At 22-years-old, I can say something that not many people can: I've hiked to the top of the Andes Mountains and witnessed Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The first time I left the US, I decided to explore life in Perú. I didn't know a lick of Spanish, any of the people with whom I would be traveling or what I was getting myself into.
But, I did know one thing: If I let the opportunity pass me by, I’d surely regret it. Like every 20-something, I crave adventure. I had been itching to do something challenging, something that would expose me to new ways of life. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary, and that’s precisely what I did. In Perú, every turn of the head brought something new to learn, see, taste or hear. Traveling to another country isn't like traveling to another state. These people didn't speak my language and had a completely different way of life.
But, they were equally as fascinated by me as I was by them. Life in Perú is very different than life in America, but it wasn't until I came back to Chicago that I fully understood how much my world had changed. Our 20s are a crucial time to gain experience and start to discover who we really want to be.
Being in another country taught me so many valuable lessons and opened up my mind to a whole new meaning of acceptance. Check out five things I learned about life while abroad and why every 20-something should seek a similar experience:
Disconnecting connects you
Being abroad forces you to be present. While I was in Perú, I couldn't really use my cellphone unless I had WiFi, which was hard to come by. It was spotty and almost always required a password, so time online was limited. While at first it was frustrating to be unable to use my phone, unplugging turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I actually became more connected with the people and the places in front of me, rather than allowing myself to worry about what was going on in the rest of the world. And guess what? I came home to find out that I didn't miss anything.
Traveling expands your palette
Being in a new country means trying new foods and immersing yourself in that culture. Before going to Perú my professor would joke with me that I’d be eating guinea pig. Um, no. I was not eating guinea pig — I used to have two of them as pets! Peruvian cuisine was full of foods I had no interest in ingesting.
But by the end of the trip, I had eaten octopus, while others tried the poor guinea pigs and burgers made of alpaca meat. The bottom line is that trying new things is what traveling is all about. It’s weird and exciting to eat different foods, but you’re always left with a story to tell — even if it’s disgusting.
Adventure is everywhere
Much like expanding your palette, traveling makes you feel somewhat invincible. While you’re in a new country, doing fascinating things, it seems like adventure will meet you at every corner you turn.
There is so much to learn and so little time, so your days are packed and busy. Climbing Machu Picchu was the last and largest adventure of my trip. I had the option to take a bus to the top of the mountains, but what fun would that be? Instead, I climbed two and a half miles up approximately 2,000 stone stairs. I didn't have to do it, but after two weeks of adventure and exploration I felt as though I could accomplish anything. And, I made it to the top!
Traveling gives you direction
I've accepted that life as a 20-something is hella busy. We’re expected to juggle a million things while trying to find some stability in this ever-changing world. It can be hard to separate the things that really matter from the things we think matter. Being away from the stresses of my normal daily life gave me time to focus on the things that are actually important to me.
I missed my family and my friends, but the beautiful environment, full of trees and water rather than skyscrapers and cars, gave me a fresh perspective. By immersing myself in a new culture, I gave myself direction at time when I needed it most.
Traveling brings inspiration, even after coming home
Life back in Chicago felt boring at first. Even though I came home to school, internships, a part-time job, all my friends and HBOGo, I felt unsatisfied. I wanted to do something! I wanted to be out and about, exploring and learning like I was every moment while in Perú. Ultimately, I realized that being abroad shifted my priorities.
I no longer found joy in doing nothing and being lazy. Instead, I’m constantly inspired to better my life and to seek out opportunities for action. I've started doing things to boost my mood and to fill my time like working out, cooking, reading and writing more often. I’m a new, better version of myself, and it’s awesome. It’s amazing what traveling can do for the mind and the soul.
If you've never left your country, don’t ever be afraid to take a chance or seize an opportunity — and don't make excuses not to go! Like Jawaharial Nehru said, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Now go book a trip! Explore the world! It’ll absolutely be worth it.
Photo via We Heart It