One of the things I realized during my 5 months of traipsing around Eastern Europe is that travel is a metaphor.
It’s not about taking a 10 hour plane ride to get somewhere, picking the right luggage, or eating weird foods in exotic countries.
Long-term travel is, without a doubt, one of the greatest forms of education available.
Travel wakes you up; pulls you out of your routine, stretches your comfort zone. It opens your eyes to new ideas and shifts your perspective. This mindset doesn’t have to end when you return home. There are so many things you learn from globe-trotting that apply to life in general.
Here are 5 key ways the lessons you learn from travel can be used to enrich your everyday life:
1. Live in the moment
Travel has a way of making us breathtakingly aware of the exact moment that we’re in. When you’re watching the sun sink behind the stony peaks of a Greek island, getting pelted with tomatoes in Buñol, or fending off squirrel monkeys while trekking in Costa Rica, you’re actively engaged in the present.
You’re not thinking about that email that you need to send, or what your friends are posting on Facebook. In a world where we are constantly connected – yet isolated – by technology, there is something so unbelievably heady about simply being where you are, with life happening right there around you.
Travel heightens your awareness of the preciousness of each moment – this experience, with this person, in this location can never be duplicated. It will never happen again – not exactly like this – so you savor it. You feel the privilege of getting to experience it. You understand the true value of today; of now.
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne
This attitude doesn’t have to exist only on the road. It takes practice, but you can learn to be in the moment during your daily life. Next time you log into Facebook or check your email for the 87th time that day, ask yourself if you’re doing it for a reason or just distraction?
Does browsing your Instagram feed really make you feel more connected to the world? All the pleasures and entertainment of the virtual world are no substitute for a real-life conversation with someone who matters.
Peace is Every Breath by Thich Nhat Hahn, the world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, is one of my favorite resources for learning how to feel joy and happiness exactly where you are. For a monk, he’s remarkably relatable and down to earth.
I take 30 minutes in the morning now to do some yoga stretches, meditate a little, and just sit and enjoy my coffee. This time is sacred to me, and it sets the tone for my day. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed now, I close my eyes for 2-3 minutes and just bring myself back into the now.
There are endless rewards to be gained, even at home, by simply unplugging from distractions and embracing the moment.
2. Simplify your life
Travel forces you to simplify; to reduce your everyday possessions to what you can fit into a backpack or suitcase. It makes you evaluate what you actually need.
It also limits the amount of stuff you can acquire on the road. (I know there are some shopping addicts out there – like my sister – but most long-term travelers tend to keep it minimal.)
What you accumulate while traveling is new experiences, new paradigms, and new friendships which inevitably enrich your life in a way that new “things” never could.
“The more you travel, the more you realize that your most extravagant possessions can’t match the satisfaction you get from finding new experiences, meeting new people, and learning new things about yourself.” – Rolf Potts (Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel)
Abiding by the principles of simplicity at home doesn’t mean living like a pauper. It means living with a deliberate effort to be time-rich instead of just surrounded by stuff.
How much of what you own genuinely improves the quality of your life? Do the things around you enable you to live more vibrantly or just add clutter? Do you buy things out of necessity or a compulsion to fill a different need? Are you shopping to avoid dealing with an underlying issue?
Research has shown that happiness is maximized by spending our money on life experiences that fit our personality instead of possessions.
Treating a friend to dinner or drinks is more fulfilling than buying a new pair of jeans. Taking your son to a football game will lead to longer-lasting satisfaction than buying a new jersey.
This less materialistic state of mind will also make it easier to save money without feeling deprived.
3. Slow down
Anyone who has traveled long-term understands the beauty of being free from a strict itinerary. When you’re not rushing to check attractions off your list, you’re able to slow down and simply observe life happening around you.
You meet interesting people, you start to notice things you normally wouldn’t. During my 5 weeks on Skopelos island I was lucky enough to be invited into the lives of some amazing people.
I was able to distance-swim with a dive instructor and hear his fascinating stories about discovering unexplored shipwrecks. I became friends with the vivacious Marina, a taverna owner who threw a Greek hip-hop party for my birthday. I went on a day-long island-hopping expedition via paddleboard, which was one of the most challenging, terrifying, and rewarding experiences of my life.
Today we have multi-million dollar businesses trying to replicate the concept of leisure, both at home and on the road. We are bombarded by advertisements from companies who try to sell us on the idea that their products or services will allow us to relax and enjoy life.
The problem with this form of leisure is that it’s often as hurried and rigidly confined as our work life. What is truly a better representation of leisure? A 60-minute massage at The Four Seasons, or having the freedom to wander around and explore Bali for a month?
Most of the time our home life is spent in a frantic rush to get from one thing to the next. How often do you feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up? Rushing to work, to pick the kids up from school, to get all our errands run. When’s the last time you simply sat and ate dinner without watching TV or checking your phone?
Your boss might appreciate your ability to do 7 things at once, but it won’t make you feel any happier or more fulfilled. In a world where multitasking is glorified, practice pulling back and focusing on exactly what you’re doing.
It seems counter-intuitive at first, but taking small breaks during the busiest point in your day will actually improve your quality of life and productivity in the long run.
Step away from your computer for 20 minutes at lunch time. If you can, take a brief walk outside. Listen to some mood-boosting music or your favorite podcast when you’re stuck in traffic instead of stressing out over how slow you’re going. Put the phone away during dinner time or date night. If you’re with someone, be with that person.
Until you’re able to slow down and savor your everyday experiences (yes, even your daily commute) you’ll be cheating yourself out of small moments of discovery and joy.
4. Spend your time wisely
Travel makes you realize that your time is the only thing you really own in life; the only thing you have a finite amount of, and can never get back once it’s gone.
Do you ever feel like you’re too busy to spend time doing the things you love? If you’re spending 10+ hours a day working at a job that doesn’t fulfill you in order to buy a bigger house, a newer car, or more stuff, your happiness ROI is going to be pretty low.
“The most dangerous risk of all – the risk of not spending your life doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar
Warren Buffet has a brilliant 5-step process for prioritizing success. The key, he says, is once you have identified the top 5 things most important to you, you have to be committed to spending your time and energy on those things alone. Everything else becomes part of a not-to-do list until you have accomplished your top 5.
When you find yourself overwhelmed with business, take a hard, honest look at your day. Are the things that you’re spending the most time on directly contributing to what really matters to you? If not, eliminate them.
Spend less time working on things you don’t really enjoy or buying things you don’t really need. Spend more time learning new skills and connecting with friends and family.
Your time is the single most valuable currency that you have to spend. Spend it on things that make you feel alive and part of this world.
5. Push your limits
Nothing opens our eyes to the misconceptions people have about the rest of the world like travel. As a traveler, you get a lot of “just be careful” or “are you sure it’s safe there?” from well-meaning friends and family.
You hear about the ‘poverty-stricken’ Philippines or ‘dangerous’ Lebanon, only to go there and be blown away by the beauty and friendliness of the people. You read cautionary tales against Couchsurfing and then experience more kindness and generosity from a virtual stranger than you ever thought possible.
You also learn exactly how much you are capable of when you’re forced out of your comfort zone. You suddenly find yourself doing things every day that you never thought were possible. There is no better opportunity than travel to face your fears, break old habits, and discover unexpressed facets of your personality.
The same limiting, fear-based beliefs that keep people from traveling also discourage you from getting out and trying new things or meeting new people at home. We stay trapped in our daily routines or keep conducting our business the way it’s always been done.
Try striking up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop, volunteering at a community center, or spend a day walking around viewing your city through the eyes of a tourist. Think of something that makes you nervous and then go do it.
The “anything is possibly” mentality that comes with travel can help you escape daily drudgery, rejuvenate your relationships with friends and family, and open yourself up to experiences you never imagined.
These are just a few ways that travel can improve your life back home.
Tell me about your experience. How has travel enriched your day-to-day life?