Six Unintended Benefits of Traveling
Most people who travel for leisure seek a handful of common travel-induced benefits: widening cultural perceptions, increasing self-confidence, and learning about who you are and what you want to do in this world. As we leave our comfort bubbles to explore, these and other lasting impacts certainly take root. I’ve also found, though, that some of the most profound results of traveling catch us by surprise and are consequently even more enduring.
1. Anti-consumerism as a practical byproduct
Logistically speaking, a life on the road usually means a life with as little excess crap as possible. If you have to pack it up and carry it, you’ll think twice before buying it. You become more aware of how few possessions you actually need, and you may also realize how much of what there is “to do” in most cities revolves around the purchase and acquisition of material goods. As soon as you’re avoiding it, you’ll see it everywhere.
2. A more actively constructed definition of (and appreciation for) home
The farther you go from what you’ve always considered “home,” and the longer you stay there, the more clearly you’ll begin to truly see what home constitutes for you. Maybe you’ll find a familiar smell in a store, discover comfort in your favorite foods, or feel amazingly and immediately at ease when a familiar face comes to visit you abroad. All of these moments help us more actively realize and determine what home means to us—and what we would like it to mean in the future.
3. Appreciation of the human body
The body does immeasurable work for the soul when you take it out to explore the world. It processes countless visual and auditory stimuli, filters new germs, climbs stairs/mountains/cityscapes, accepts unfamiliar food as fuel, and just generally moves in new and varied ways. If you’re fully able-bodied, take the time to notice how your body enables you to explore, and consider how inaccessible many cities are to anyone who isn’t fully able-bodied. Thank your body with rest and healthy fuel. Marvel at how strong and adaptable we really are.
4. Patience and adaptability
Given the myriad of unexpected situations the world traveler encounters, it’s no surprise that over time, traveling increases an instinct of overall patience and adaptability. The more trains get delayed, busses crowded, and possessions lost, the less likely you become to get your undies in a bundle when these unavoidable occurrences befall you in the future. The more often the weather turns undesirable and your map leads you astray, the more you learn that everything will be okay. We breathe in. We breathe out. We adapt. And your frustration does not change your external circumstances; it just dumps cortisol into your bloodstream, and who loses in that case? You do.
5. Detail-oriented preparedness
Given the sorts of challenges described above, you also learn from your mistakes and can become far more adept at preparing for future curveballs. For example, if you assume a 30-minute connection time between trains gives you ample time, but then arrive on the day of your journey and realize you have to get from train station A on the east side to station B on the west side, you’re unlikely to ever oversee details like this again. These are easy mistakes to make and easy to avoid with a bit of preparation.
6. Disillusionment and more grounded expectations
The more places you see with your own eyes, the more you realize that nowhere is a paradise free from suffering, garbage, and ugliness. Everyday life is always just everyday life for the people who live there, but we often have the tendency to idealize certain places we’ve never been, like Paris, Bali, Tuscany, or the islands of Thailand. Alas, the grass does always seem greener on the other side, but the grass is never perfectly green in reality. Your first trip to Paris may be a bit disillusioning (sorry), but hey, over time these sorts of micro-disappointments ground our expectations in general and help us to appreciate things as they are, free from our attachments to expectation and judgment.
Some of the most positive lasting effects of traveling are more subtle than “I learned SO much about Chinese culture!” They are the ways our perceptions, instincts, and habits are forever changed, and this is what increasing cultural competency is all about.