Ever since returning from my last trip abroad, travel has been at the peak of my conversations. When I meet new people, if they have/want to travel(ed) is one of the first few questions I ask them. As a matter of fact, I recently received a new roommate in my apartment, against my wanting, and was rather bitter about his presence. Although I’ve lived in homes with strangers, 2 bedroom homes with 10 people, and hosteled in places where water isn’t always safe, living 10 months solo made me unwelcoming to having someone I don’t know moving in to invade upon my space. In my rather nonchalant tone asking the “get to know you questions” travel comes up as he mentioned that he’s backpacked in Guatemala and Nicaragua. I hit a complete 180 and he earned major points in my book. Hearing stories from travel are so cool and inspires you to do more. Traveling is definitely a way to make new connections. Here are 3 benefits I found in traveling abroad that I tell people when they ask.
- Cultural Awareness
Sure, maybe someone took a cultural awareness class in college and say they love diverse people, but many times that is not the case. Until one actually places themself in an environment of people who don’t look/act/live like them, begin to understand why they have their traditions, and view them as equals with their own, a person cannot really say they are quite culturally aware. What better way than to just take a trip and pop yourself in a new environment and hang out with the locals of the area.
In Belize, especially on the islands, the thing you will see and hear a lot is “go slow”. Myself being from the northeast United States and a high energy personality that views going slow as nearly a negative trait, I had a hard time with this. I literally would stop and forcibly say to myself “Donald, where are you going so fast? You don’t have an itinerary or to-do list, why are you acting like you’re late, stop this madness”. I also had to get used to being stopped very frequently by locals, “aye Rastaman, come here Rastaman”. Usually they were men much older than I who knew I wasn’t from around and wanted to learn about me. Having Locs is a very big deal in the Caribbean I came to realize as it has a very big spiritual component to it that is almost nonexistent in the US. It’s one thing to hear about Rastafarianism, it’s another thing to be there.
Upon coming back, although I returned to my high paced lifestyle, I’ve been able to incorporate the “go slow” slogan as a means to not be so hard on myself with getting so much done in a day and calmly rest myself assured that life won’t end if I’m not rushing. It’s surely been good to my health and balancing my type A personality. Being able to actually talk to, eat with, and get to know people born and raised in a Caribbean country gave me a much better understanding of the Caribbean culture than I had from just being told about them from people who’ve only vacationed in resorts.
- Bravery in Talking to Strangers
No I’ll admit, I’m not exactly terrified of talking to strangers, but I really only do it for a business purpose, rarely ever just on behalf of myself. Why? Well, because why should I just talk to random people? Going to Mexico really had gotten me comfortable with talking to random people. When you are in a foreign land solo and have very basic skills in their language but “you need to find a restaurant recommendation because you took the metro and got off on a random place”, well then life may require of you to randomly talk to the Burger King security guard. And in that conversation I discovered that in Mexico, Burger King (and other fast food places) deliver! I hear people at home complain about this all the time! My first Spanish conversation occurred in an ice cream parlor in Mexico City where I just kind of said “whatever” and just started asking the guy who served my ice cream about his life. Although I don’t remember his name, I do remember that he’s lived there for 18 years and is from Veracruz.
By having be the de facto translator for my group in Mexico City, talking to strangers became rather crucial as a means of making the best of the experience. When I came back the US, I was still in “talk to random people mode” but then was quickly reminded by everyone wearing headphones in public and not liking to say “hi” passing by, particularly young people. Nonetheless, the grown comfort in speaking to people here has led me to meet some interesting people and hear great stories and be given sound advice. It’s really amazing the stories and lessons you can learn just by hearing about another person’s life. Has my social shyness been completely cured, no. I still get nervous in situations where everyone around me seems to know each other and I’m alone. Just the other day I went to a Spanish/English meet up for the first time (my Spanish has been falling off) and upon not being able to keep up with the gorgeous Colombian and Peruvian girls, nor with the American lady sitting nearby, I just started watching basketball and then left because I didn’t feel like floating the room anymore.
So now if you’re shy, you may still have to fight it off, but it’s much easier to do when you realize you’ve talked to people in faraway lands, talking to people in your city or campus isn’t so hard. My ability to network, get to know people, and gather information surely has improved by way of it. My elevator conversation is supurb nowadays.
- Add Some Zest to Life
Traveling can help add some zest to life. Whenever you’re in a stagnant period, catching a flight or going on a road trip somewhere can be a great solution to break up the monotony that life sometimes puts us in. Being in a new place brings a variety of new challenges, the more different the place, the more challenges you face. The challenges of figuring out common foods you’ll find, language barriers, and customs of courtesy will occupy your mind long enough that you won’t be worried about the stresses of home. When you are on a speed boat going through the Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas looking at alligators or riding to the mall on a Metro in Athens hoping you don’t get fined for not having bought a ticket, your professor’s 12 page research article on carb metabolism or your apartment complex who can’t seem to do anything right become miniscule issues as you don’t have time, nor the means, to be worried about them.
Having been burned out from 17 months of endless grind and sleeping 35-40 hours weekly (senior year of college got very real), taking a trip in the winter refreshed me and re-inspired me. This semester is going so much better as a result. Sometimes you have to get away from the mark to be able to stay on point.
These are a few of the big points I tell people when trying to show how traveling can help them grow and add something new to their life. Being able to enhance your ability to be further culturally aware, more confident in talking to people you don’t know, and add some zest to your life are things that have helped me tremendously and have helped others. Do you have any other reasons to travel that have helped you? Share with us all below!