Traveling gets romanticized a lot in our generation. There are the “wanderlusts,” and the kids who are eager to get in their cars and leave their hometowns the very first day they can. There are always articles, status updates and tweets that talk about escaping and seeing the world.
I see them all the time. As a person who's traveled quite a bit, I have to say I both agree and disagree. Traveling isn't the end to your problems. You can't run away from the things that scare you, or even the people you can't help but fall in love with.
Leaving is never the solution when the problem is inside your heart. No matter where you go, you'll take it along as well.
That being said, I am a huge believer in the fact that traveling can completely change most people for the better. Right now, I'm living in Spain for the next three months. I'm a nanny to the cutest and most hilarious 2-year-olds in the whole entire world. But as I prepared to leave America, I made a list of all the things that I wanted to happen during this new chapter of my life.
I want to be a person who is open and inviting. I want to be able to relate and appreciate other people and cultures. I want to be consistently content on my own.
I want to take each day as it is. I want to “go with the flow” and be cool, calm and collected. I want to immerse myself in this culture, try new things and build relationships based off a mutual and deep respect of our respective backgrounds.
As I continue through this experience, I've found that traveling – while sometimes terrifying and overwhelming – can teach us so many things.
As I think about the kind of person I want to be and the traits I want to encompass, here are the three things I've found to be the most important lessons traveling can teach you (as long as you're willing to learn):
I wanted to find a definition that's different from sympathy or understanding because, in reality, it's impossible to truly understand another person without having his or her heart and mind.
Empathy, to me, is making a conscious decision to listen without judgment and accept a person, family, community or culture just as it is. With this in mind, hearing stories, learning the history and spending time in another country or culture becomes a gift to both you and the other party.
It's not about having been through the same things. It's about being genuine and wanting the other person to feel heard.
With being genuine about wanting to learn and understand another culture comes the harsh reality of the many misconceptions and misunderstandings in your own culture. Immersing yourself in another place means you have to let go of a lot of your fears and walls.
You have to push yourself outside your comfort zone.
Traveling teaches you humility because you quickly find out that you don't know very much, but that there is a world of beautiful things to learn. You quickly find out that each and every person has a lesson to teach you.
Vulnerability is letting those people teach you whatever they need. It's not easy to pack a bag, fly for days on end and land in a place you've never been. Everyone speaks a different language, and you stand out like a sore thumb.
It's not easy. This is why vulnerability is a practice and a conscious decision. When you choose to be vulnerable, you are choosing to grow. When you choose to embrace vulnerability, you learn cool things.
Did you know that in Spain, they eat snakes in the same way we eat pepperoni? You learn that the city of Pamplona built a wall surrounding its city, so that if France attacked, the citizens could be able to hide inside a large hole.
You learn things that are bit harder to digest too, like the way Americans have made international citizens feel. You learn how heartbreaking terrorism is, and how it affects daily life.
Yet, you learn that despite language or location, love is still the strongest bond to ever exist. Giving and receiving love is vulnerability.
Culture is the glue that holds communities and souls together. Immersing myself in them has taught me how to be an open spirit, with the ability to adapt and learn in every situation. It doesn't matter if the lesson is positive or negative.
It is sometimes easy to get stuck in your own city or country, and forget that humanity includes every person, culture and tradition that exists. We are all humans, and we all have our own unique faults and mistakes. All you need to do is go out and explore.