“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled throughout many parts of the world. I’ve explored Europe, S.E. Asia, India, South and Central America, sailed the seas and drove across the country. I remember something from every trip. There’s always a takeaway that resonates well into the future. From the little trips to Tahoe, to the bigger trips abroad, the novel experiences demand attention. While traveling, I am no longer allowed to sleepwalk through the daily routines that bring both comfort and boredom to my everyday life. I’ve learned that the world is a much bigger and more diverse place than I could ever comprehend.
There is something about traveling on a shoestring when you are young and unencumbered that forces you into close proximity with a variety of people. You don’t have to be rich to travel, nor do you have to travel in luxury to have a great experience. I’ve found the cheaper options get me in touch with a community of people that are much more open than the older/wealthier travelers who tend to insulate themselves. There is a looseness and ease with dorm traveling. I’m forced to come in contact with a variety of people – it is not always pleasant, but it is real. One must talk with strangers, to share and make new connections in order to get by. I would be able to get to know my dorm mates in a way a luxury hotel could never offer.
The most educational trips tend to be the ones that are out of the country and out of my comfort zone. India was the most ‘Full Power’. It’s an in your face place with a full frontal assault on the senses and one’s sense of personal space. I witnessed the country’s male hierarchy and caste system. I wouldn’t have felt as safe if I were a woman traveling alone. I was touched by the deep appreciation for the many gods and traditions, the rituals, colorful clothing and history. I stayed at ashrams, chanting, doing yoga and meditating for days on end. I was also punched in the stomach more than once by raging sicknesses. I spent many a restless nights on bed bug infested mattresses. After months of travels in India, I returned back to the U.S. enriched, exhausted and grateful for the place I call home.
Southeast Asia exposed me to Buddhism, Thai Massage and Angkor Wat temples. I ate and was able to enjoy eating things once unimaginable such as fried insects. Everywhere I would go, there would be a meshing of cultures of the other world travelers and the locals. I could be hanging out with Israelis, French, Australians and Brazilians and the locals in a square in Peru. We would share road stories, food and laughs. Walls would come down, even if there was a language barrier.
Get out of your comfort zone, your routines and explore places, foods, people, cultures that you are not familiar with. The education of these experiences is unparalleled. You can not get it from books or movies or podcasts – you have to expose yourself to the place in person. You have to have the tactile experience of getting lost in the sights, sounds and smells of a place in order to return with some of their flavor. I have come home even more appreciative of where I live, but I also come back with stories and experiences that help me understand the world, and open me to other ways of life.