I was brought up to understand travel was a part of life. You didn’t stay in one place, you looked for work overseas, you moved around a lot… that’s what my parents did, that’s what I was going to do! But when I left home at 18 to go to university in a different country, I cried for days. Just because you want travel as a part of your life, doesn’t make it easy to set off on your own.
Traveling to a different country for uni isn’t exactly traveling though, it’s exciting and challenging, but its work. My first experience with real adventure travel was when I dropped out of uni in my first year to travel around Spain and Morocco. It was going against the wishes of my family and financially it was a bit stupid, but I needed to do it to learn how to grow up. And part of what I learned was: the thing with growing up is that it never stops, and travel never stops allowing you to grow and develop in ways that will continue to surprise you!
Having said that, we all know travel changes people. We’ve heard a million times how seeing other cultures and ways of life challenge your own perceptions of the way you think the world works. But I noticed a few big changes in myself since I ran away from uni (obviously I went back otherwise I wouldn’t have my job today), and how those changes have helped me throughout the rest of my life – in further travel, but also in building a career, knowing marriage was right for me, all that big life decision stuff…
1. You learn to be brave – once you book a ticket, this one happens by default. At the end of the day you have a choice to stay where you’re comfortable or launch yourself into the unknown. For most of us it’s a simple as planning a trip, saving up, and getting on that plane. Once you take this first step, everything afterwards doesn’t seem so difficult. You get braver with the countries you visit, braver with interacting with people and making friends, and braver with looking out for yourself.
2. You develop instincts you never knew you needed – this one is especially important when traveling alone. Over the years I’ve learned to grow eyes in the back of my head, and trust that gut feeling that tells me something isn’t quite right. I think its human nature to develop heightened instincts when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, but the more you put yourself in unfamiliar situations the more developed these instincts become. And being able to listen to your instincts in life is one of the best skills you can have.
3. It makes you more practical – travel is a beautiful experience, but it’s not all selfies on the beach at sunset. You need to make a plan, a schedule, bookings in advance, or you need to be able to think on your feet if you just decide to see where the wind takes you. You can’t blow all your money on a resort if you’re on a backpacking holiday, and a lot of the time you’re going to have to make ‘either-or’ decisions. This one is all about prioritising, making decisions and keeping one foot on the ground (preferably in the sand) while you’re off having fun.
4. It forces you to choose – once you launch yourself into a trip, there’s no staying still. The closest I came to staying still on my travels was when I lived at a hostel for five weeks because I was having too much fun to leave. Most of the time when you’re on the road, you can’t go back to sleep and think “I’ll deal with it next week”. You have to choose where you’re going, with who, how far your budget can take you, when you’re going home, IF you’re going home, and how you’re going to support yourself.
5. You learn to trust yourself - I suppose this one is all of these points combined. Travel teaches you self-reliance and also it gives you faith in yourself that you are someone to be relied on! As you go along you learn to decide on what’s best for you, what you want out of your experience, and how to get it – if you can trust yourself to make these decisions while adventuring around the world, they’re kind of awesome skills to have when you come back home and apply them to the rest of your life.