Three Ways Travel Made Me a Better Person
Travel made me braver
Going to new places means breaking your routine: Literally leaving your comfort zone behind for fresh scenery and experiences. It means facing challenges and the unexpected. It's almost synonymous, then, with bravery.
I've translated in broken, amateur-ish Spanish on Havana sidewalks, my pulse quickening while I try to discern if the driver I'm trying to hire will take us where we want, or if he knows what I mean.
I've had to face my crippling fear of heights in Belize by climbing into a five-person (ish), open-door, too-small-too-call-it-an-airplane. It was the only way to make it to the island of Caye Caulker I dreamed of stepping foot on.
I've had to decide if I could trust near-strangers (which sometimes worked, and sometimes didn't). I've had to navigate getting lost, nearly mugged, or making an ass of myself in a different culture.
But without these decisions, I not only would have far fewer stories, but I'd also have had far less authentic experiences, going to many places but never really seeing them.
And while that feels like a nitpick-y word choice, it's actually a huge difference—the difference between simply ticking somewhere off your bucket list or being open to a place and letting it change you.
Back at home, this change sticks with me: I feel less afraid in situations that would have made the old me sweat, and I know it’s my adventures that make this possible. I'm not advocating being unsafe here, just talking about the virtue of learning when to jump.
I mean, when our Belizean scuba instructor told us there were small sharks in the water, I still dove in. The memory of one brushing by my arm puts the day-to-day in perspective.
Travel made me more grateful
Seeing poor children play with broken water bottles on the back streets of Caye Caulker, or having a hungry woman follow me in Beijing, pulling my sleeve for a scrap of bread: These are the visions flashing before my eyes when I order a double-shot, over-ice soy latte from my favourite hipster-y, over-priced café.
See, it’s easy to feel like we don't have enough, especially with advertising surrounding us constantly and the temptation to compare yourself on social media. But the simple truth is most of us reading this are fortunate to have more than we need.
Nothing drives that point home more than seeing it first hand. I’ve witnessed the difference between wanting something and needing it, and it’s humbled me.
But… I still want that iced latte. I just know the difference now.
Travel made me realize what really matters
On the opposite side of the point above, seeing how other people live has made me see how much my culture can complicate life and happiness. Those children with the water bottles found my white-skinned appearance fascinating, staring at me for an uncomfortably long time. But before I caught their attention they were having fun.
Perhaps this will sum it up best: Last year, Boyfriend and I spent a weekend in a Mexican village, renting a cabaña from an elderly Texan who relocated to the sunny Yucatán decades ago.
Our first night, he took us to dinner at a local spot, telling us all about the neighbourhood as we strolled. Walking down the street, we watched barefoot children play on the dirt road. "You know, people would come in here and try to call them poor," the old man waved his hand at the scene, "but they know more about being happy than we ever will.”
And I know they do, too.