Did you know traveling can lead to great things?
Personally, it’s been the most influential factor in my life. I’ve been traveling around the world since 2008, and without a doubt, my experiences have made me a better person. (And not only that — they’ve also been incredibly fun and rewarding.)
Though you probably don’t need an excuse to travel, I’ll give you a few anyway. Here are four ways traveling the world makes you a better person:
1. Travel teaches patience
“Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.” ~ Jean Jacques Rousseau
Waiting in line for a museum or flight. Enduring a long bus ride. Dealing with persistent touts. What do these experiences have in common? They’re all familiar to frequent travelers — and they all require patience to manage. When you travel, you quickly learn you can either allow these issues to frustrate you, or you can take them in stride; the end result is the same. So, you learn to be patient.
Now that I’ve spent five hours waiting at the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, sitting in traffic for a few minutes doesn’t faze me. Because I’ve had to brush off an endless stream of inappropriate remarks from Turkish salesmen, the occasional catcall doesn’t upset me. Travel has strengthened my patience muscle like nothing else has.
2. Travel makes you grateful
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough.” ~ Melody Beattie
Nothing makes you appreciate where you’re from — or what you have — like traveling does. It could be as simple as missing your favorite brand of peanut butter, or as profound as realizing you grew up in incredible comfort compared to many people. Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and practicing it can have a deeply positive impact on your life.
A few years ago, I spent three months volunteering at an elementary school in Nicaragua. The children there had very little in terms of physical possessions, but an abundance of smiles and positivity. Seeing how they could be satisfied with so little made me more appreciative of what I have in my life — which, in turn, has brightened the lives of those around me.
3. Travel leads to self-reflection
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman
We are at our best when living up to our full potential, and travel often reveals just what that potential looks like. You can be whoever you want to be when you’re traveling — which is often what helps you figure out who you really are. Maybe you realize your partner isn’t the right person for you; maybe you realize your true calling is to become a yoga teacher.
When I look back on it, many of my life-changing moments have occurred on the road. It was while volunteering in East Africa in 2005 that I realized I wanted travel to be the focal point of my life; it was while teaching English in South Korea (and writing a blog about my experience) that I realized I was a writer; it was while taking a long solo road trip down the east coast that I realized I needed to end a long-term relationship. Living a life true to myself has undoubtedly made me a better person.
4. Travel opens your mind
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain
Making assumptions is easy; understanding and appreciating our differences is hard. One of the best ways to learn about other people and places is by visiting, connecting, and experiencing them yourself. Immersing yourself in a new culture will allow you to not only discover the qualities you share, but also to appreciate the areas in which you differ.
I grew up in a homogenous small town of 2,500 people. If I never traveled, I don’t know what kind of thoughts would be traipsing through my head. A lot of assumptions would be made — I do know that. I never would’ve made friends across borders, I never would’ve learned about different cultures, and most importantly, I never would’ve realized how great and good and beautiful our world is.
What do patience, gratitude, self-awareness, and an open mind have in common?
They are all qualities of a great person — and they are all qualities you can nurture by traveling the world.
Though of course traveling — or even volunteering abroad — will likely have the greatest impact, a trip to a new neighborhood or city will do. As long as you’re getting out of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to new ideas, people, and places, you will experience growth.
And it’s only by growing that we become better.
Has traveling made you a better person? Tell us how!
Susan Shain works with Discover Corps, the only volunteer vacation organization endorsed by the National Peace Corps Association. She believes the best way to discover a country is through its people. Click here to learn more about Discover Corps’ all-inclusive volunteer vacations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.