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Top 5 Fridays: 5 (more) Ways Travel has Changed Me

Friday, January 27, 2012

I did an earlier post on the Top 5 ways travel changed me after our trip to South America last summer. After over a dozen more countries and several more months on the road, I have an additional list of 5 big ways travel has impacted me.

I’m not exaggerating when I say taking a trip around the world was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Here’s why:

  1. Care about what matters. Do I have a bed to sleep on tonight? Is it indoors, and warm? Can I afford dinner? Do I have access to education and health care? Not much else matters beyond that. In the US we get all obsessed over stupid details that don’t really matter. How much, how big, what kind, how new. But as long as I’ve got a place to sleep, can feed myself when I’m hungry, and see a doctor when I’m ill, nothing else is worth stressing out over.
  2. Less is more. Feeding off of the above: we need very little to survive. Protection from the elements, food and water. I wore the same 3 shirts and 2 pairs of pants for 6 months. Guess what? I didn’t explode! Nor did anyone around me! I learned very literally that the more you have, the more it weighs you down, physically and energetically. I look forward to translating this to my home life.
  3. I like people more! This one really surprised me. It makes me sound bad, but before this trip I never considered myself very social. I’m the kind of person who has a few good friends and not a huge social network; I would shy away from situations where I’d have to meet new people, for lots of reasons, but none of them very good. It’s not that I didn’t like people before… but I kind of didn’t. I wanted to save the environment, not the people in it. But man, after meeting hundreds of people in the last year from SO many different places and SO many different walks of life, young and old, extremely poor and extremely rich, Muslim and Buddhist and animist, I never thought this would happen, but I love humankind. I love meeting new people. I never knew what was going to come out of the mouths of the people we spoke with, and that fascinated and thrilled me. Every interaction was a chance to learn something new, to peer into someone else’s life, like reading a novel set in another country but BETTER! I want to devote my time and energy to helping people now, not just elephants and whales and trees.
  4. Confidence & comfort. There’s nothing like being pushed out of your comfort zone 24/7 for months on end to prepare yourself to handle any situation with calmness and confidence. Even everyday tasks are difficult on the road, from going to a market to buying a bus ticket. Knowing you’ll be an outsider everywhere, being prepared to be stared at, ripped off, or misinformed, yet learning to let go and trust people; these challenges left me infinite times more secure in myself, more open to trusting fellow humans, and ready to take on even greater tests.
  5. Renewed focus. I was an active volunteer in high school, helping out with everything from refurbishing a closed theater to delivering Thanksgiving meals to those in need. I left this behind in college to focus on studies, and never picked it back up again, which I’m not proud of. Seeing all the need there is in the world reminded me how selfish I have been and how much I have to offer. I’m ready to refocus my time and energy on the things that really matter (see #1). In particular, I want to dive into helping access to education and opportunities for women and children in developing countries. And while I’m at home, I’m looking for ways I can help out in LA (this organization, which connects tutors with homeless children, is going to be the first one I check in with when I myself have a permanent home).

What are ways that travel has changed you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

With new friends from South Africa, Egypt, Nepal, and Thailand


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, January 27, 2012 6:55 pm

    Well, these are all wonderful reasons to encourage travel and change our focus. I think #1 is the toughest one for me. Care about what matters. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and for Americans, its ALL small stuff.
    I enjoyed reading this.

    For me, travel over the world has shown me very similar things, even tho we were coddled during our travels. The thing I loved was making new friends and realizing “I am another you.” 🙂 Even tho I fell in love with Paris and Barcelona, one of the most profound things I learned was that I don’t want to live anywhere else but where I live. I mean that with gratitude, recognizing that I am right where I’m supposed to be.
    ~S 🙂

    • Kristen permalink*
      Friday, January 27, 2012 7:05 pm

      Shephard, I agree on your point about travel making you more certain about your home. It’s something I was constantly reflecting on, and I agree, for all the problems we have in the US it’s still my favorite country and the place I will always call home. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. ginabradley permalink
    Wednesday, February 8, 2012 8:33 pm

    Your post is terrific, as always, and having come off our trip to Tanzania I came back with so many of the same feelings. That trip took us so far out of our comfort zone there was nothing for it but to dive in with both feet and soak up every minute 🙂 I loved traveling light (which was no small feat!) and will now feel confident that I can go anywhere with the bare minimum and survive 🙂 I’ve been working on simplifying life at home for quite awhile, and I love discarding all those things that don’t matter and aren’t needed! Like you, I shy away from big social scenes and am much more comfortable in small groups of good friends. I can’t really say that I came home feeling like I loved people more so much as feeling like we are all HUMANS with the same simple needs and wants: food, shelter, safety for our families, the opportunity to do better. It’s so easy to feel separate from the world around us, so it was a great reminder that the bottom line is we’re all the same 🙂 And, like you, I tend to favor what so many consider the “lesser” creatures on the planet, since they are subject to whatever destruction or chaos we throw their way. After leaving Cameron’s village, and seeing how much needs to be done there (as well as all over the country) I’m more committed to trying to help where I can. But I must admit to a very strong feeling of being overwhelmed by how much needs to be done to help in those areas. It’s so very hard to know where to begin. She is helping a 19 year old boy get through secondary school, and is looking into boarding schools for him to attend after she leaves there in August, that she will continue to pay for. The education would be so much better than what he’s receiving now. I am able to help him through her, and it was terrific to meet him in person and make that connection. Education is the basis of all change that needs to take place globally. I wish there was more I could do. I will have to look into the organization that you posted :))

    • Kristen permalink*
      Monday, March 5, 2012 1:05 am

      Hi Gina! This is belated, but thank you for your lovely comment. Education does seem to be the key, and the cause that I find myself pondering the most. Access to education, qualified teachers, encouragement to stay in schools… these seem to be the biggest issues that need immediate addressing. I’m still figuring out how, but I hope to be able to help in these areas very soon. I’ll try to catch you in the building sometime soon!

  3. lee' permalink
    Thursday, July 5, 2012 1:07 am

    i love travelling, and i’m backpacker…try new things, stay at new places, making new friends, learning new culture, know new things, shoot pictures…i love those activities..and it’s really open my mind and also my eyes, to see other people, to see the other ‘world’, and most of them when i learn new things just like amazed how big the world is! and surely wonderful!

    • Friday, July 6, 2012 9:16 am

      I agree, the more I travel the more I am amazed at our world and the people in it. Nice to meet you over the internet!

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