Write about only three things: what you love, what you hate, and what you’re deeply conflicted about. -Marlon James
A few days ago I shared 10 travel-related things I hate. And while we all have our bad moments and hard weeks, this is the source from which I truly enter the world. It’s a place of hope. A place of openness. And a place of love.
So, in honor of Valentine’s Day we’re flipping the script.
Here are 17 reasons to absolutely fall in love with travel.
- The world has the ability to change our perspective like nothing else.
A traveler is never the same person when they return home, and that’s a good thing. To some extent, we are all a product of nurture. But at a certain point, we take responsibility for further developing ourselves, or not. Why do you believe what you believe? And what have you done to challenge it and prove it true or untrue?There’s nothing quite like travel to change your perspective, or as I call it, “shift the camera.” A camera locked down on a tripod sees only a small percentage of what is true. That’s what happens when we get our information from a limited scope of sources and don’t seek out answers on our own, or fail to question the default. When that camera moves, pans, tilts, and refocuses…or even goes 360, the truth expands. You expand.
Realizing that we all have limited perspective is the first step. Opening ourselves to what’s outside the scope of our camera lens is the second. Travel can do that for us.
- Discovering an epidemic of kindness and goodwill.
There is so much goodness in the world, but it doesn’t sell ads, garner clicks or move subscriptions. When you travel, you get to see this unreported epidemic first hand.
I have traveled to 34 countries now, and I can tell you one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that kindness and goodwill are everywhere. I have benefitted from it. And I hope I have contributed to it. From people hosting me at no charge in their homes in Athens, London, Australia, Netherlands, Frankfurt, Bosnia, Croatia, Alaska, and so many more, as well as throughout the United States, to people sharing the most beloved parts of their culture with me wherever I go. Honestly, the kindness I’ve been given overwhelms me.
On my first trip abroad, alone, I was frustrated and lost (those street signs are difficult to find in Paris and the streets are very confusing, even with a map.) A random Parisian gentleman saw me on the sidewalk, called me in to join him and his friends, and bought me a glass of wine. That was it–he wanted nothing from me, didn’t do anything to make me feel unsafe, and sent me on my way when I was fortified. I’ve met survivors of torture in El Salvador who have dedicated their lives to finding closure for families of the missing. I’ve seen clean water pour from a well where there hadn’t been drinkable water for 40 years…a dream come true with the help of donors. I’ve been fed when I was hungry, helped when I needed it, and comforted when things were falling apart.
It isn’t the exception. People, wherever they are in the world, are inherently kind. That is the rule. But periodically, we have to leave home to see it with our own eyes, and to remind ourselves that the news, or social media, or the narrative of the day captures only the tiniest snippet of reality. Travel lets you experience the goodness of humankind.
- Noticing that our way is not the only way, and that there are better ways.
I cannot even tell you how many times during travel that I’ve been frozen in my tracks, realizing that something is different, and possibly better than what we have in the states. We are told that everything in this country is the best. But there are many solutions to any one problem, and travel will help you notice some of the other viable solutions that are out there.In some countries, your hotel room key must be plugged in to the light socket for the power to come on. Imagine the energy it saves.
In some countries, non-drinkable water flushes the toilets. Imagine the clean water that saves.
In some places, plastic bags are outlawed.
In other places, certain medications only sold with a prescription here are available over the counter at the pharmacy, so there’s no expensive copay.
In some places, people shop for fresh food daily at the market, and buy what is good and seasonal, rather than keeping shelf-stable food in the pantry or the fridge for months.
Policies related to family leave, vacation time, public health, education, unemployment, housing…all of them differ from place to place.
By traveling, you learn about the different approaches available to every problem, and it enables you to expand your thinking about how we tackle problems in our country. The key is to resist digging in your heels (as we are all inclined to do when our beliefs are called into question), and be receptive to the good parts of every possible solution.
- Renewed appreciation, even embarassment, for the blessings in our lives.
Nothing makes you appreciate the limited resource and luxury of drinking water like meeting children who do not have running water at their home or school. Who have to drink it from a barrel.
Nothing makes you value taxpayer supported education like meeting children whose parents can’t afford to continue their schooling.
Nothing makes you appreciate that almost everyone here has a car, like meeting a family of four who ride on a single scooter to get wherever they need to go.
Nothing makes you appreciate our massive, sprawling homes like seeing families who live in corrugated tin shacks. Or families who sleep on the floor of the business they run by day.
Nothing makes you appreciate our health care system like going to a hospital for the poor in a developing nation.
And when you travel, you notice everything really is bigger here, even compared to developed nations. Our refrigerators and pantries are bigger than any I’ve seen in the world. It’s embarrassing, to be honest. I’ve had foreign guests who’ve taken photos of my fridge, and of the groceries purchased on a monthly shopping trip.
The fact that we recreationally shop in this country–that it’s standard to buy in to the fast fashion industry–is testament to our wealth in proportion to the rest of the world. And the fact that we can travel at all is a luxury, even when it’s the most budget-minded travel possible.
We are the 1% in this country. Even our poor are not poor compared to the world’s poorest. But most of us think we’re somehow getting the short end of the stick. Travel helps us realize that what we have here in the U.S. is immense wealth. And if we let it, travel can restore our sense of gratitude for all we have and help us see that there is much more we can share. That there is enough for all of us.
- Realizing humankind’s inarguable oneness.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of seeing people as somehow separate from ourselves. So much of our political system depends on it, and feeds that inclination.Yet the more you travel, the more you are reminded that we are all the same. That we all want the same basic things. And we all need the same basic things.
People want to take care of their family.
People want to make sure their children eat and get the health care they need.
People want to get home safely at the end of the day.
Everyone wants the freedom to love who they love, to enjoy the time they have on this precious planet, and to contribute in some meaningful way.
All of us want to honor what we view as sacred, whether the deity of our upbringing and traditions, or a faith we’ve sought to learn about because we’ve felt called to it.
We all want to alleviate our own suffering and the suffering of those we love.
And we all want to protect what we hold dear.
When you travel, you see our collective oneness clearly. And maybe we can all start from there.
- Forgiving ourself for the person we once were, and starting a new chapter.
There are times when life bogs us down, and we feel trapped in a pattern. We are not, in these times, our best selves.Thankfully, mind-altering travel can jolt us into a new headspace, one from which we can see our circumstances differently, and learn to love ourselves again.
In the midst of it, it’s almost impossible to do. But when you travel, particularly long-term and to places outside your comfort zone, you have the chance to face matters anew, and to see yourself in a new light. And that is a tremendous gift.
- The cultural insights gained from tasting new foods, learning new recipes, visiting markets and shopping in local grocery stores.
In Croatia, Boris took me to the market, where I bought local cheese, and he showed me how to make mussels and seared, fresh Tuna. In Thailand, I took cooking classes from gifted chefs who forever changed the landscape of our menu at home. There I also discovered khao soi, one of the most delicious dishes I’ve had. Ever. In Greece, I tried bottarga, a fish roe delicacy, topped with fresh ground pepper, olive oil and lemon. In New York, BackpackMr and I had an epic–and very expensive–multi-course meal at Gramercy Tavern.
And I’ve watched braver souls eat sautéed bugs and cooked tarantulas. I often tell people I follow my stomach around the world. And that’s the truth. Food memories are among my favorite travel souvenirs.
But I have to say, more than tasting new foods and recipes, the coolest thing about the culinary experiences you get during travel is that you get to taste history. Once you realize that, it gives you a deeper understanding of a culture and its people.
- Seeing our country from other vantage points.
Hearing others’ perceptions of our country is eye-opening. Particularly when you realize that people outside of the U.S. are often more informed about issues affecting our country than we are. And once you see how the decisions we make in our country impact other countries, you gain new appreciation for the value of approaching issues from a world perspective, rather than a me-first perspective.
- Offering our personal perspectives to people we meet.
Just as the narrative is limited within our country, the narrative about the U.S. to those outside our borders can be limited too. So I take it as a personal responsibility to show people I meet that not every American fits the stereotype. Not all of us think the same way. Not all of us live the same way. And not all of us want the same things for our country and our world. I do get tired of talking politics at times, and in those moments I take pride in showing that Americans can have other interests, as well.
- Sharing our heritage with others around the world.
When I traveled to London, I brought some Minnesota wild rice with me as a gift to my hostess. She’d never seen such a thing. So I happily cooked a big pot of creamy wild rice soup for her and her other house guests. It was a big hit.Sharing our heritage and culture is as much of the experience of travel as being open to the heritage and cultures of others.
- The chance to face our fears and not let them control us.
As I’ve written about before, I’m terrified to fly. But truth be told, I’m terrified by a lot of things. I have lost count of the number of nights that I’ve panicked before a trip. People sometimes tell me I’m brave for traveling as I do, but the truth is, I’m too stubborn to let fear control the scope of my human experience.Travel offers us a unique chance to face whatever we are afraid of in the world. So whether you’re afraid of traveling alone, different cultures, new foods, zip lining across a jungle, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, or sleeping in the home of a stranger who has offered to host you, travel gives you the chance to overcome, and to discover what you’re made of.
- The chance to discover that it’s not about you.
I love sitting in Times Square. The crowds of people look like ants from the top of the red, glass staircase. Gathering their pebbles, building their proverbial hill. It makes everything seem smaller, somehow. The worries. The stress. The impact of my humble life, my personal opinion, and my little-read blog on anyone or anything.
When you travel, you get the chance to experience that sensation on a grander scale. The lesson is in that famous quote from Casablanca, “… it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
It’s not about you. And the instant you start to think it is about you, which is a risk we all run into in this 15-seconds of fame world, just imagine sitting at the top of that staircase, looking at yourself among the crowd, from 10 blocks away.
- Having big ideas to think about.
Wandering the world offers me the chance to do what I truly love, which is to enrich our collective understanding of the deeper issues unveiled through travel. I’m never happier than when I’m in my head, pondering big ideas. But the default world, the grind of 9-to-5, the task of just surviving in the midst of all that demands our time and energy, rarely provides the space to actually think about things. We’ve become so like Pavlov’s dogs, checking our email, social media, our smart phones…we don’t allow ourselves the downtime we need to really noodle on things. But thinking critically about the information we are presented with is an essential part of what it is to be a well-rounded human.
Not all of the ideas are big. When I was in Budapest, I wondered why we sell eggs by the dozen, and not by tens, as they do there. When I was in Vienna, I wondered why we never find feathers among our eggs, as I did there.
But when I was in Romania, I wandered the streets thinking about the nature of beauty: what is beautiful, and who decides?
And when I was in Thailand, I wondered why all of the beauty products were “whitening” when all of the beauty products in our country are “bronzing.” When you’ve been programmed your whole life to think what you don’t have is more beautiful, it’s stunning to realize you had all along what’s considered the standard of beauty elsewhere.
Travel gives us the chance to question, to ponder, to perpetually learn and expand and grow. It allows us to slow down, put the technology away, absorb the world and think critically about it. And, my goodness, I just love that.
- The opportunity to see true beauty.
Sunset at Oia. Sunrise in Pai, Thailand, like a blood orange sliced in half and dripping color in the sky. Cliffs that dive down into the ocean. The Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles. Uluru and the vast nothingness of the Outback. The caldera near Santorini. The Sistine Chapel. Hiking the Cinque Terre. The Flam Railway.
Marstal, Denmark. Montmartre. The train to Baia Mare, Romania. The view from the Eiffel Tower. Little ones in El Salvador, excited to show me the river near their village. The boats in the harbor selling their wares in Helsinki. Haad Tien Bay.
Wat Phrathat Doi Sutep. The secret beach on Maui.
Children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia practicing their English with me, as we sat along the Mekong. And the millions of different ways I’ve seen true beauty in the world, each of which has split open my heart and made me want to weep with joy.
How much richer my life is for the experience.
- The chance to visit historically significant sites.
Every time I travel to Europe, I marvel at the fact that even the most inconsequential water fountain, one which no one pays any mind to, is older than pretty much everything in my country. And while I get stone overload every once in a while, when ruins start to look like just a pile of rocks to me, overall I find it truly amazing to see the remnants of world history. Pompeii. The Acropolis. La Pieta, catacombs and cemeteries covered in moss…again, there’s an overriding sense of how small and insignificant we are to be gleaned from the moment, if only we put down the selfie stick for a moment or two.
- Gaining valuable insights through life lessons, even–and especially–the hard ones.
Travel isn’t always easy, and that’s just another reason to love it. Because when it’s hard, it’s teaching us valuable lessons. I’ve had friendships that have grown strong through travel, and relationships that have crumbled beneath it. I’ve had my most important possessions stolen, only to learn what I really need. I’ve gotten lost, and have been scared, and I’ve found my way through it. The thing is this: in your worst days, hard travel has the ability to crack you open, but that’s the best part. Because that’s where the light comes in.
- Coming home.
There’s so much to love about travel. The gift of seeing so many different ways to live in the world. The discovery of who you are and who you can be. The ability to deprogram our infectious cynicism, to watch it be eclipsed by the kindness of others. Upon my return from El Salvador, a trip that was spiritually challenging for me, I remember going to the mall and starting to cry. We have so much, but we can’t see it. My husband had given me a card that read, “I am a part of all that I have seen.” That seemed to me to be the perfect sentiment. I am a part of it, and it is a part of me.
It’s in coming home that it all sinks in, and that we have the chance to share what we’ve learned with those who are willing to listen. And it’s in coming home that we have the chance to change what must be changed, whether it is within us, or without.
Wishing you all the love in the world, and a life rich in travel to help you experience its true depth.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.