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Top 5 Ways Travel Changed Me

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We interrupt our jungle adventure to bring you a new feature, Top Lists. The first one I want to share with y’all is something that’s been bubbling up since we landed in the US.  It’s been 6 weeks since we returned, and I’ve had some time to reflect on how I feel now, being home, that’s different from before we started our journey.

Top 5 Ways Travel Changed Me

  1. Confidence. I thought I had plenty of confidence, having worked for many years at a world-renowned corporation on high-level projects with A-list talent, powerful producers and directors. But after 9 weeks of walking into any number of strange situations, in places I had never been and knew no one, and where I could only speak a few words of the language, my confidence has grown in spades. Going back to LA after my South American trip feels like returning as a different person. I can go anywhere and do anything, and I will be fine. It’s an amazing feeling.
  2. Sleep Skills. I used to be finicky about sleeping on different pillows and mattresses, unable to have a good night’s sleep if I was in a new setting. Now, you give me a place to lie down horizontal – or nearly so – and I am out. On our trip we slept in tents, on buses, hostel bunk beds, fancy beds, airplanes, you name it, and much of the time we were at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 14,000 feet.
  3. Adventurous Eating.This one is obvious, right? Okay, I may not have tried everything (those whole fried guinea pigs in Peru just did not look appetizing to me) but I did learn that usually the most delicious and affordable meals came from a cart on the street, or the woman carrying a bucket of her special dish, or a tiny bakery case. It opened my eyes to a whole level of food supply that exists in the US, too: freshly made juices, pastries, tacos and more, if you’re open to stopping the street vendor and inquiring, “¿Qué es eso?”  (“What is that?”)
  4. Alternative Transport, or, Can Your Bulldozer Take us Across the River? I’ve learned that there is always more than one way to get somewhere, and that the US mentality of either driving yourself in your own car, or flying, is usually not the most efficient and affordable way to get somewhere in South America. We took large buses, small buses, fast buses, slow buses; horses, boats, ferries, taxis, vans, and generously offered private car rides; subways, elevated trains, tram cars, funiculars, and yes, even a bulldozer, to get to where we were going. And you know what? We always got to our desired destination. Though using public transport may have sometimes taken longer than the guidebook-recommended tour bus or rental car, we got to see typical South American life from the perspective of the majority of its residents… and that’s what travel is all about.
  5. Open Heart. Sure, it’s easy enough to say, you like a place or a people or a region, if you haven’t been there; to watch a documentary on TV and think, “Wow, Argentina sure looks nice.” I’ve always considered myself open-minded and open-hearted to the places and people of the world. But there’s nothing like being there to truly be awakened. My heart has expanded and grown. Forever part of me now: the vastness of Argentina. The people of Peru. The lush green lands of Colombia. And all those places in between where we have not yet wandered. Ever more open, ever more ready to expand and encompass the whole of the world.

In what ways has travel changed you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, August 3, 2011 10:49 am

    I identify with all of the above. Except the bulldozer! Haven’t tried that one yet!
    Not knowing the language is very humbling. People warned us about Parisians being surly and unfriendly, esp. because we barely speak any French. We’ve been twice now, and found this to be true 1 in 10 times. And then there’s the attitude of New Yorkers… we rarely have rude experiences in NYC either. I’m sure they’re there; they’re everywhere. But… I think that opens hearts go a long ways to reaching people. 😉 We like Rick Steve’s motto: become a temporary local. (except for the guinea pigs, I’m with you on that).

    Travel is definitely a confidence builder. It expands perspective amazingly. I can’t wait to hear your stories!
    ~Shephard 🙂

  2. Marina permalink
    Wednesday, August 3, 2011 11:35 am

    I agree with all that. I would also add patience. Long-term travel definitely teaches patience and a go-with-the-flow attitude, which are not typically American traits. 🙂 We started our trip in Africa, where locals actually use the phrase “hakuna matata” quite often (non-ironically), and it helped define our perspective on things.I also got much better about approaching and befriending locals the more we traveled. It intimidated me at first, but then I realized that all our best experiences happened when we got to have a good conversation with a local, so we started seeking that out more and more.

    • Kristen permalink*
      Wednesday, August 3, 2011 11:46 am

      Marina, you are so right! The Colombian equivalent (which you probably heard a ton) is “Tranquillo,” basically, “Chill,” and you are pretty much forced to go at the pace of the locals… which isn’t a bad thing! It’s been strange to come home and have the bill dropped off at a restaurant while you are still eating, after weeks of practically having to hunt down someone in order to pay after your hours-long meal in S.America. And meeting locals – yes – you are right, it took us a while to talk to people in some places, but those are the people I most remember!

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