belief that everyone can travel to some extent. If money is an issue, cut down on things that you don’t need. Start making coffee at home instead of buying it at a coffee shop everyday or cancel your cable services and enjoy an active life of travel rather than one spent lying on the couch watching other people doing interesting things or just simply stop buying useless material things.

Lack of time is another story. I know many people have family obligations or perhaps can’t get any time off work but that is still no excuse to get out and do some traveling on the weekends with the family. When I talk about traveling, I’m not just talking about going abroad or to another country. You can travel around your own province or state too! And traveling makes for great experiences for children. But there are many people out there who genuinely have no desire to do any traveling. They have the money, they have the time, they are able bodied and capable of traveling but chose not to. They have no interest in leaving the comforts of their living rooms or they simply think that travel is too dangerous. And I think that is kind of sad. I think if these people just gave travel a chance and experienced the many benefits that come with traveling, they would see just how life-enhancing it really is.

I developed a love of travel at a young age. Family vacations around The Maritime provinces of Canada and to the United States turned me into an adventurous kid who grew up to be an even more adventurous adult. Now my travels bring me to places outside of my country. Sometimes I wander into places I shouldn’t but my curiosity always gets the better of me and I always have to see what’s around the next turn or beyond the next hill and I can honestly say that travel has definitely made me a better person in so many ways and here are some of those ways:

Travel made me realize that the world is not as scary as CNN makes it out to be. Yes there are wars going on. Yes there is crime. Yes there are tourists being kidnapped. Yes, I realize that I may even be a victim of crime at some point while traveling. But, I also know there is more good going on in the world than bad. No one would watch the news if it covered all the good things happening. War and crime get ratings. I’ve traveled to many places as a female, solo traveler and have never come across anything remotely dangerous or life-threatening yet…unless you consider ziplining, surfing, jumping over waterfalls and trekking in the jungle dangerous. In other words, the only dangers I’ve faced were the ones that I willingly participated in.
All ready to try out ziplining for the first time in Costa Rica
Travel made me realize how vastly different people are from one culture to the next…and how strikingly similar we all are despite language and cultural differences. Before I started traveling, for some reason, I thought people in other countries and cultures were like another species of humans who were completely different from me. Sure, this is true in some ways. For example, in many of the countries I have traveled, people still mostly communicate in person instead of texting or emailing and family is number one priority. Many of the world’s cultures still remain very close to their traditional values and ways of life and their roots are still very much intact. But when it comes to human emotions, wants, needs and hopes for the future, we are all pretty much the same. Like the old saying goes “we all smile in the same language”.

Travel taught me how to be less materialistic. Seeing how little many people have and seeing how happy they are despite of this has made me realize that material items most definitely do not bring happiness. In fact, I’ve learned that having less equals happiness. After I did a major downsize of my belongings, I noticed some huge differences. I now spend less time sorting through and looking for things, I have less things to clean and less things to pack when moving and I have more room to move around. Discovering what I can live without turned to be a great lesson. I learned that before I downsized, I had way too many material items that were not serving much purpose in my life. I also learned to be less materialistic from living out of my suitcase. When I first started traveling, I was an over-packer – I mean everything but the kitchen sink was stuffed into several suitcases – but now, the most I travel with is a backpack and a small carry-on. I learned which items are necessary and which ones I can leave home and traveling is so much easier and enjoyable now that I don’t have to lug all that unnecessary stuff around and there’s less time spent unpacking, repacking and sorting through items at my destination and that means I have more time to enjoy myself.

Travel has made me smarter. While studying hard, doing well in school and acquiring a university degree are all things that can help make a person smarter, I am a firm believer that degrees and diplomas are nothing without life experience. Book smarts are great if you only want to be smart in your chosen field but “street” smarts are what make you smart in all aspects of life and travel is, in my opinion, the number one way to gain some of the best experiences of your life. The things I’ve learned from traveling cannot be taught. Every aspect of travel teaches something useful. Packing taught me about what is important in life and how to survive with very little and without the comforts of home. Air travel taught me patience. Navigating airport security taught me discipline (one has to comply with those many laws and regulations). Flying itself taught me to put my fears aside because who isn’t scared the first time they board a plane and realize that they will be suspended in mid-air, thousands of feet in the sky in a giant metal object going thousands of miles per hour with nothing holding it up? Travel taught me how to get out of my comfort zone because not all places have the luxuries I am used to at home. Travel taught me to be more social because, lets face it, my survival depends on the kindness of strangers at times while traveling and being able to approach new people is a skill I use in all aspects of my life. If you are shy before you start traveling, you won’t be for long! Travel taught me different ways of communicating. You will pick up on new languages and new ways of non-verbal communication in order to get your point across to someone who can’t speak the same language as you.

Travel has taught me how to be a better storyteller. New sites, new sounds, new smells, new people, new experiences = new stories. The littlest things have made for the most interesting and, often times, funny stories. Miscommunication between languages, missing important cultural cues, getting hopelessly lost, chance meetings, trying new and strange foods and realizing my I am just not meant to ingest certain things…these are just some of the things that have made for good stories. Some things were not so pleasant when they happened, but later, I was able to laugh at my misfortunes and other people did too and they were also inspired by my adventurous spirit and willingness to throw myself into these new situations in my quest to learn as much as I can about the world and its people.

Travel has made my life more interesting. I live in a modern society that says I have to work my butt off long hours every day in order to buy necessities like food and shelter while leaving me with virtually no time to enjoy life. A typical day involves waking up, eating, going to work, coming home, eating, tending to household chores, sleeping and repeating it all again the next day. Boring! I know I will only live once so why shouldn’t I reward myself with something I enjoy once and a while. Some people go to a movie on the weekends, others hang out in coffee shops, and others simply like to spend any free time they have watching television. Me? I work my butt off to save up to go on a trip at least once a year somewhere I’ve never been. This yearly pilgrimage provides me with something to look forward to, gets me away from the mundane and allows me to indulge in something I love doing. After a trip, I feel more productive and ready to get back to the daily grind and I don’t have to feel guilty for not living my life to the fullest!

Travel broadened my horizons and changed the way I think. I thought I knew a lot about the world and its various cultures. After I started traveling, I realized I didn’t know much at all. Watching documentaries and reading books about other countries and cultures certainly makes one more knowledgeable but nothing compares to the out-there-in-the-field education you get when you physically indulge yourself into another place. Many employers have spoken out about this type of “education” and research has stated over and over again that a large percentage of employers who see travel on a resume will take that into consideration when hiring an employee. Why? Because travel enables one to build on all of the main skills employers are looking for. Risk-taking, patience, willingness to learn new things, effectively dealing with stress, independence, problem-solving and working well with different types of people. I now longer worry about gaps in my employment history because I am confident that I can fill those gaps with meaningful things such as world travel. Most employers will see that travel experience as time well-spent.

Travel has made me a more curious person. Since I caught the travel bug, I have a constant longing to learn more about everywhere, everything and everyone! I always need to know what is around the next corner or over the next hill. I have a longing to learn about as many things as possible, to see as much as possible and to meet as many people as possible. A life spent on the couch watching television just doesn’t cut it for me…I have to be out there and I can never be missing anything!

Travel has taught me to be more adventurous with my food. Some people still consider me a picky eater. I am, after all, a vegetarian and have a strong dislike for anything that comes from the sea. That being said, since I’ve started traveling outside my home country, I’ve learned to be more adventurous and have tried many unique dishes and foods that I normally wouldn’t eat at home. I no longer turn my nose up something because I’ve never heard of it or it looks unappetizing; I just dive in and, more times than not, it turns out to be delicious!

Travel has opened my eyes to things I once thought impossible or beyond my abilities and reach. I was once afraid to travel alone. Now, I can hop on a plane and go anywhere by myself without any issues. During my travels I’ve experienced things I never thought I would get a chance to do. I’ve climbed mountains (relatively small ones but still mountains nonetheless!), I’ve traveled to the bottom of the sea in a submarine, I’ve ziplined through the jungle, I’ve learned to surf and overcome my fear of large waves and sharks, I’ve boarded some very small boats (some of which were not very seaworthy) and crossed rough bodies of water to reach almost deserted islands. Nowadays, there is virtually nothing I won’t try at least once. Travel has taught to overcome my fears and made me realize that once I get over that first hurdle, it’s easy to do it again and again and I learn that my fear was mostly unfounded!
I recommend that everyone try surfing at least once in their lifetime!
Travel has taught me that the world is much smaller than I once thought. One doesn’t really know how small the world is until they hop on a plane and reach a far flung destination within the same day, sometimes in only a matter of hours. Before I traveled, I thought of these far-flung places as other worlds far, far away and much different from my world. But once I started traveling to these far-flung places, I realized that they are quite of this same world I’ve always known. We all have families, homes and towns or villages to return to, families who love us, hobbies that engage us and dreams we want to see to reality.

Travel has taught me to appreciate the things I have at home….and long for some of the things I only have on the road. One thing that some people struggle with when traveling to other countries is the lack of familiar items they are used to having at home. You will miss toilet paper in Cuba (and lots of other little luxuries), you will miss your favorite coffee shop or hang-out place, you will miss your favorite fast food restaurants and comfort foods in many places in the world, you will miss your comfortable bed and cozy living room and you will miss being able to log onto the internet anywhere, at any time. You will pretty much miss anything that you are used to accessing easily on a daily basis but you get over it because those things are quickly replaced with new favorite foods, new experiences, new friends and new hang-outs that you will miss once you return home. For example, I miss the delicious food I ate for two weeks in Costa Rica, I miss the spectacular sunsets of the Caribbean, I miss the sound of people speaking Spanish (I think Spanish is a beautiful-sounding language), I miss walking down that wood road at dusk in the rainforest near my retreat in Montezuma and, most of all, I miss the freedom that comes with traveling.
The freedom of the open road...and not many roads are as liberating as this straight stretch through a section of the Mojave Desert in Nevada
And last but not least, travel has taught me that I cannot ever stop traveling. I caught the bug and it has a hold of me and I cannot imagine succumbing to a boring ol’ life in front of a television. The Canadian government recently decided to give Canadians a choice in how long they want their passport to be valid for. Before, passports expired automatically after five years, but now we have the option to have our passports valid for ten years (for a small extra fee, of course) so without a second thought, I ticked off the ten-year option. I plan to keep traveling and exploring this earth until I can no longer physically do so!

Ready to embark on your own adventure. Perhaps you are trying to decide where to go on your next yearly vacation or maybe you are thinking about embarking on your first adventure away from home. Whatever the case may be, you can find some ideas on destinations and some deals that can get you there cheaper here

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