Travel can really change you. It certainly has changed me in a lot of ways and I’d like to hope these changes are all for the better. I do think that one of them is that travel has helped me learn to be a better friend to the people in my life — yet another advantage of getting out there and seeing the world!
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See if this applies to you — here are seven ways that travel has made me a better friend:
#1: Better Communication
After living and traveling in numerous places where English wasn’t the first language, and I didn’t speak the local language particularly well or at all, my communication skills had to improve, and I think they did. Spending time conversing across a language barrier means you learn not to assume someone’s meaning until they’ve got to the end of the sentence. And, even then, you might double check their meaning by asking them some questions before you assume anything negative.
Becoming a better listener is also part of this learning curve. I’m sure I used to jump in half way through my friends’ sentences but now I’m more likely to sit back and let them finish talking first, which is a good start towards better communication.
#2: Accepting Differences
Dealing with people of many different nationalities, religions and all walks of life, as you tend to do when you travel through different foreign countries, means that you learn to respect all kinds of differences that back home would have concerned you.
Before I taught Korean students, for example, I would have thought anyone who would contemplate eating dog meat was a terrible person! After all my travels and experiences I am much more accepting of the different habits and customs of the world’s cultures. This follows through to even simple differences of opinions with my friends back home, too.
Now that I’m a parent, for example, the “old me” probably would have been extremely critical of different parenting styles — but the “traveler me” is much better at accepting that everyone will do it in their own way, and that’s okay.
#3: More Patience
Traveling teaches you patience and having more patience is definitely one way you can become a better friend. It’s made me more patient with friends who are late (even though I’m still a stickler for punctuality); it’s helped me be patient with friends who make decisions which I think aren’t for the best for them; and made me more patient with friends who can’t even get around to making decisions.
#4: Generosity & Help
I am definitely a more generous friend thanks to my traveling years. I met so many people on my travels who helped me without any expectation of getting something in return. My gratitude to them makes me want to help others in the same way.
Before, I may have been selfish both with my time and money even when I saw friends in need. But now I’m much more likely to offer to help friends in various ways without giving a thought to what’s in it for me.
Along the same lines, I am definitely better at sharing my material belongings as well. Traveling for long periods of time makes you get used to being without these possessions and they become less important — so I’m happy to loan more things out to friends and not worry about the idea that I might need them in the meantime.
#5: Making Friends Easily
Not only has traveling helped me to become a better friend, it’s also helped me develop the skills to become friends with someone much more easily and quickly. When you meet someone traveling, it’s often clear that you may only spend a day or two or at most a few weeks or months with them, so your friendship tends to accelerate a lot more quickly than it would if you were back home and making a new friend through work or study, for example.
These days I’m much more confident in asking lots of questions to get to know someone quickly (without giving them the third degree, of course!) and swapping contact details to make sure we can stay in touch (and actually staying in touch, too!). I may have been quite shy around new friends before but travel has stripped that all away and I can get to know people well much more quickly and easily.
#6: Making the Most of Time Together
For the same reason — making friendships abroad when we knew we would only be in the same physical location on a temporary basis — I’ve grown used to maximising the fun of spending time with friends, and making the most of the time we spend together, even if we do live in the same city and have no plans to move.
Travel taught me that relationships with friends are an invaluable part of life that need to be cared for. I had previously just grown up with some good friends and never thought too hard about what I’d do if they weren’t there any more.
#7: Being Honest and Authentic
Last but not least, my experiences abroad taught me to be more honest about who I am and not to try to represent myself in a way that will make people like me more.
Having those “fresh starts” in places where nobody knows anything about you is a good way to do this. And I am now perfectly happy to tell people honestly about my interests and beliefs without worrying what they’ll think. If they think I’m odd, then we’re not meant to be friends anyway and that’s okay!