Sunset on Venice Beach, California

9 Unexpected Ways Travel Makes You a Better Person

I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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What is travel? Travel is a new bed every night. Travel is learning for the day the map of a new city. It’s wonderful new friends or brusque strangers. Travel is something new on your plate at dinner. Travel is always worrying about your budget. Travel is an out-of-breath moment on a mountaintop, congratulating yourself for sticking to it. Travel is strange sounds in the night outside your tent. Travel is the anonymity of an airport and the familiarity of a shared bathroom. Travel is the neon lights of a busy city.

Travel is staring into a mirror and thinking “Maybe I should wash my hair today”. Travel is wearing the same outfit for days. Travel is a worn pair of sneakers and a well-loved backpack. Travel is sweating in the back of a local bus or train.

Sunset on Venice Beach, California
Sunset on Venice Beach, California © Graham (on Flickr)

Travel is more than just a stamp in your passport — it’s a stamp on your soul. You’ll never again see the place you left with the same eyes. You don’t always see it immediately, but one day back home, you’ll catch yourself doing something in a different way, and remember why. Here’s the top nine ways you will change:

#1: Travel Reveals the Big Picture

It’s funny how we lose ourselves in our own lives, sometimes so deep that we can’t separate our daily existence from the broader perspective. Being away from routine and the same people you meet every day forces you to see your life from the outside. It also makes it simpler to admit to yourself when something — a dead-end job or a going-nowhere relationship — is not working out for you. And this takes us into our next point.

#2: Travel Reminds You What Is Really Important

Maybe you had a hobby you’ve given up. Maybe you loved one part of your job above all else. Maybe there is one ambition buried away beneath everything else. When the familiar is stripped away, you see with astonishing clarity what it is that rocks your boat. You’ll question why you stopped doing what you enjoyed, and start trying to figure out how to build your life around it again.

#3: Travel Reveals Who You Love + Why You Love Them

When you travel, you miss everything beloved — from your favorite brand of coffee to your softest pair of pajamas. But you won’t miss the people who filled your life but weren’t really that important to you. Travel is the easiest way to separate the acquaintances from those who are truly special. You’ll see them with more clarity too, and remember what it is you love about them most.

#4: Travel Makes You More Adaptable

If there is one constant in a traveller’s life, it is that travel will throw up situations that challenge you. You can make the most detailed itinerary, plan your trip perfectly, and then feel the carpet swept from under you the next minute. You’ll go through anger, denial and frustration, and hopefully, finally, you’ll learn to laugh at it.

Closeup of shoe next to a tiny plant on the sidewalk
Stop and Smell the … Tiny Plants © Sherman Geronimo-Tan

#5: Travel Makes You Grateful

Whether you travel from a developed country to a developing country, or vice-versa, there will come a moment when you are grateful for all you have. When you see people who manage on far less in a year than you do in a month. Or meet someone with one leg who is hiking up a hill, you’ll close your eyes for a second and utter a quiet, thank you.

#6: Travel Opens Your Personality Up

Think about your life back home, when you worked and had an apartment. With the exception of maybe trying out a new restaurant or a weekend holiday class, when was the last time you did something new? Out of your comfort zone? You probably don’t even remember.

But when you’re on the road, simply ordering lunch can be a task. You’ll find yourself shedding your old skin of defense mechanisms, stereotypes and anxieties, and taking on a lot more than you ever thought you were capable of.

#7: Travel Hones Your Social Skills

Are you shy? Unwilling to trust fate? Are you mistrusting of other people’s goodness? Travel will take care of all that. Most of us hold our prejudices and flaws close to ourselves, look at them as protectors of our precious emotions. Essentially, we use them as nothing more than excuses.

You might not talk to everyone you meet, but you’ll be forced to interact with many, many more people than you’re used to, sometimes not even in your language.

Feet dangling off a pier
© Yasin Hassan

#8: Travel Teaches You to Do Without

At home, we build our little nests and we line them with gadgets, books, art, music, clothes and food. Then we sit down and admire them and tell ourselves that we couldn’t live without them.

But when you travel, your nest is suddenly downsized to the bare minimum. You’re now living a very full life without those high thread-count sheets or fluffy towels. And you realize you’ll be just fine without them. (Which is not to say you won’t go and buy them again when you get back. We all have our weaknesses!)

#9: Travel Reintroduces You to Yourself

In the midst of museum-traipsing, people-watching, meal-planning, map-reading, budget-checking and ticket-booking, one day you’ll have an epiphany. It could range from something as small as “I don’t like sushi because I don’t like squishy food” to “I don’t like my job because it doesn’t feel like I’m making a difference”.

But it’s a truth about yourself and it’s likely that it’s come from a meeting with a backpacker who was travelling to teach in a village, or last night’s experiments with sushi. And you’ve just learned a little more about yourself.

Experiences both good and bad are out there, waiting to meld and twist your personality into something new and fabulous. So book your tickets for that long trip, by all means. But know that you won’t be the same when you return.

  1. I especially agree with #6 and #7 – I’m a very solitary person, but travel invites interaction, whether with the bus driver or barista or your temporary neighbor.
    This is a really spot-on list; very well articulated!

  2. What a great list (and beautifully written too!)

    I cannot doubt you on anything, I too have noticed things about myself, perhaps old negative points, that I have become better at or more patient with over the years of travelling.

  3. Great article; thanks for sharing. Just a friendly grammatical fix because I know I’d like to know: “quiet” at the end of #5.

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