There are many lessons to be learned from traveling. While I don’t necessarily think a week-long trip can transform who you are, I do believe, collectively, travel experiences can.
As a wanderlust at heart, I have traveled the United States extensively; I have even sold all of my belongings to backpack through Central America.
Here are three travel lessons I learned from those experiences, which can also be applied to everyday life at home:
1. Life will be more beautiful if you proactively create your own moments of wonder.
From sweeping views and the sounds of nature to the interesting characters you meet along the way, there are endless moments of awe you'll experience when you travel.
In Guatemala, I sat on top of a 1000-year-old pyramid, which towered over the tree lines, as I watched the sun go down.
The park was eerily quiet and there were no other signs of civilization. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in my entire life.
In Belize, I sailed to a remote island and pitched a tent. That night, I laid in the sand and looked up at the stars.
I could, for the first time ever, see the curvature of the Earth and its slow orbit. The stars seemed so close that if I reached up, I could grab a handful and take them home with me.
In Nicaragua, I completed a grueling hike through the jungle to climb up a volcano.
I saw giant ants carrying their leaves above their heads, back to their colonies. Howler monkeys and their deafening howls surrounded me.
It made the hairs on my arms stand up; it was truly moving to be one with nature.
At a hostel in North Carolina, I stayed up all night talking to an Australian. Our conversation was so deep and intimate; it was an immediate connection with someone who lived halfway across the world. Despite having felt alone at that particular moment in my life, he made me feel like I wasn’t.
I never saw or talked to him again, but I remember that interaction fondly.
As a traveler, when you remember moments like these, you realize they don’t just happen. You’ve made a concerted effort to experience your surroundings.
You’ve booked excursions and you become an open book in order to meet people and connect with them.
The underlying motivation may be different for everyone, but the common thread that ties all of us travelers together is we get outside of our heads and the stress and monotony of our everyday lives to bask in the glory of the present moment.
We don’t look to our past, and we don’t look to our future. We decide what we want to do that day to feel that sense of awe and wonderment of the world.
We consciously decide to create the possibility for such moments to occur.
However, we rarely practice this in our everyday lives. Between school, homework, work, pets, household chores and visiting with friends and family, life easily gets away from us.
We’re tired; we’re stressed; we spend a lot of time planning for our futures, and then, we find ourselves disappointed when things don't work out exactly as we had planned.
Soon enough, we find ourselves sitting on the couch, binge-watching Netflix more frequently than getting out.
We become active participants in making ourselves feel like our lives are boring and unfulfilling.
Life would be so much more beautiful and manageable if we proactively created those moments of wonder in our everyday lives: joining your kids or nieces and nephews in building forts and telling scary stories; going to the farmer’s market and cooking a meal with your significant other; volunteering at the VA and listening to old war stories; taking a road trip to see the biggest ball of yarn that ever existed; talking with your grandparents and learning about your family history.
These are tiny, beautiful things. Take the time to make them happen.
You will be happier and your heart will be full of more appreciation, love and grace than you ever imagined.
2. A new adventure always awaits.
The paradox of traveling and leaving one place for another is that it’s both depressing and exciting.
Depressing because you realize you have to move on from where you are and exciting because you know a new adventure awaits you.
It is inevitable in life that many chapters will end and new ones will begin. Sometimes, you leave where you are because new opportunities present themselves.
Maybe it’s leaving your hometown for college or leaving a job you love for a higher-level position.
Other times, you may feel forced to leave, which means intentionally letting go. This is probably the hardest lesson of them all and also the most applicable to our relationships.
The urge I felt to leave my hometown came with fervor and panic after a devastating heartbreak. I quit my job, changed my phone number and moved to a new state. The day I left, I stood in the middle of my empty living room, bawling.
I had lived my entire life in this town; my best friend lived there, and I had poured time, money and effort into making my house a home.
When you feel comfortable in one place, it can be difficult to move to the next because we cling to familiarity. This holds true for your job, your relationship and your home, to name a few.
Although moving on can certainly bring sadness along with fear, grief and uncertainty, it also opens up possibilities for new experiences, joy and happiness to enter your life.
For every sorrow we feel, there is a moment of joy — a silver lining of sorts.
It’s perfectly normal to be sad, to want to stay, or even question the sanity of why this particular part of your life is ending, but you should also look to the possibilities the next place brings you.
For me, moving created the possibility of discovering who I was outside of another person.
I craved love, a deeper connection with someone, adventure, change and a new perspective.
Where I was, the possibilities for all these things were limited, so moving created new opportunities.
Yes, I was deeply saddened because my heart was full of love for the memories and attachment to my hometown, but I was simultaneously excited because the next chapter meant the world was mine to take.
Despite the horror of that particular experience, it led me to find my true self.
3. Flexibility creates room for great things to happen.
When you travel, it may not always be glamorous. Inevitably, we hit some bumps along the way and things won’t go as planned.
In my own travels, I’ve dealt with broken-down buses, frustration with not being able to speak the language, a hostel that gave away my room and a bad case of giardia.
But, when you get past all that, you are left with the reassurance that you can stand on your own two feet if you embrace the unexpected.
More than likely, this will lead you to some great, off-the-beaten-path experiences, too.
When my bus broke down at the border between Guatemala and Mexico, I had no money, no food and no clue how to get to my final destination.
I’d been studying Spanish, but in a high-stress situation, I was at a loss for the right words. So, I sat for hours.
Eventually, another traveler I had met in Guatemala showed up. He saw me sitting there, and he came over to offer me a ride.
While he wasn’t going to my final destination, he is how I ended up in Chiapas and got to see Palenque, a Mayan civilization steeped in history.
In Belize, the hostel gave away my room and the entire island was booked solid. The only available options were expensive hotel rooms and bungalows.
That night, I ended up sleeping in a hammock outside a local’s house, who cooked me fresh lobster and gave me all the ins and outs of the island.
In Guatemala, when my friend ended up getting salmonella poisoning, his temperature was 105 degrees, and he could barely walk, which meant we were stuck at home.
My host mother found a doctor who spoke English and he gave my friend a shot that cured him within a 36 hours.
Our travel schedule was thrown off, and we ended up missing a location we wanted to visit.
However, we were invited to go on a volcano hike where we roasted marshmallows over lava. It’s still one of the most incredible things I have ever done.
It’s not always easy to be flexible in life. We often get attached to our routines, and our perceptions of what makes our vacations, relationships and jobs perfect.
Undoubtedly, there will be bumps along the way and many, many failures, but if you can adapt to situations and realize life will sometimes deviate from your plans, you can open yourself up to great things.
There are heaps of other travel lessons to be learned, but I've found applying these three to my everyday life has brought me a greater sense of general happiness and fulfillment.