There were a lot of ways in which I expected travel to change me. It would make me a braver person, more outgoing; more open to other cultures & maybe even religion in general.
I thought I would make new friends all over the world, and become incredibly skilled in deciphering train schedules in a foreign language. (Yeah…that last one hasn’t happened at all.)
If you travel without expecting or allowing it to change you, why even bother?
While I have experienced a lot of the things I was anticipating, I’ve also encountered some that I wasn’t. When you leave yourself open to change, some of the side-effects may be unexpected:
BECOMING LESS SELFISH
I have never cared one whit about politics my entire life. My attitude has always been “it doesn’t really matter; it won’t actually affect my life whatsoever.” I sort of washed my hands of it, justifying my lack of interest with the belief that American politics were too screwed up to even bother with.
The political discussions I’ve had with people I’ve met on my travels have made me realize that other governments around the world are just as screwed up as ours is. If everyone ‘washed their hands’ of it, it would be a disaster.
(I know, I know…never talk politics or religion. But the truth is, the rest of the world is keenly interested in American politics and has surprisingly refreshing viewpoints. I’ve been a little ashamed that people from other countries know more about it than I do.)
I watched a local election take place in Ireland and saw how people genuinely believed that it did matter who got elected and what policies are put in place. They cared about the entire well-being of their country, not just how it would affect them personally.
I realized that not caring about politics just because it may not change anything in my own life is selfish. And small-minded. Politics may be a bit of a minefield, but if everyone has the laissez faire attitude that I’ve had about it, things will never get better.
I am learning to genuinely care about the well-being of others; not just myself.
LEARNING TO SEE THROUGH APPEARANCES
I never thought of myself as a judgmental person, but if I’m being honest, I was. I have always been naturally drawn to people who dress, talk and carry themselves…like me.
I think this is a natural thing that we all do to some extent. We assume that we will have the most in common with people who look like us. When you’re traveling, you stop looking for people who look like you…because people aren’t like you. And that’s what’s cool about it!
I’m also learning to stop judging MYSELF based on appearance. The other night we went out for a night on the town. There were girls wearing mini-skirts or long, flowing dresses all around me. Then there were other travelers wearing lightweight, nondescript traveling clothes. I was in jeans & a tank top. I felt self-conscious about this for approximately 30 seconds before I decided “who cares?”
Yes, I will always care somewhat about my appearance, but I’m starting to truly see past what other people are wearing, or how they wear their hair.
I’ve become good friends with people who look & dress completely different than I do. Ultimately, outside appearance is no indication of how much in common you might have with a person.
BECOMING MORE ORGANIZED & APPRECIATIVE
I spent almost a year in Chicago and had an entire bucket list of things I wanted to do in the city. You know how many of them I got around to? One.
When you’re only spending a few days or a few weeks in a destination, you can’t say “oh, I’ll get around to this someday.” There is no someday; there’s now.
I have even stopped procrastinating…somewhat. Trying to run a blog, volunteer, take on freelance projects and enjoy the actual traveling part of my trip has forced me to become organized. I make lists of all the things I need to accomplish during my limited WiFi time. I schedule time for the things that I want to do or see in a location, and then I go do them.
I have also become much more organized with my belongings. Living out of a backpack really leaves you with no choice.
The less you have, the more you value it. Whether it’s time, money, or possessions, you learn to make them count and take nothing for granted.
I have learned to organize my time & my money to make the most of every opportunity.
BECOMING MORE AWARE OF THE WORLD AROUND YOU
In addition to my increased interest in politics, I am becoming quite the feminist. No, I’m not about to stop shaving my legs anytime soon, but I’m so much more aware of what’s going on around me and how it affects me as a woman.
I’ve always sort of brushed off the whole ‘objectification of woman’ issue. Then I really started paying attention.
Traveling through other countries has made me aware of how woman are viewed both in other cultures and in my own. We think that American woman are seen as free & equal, but never has it been more apparent to me that this isn’t true at all. I’m not just talking about the scantily-clad woman that you see on billboards, or the posters of bikini babes hung up in garages.
I was listening to country music (not rap or hip hop, where you would expect this) and what I heard shocked me. 9 out of 10 songs talked about how they loved/wanted/had to have some woman…because of the way they looked. Is it too much to ask that someone might occasionally mention a woman’s personality?
You guys, it’s everywhere. We are continuously inundated with the message that a woman’s value is based on her appearance, whether she is covered up from head to toe in a burka or displaying as much skin as possible.
No, I’m not going to snap at someone from complimenting the way I look, so long as they realize that I am so much more than that.
I’ve decided to stop ignoring the societal issues that bother me just because I don’t want to confront them.
Every one of us has a responsibility to open our eyes and be aware of what the world is telling us. And if we don’t like it – speak up!
REALIZING THE GRASS ISN’T ALWAYS GREENER
I’ll admit it, I’ve been very anti-American for a long time. I’ve been disgusted with our capitalism, selfishness, addiction to technology, political divide and superficial values.
I’ve long dreamed of how much better it would be to live in Europe, or Oceania, or SE Asia.
(Just in case the NSA is reading this, first off, welcome to my blog. Second, rest assured that I have no desire to see any harm come to America, I’m just not the biggest fan of some things.)
I once heard someone say “why would you ever want to travel outside America? It’s the greatest country in the world.” Yuck, I wanted to vomit in my mouth. And don’t even get me started on this whole ‘illegal immigration’ issue. Unless you’re a Native American, you have no right to talk…but I digress.
As I travel I am realizing something…pretty much every other country feels the exact same way. Patriotism isn’t inherently a bad thing. You can love your own country without being closed off to others. Sure, America has its issues, but so do other countries. Nobody has it all figured out.
Even though I’m quite certain that I will one day be an ex-pat and live out my life elsewhere, America isn’t all bad. After all, we do have free WiFi everywhere. 😉
What are some of the unexpected ways that travel has changed you?