My partner Nadia and I simply cannot agree on when or how we met. Although we attended the same university, there’s seemingly no concrete point in time that we’ve been able to designate for crossing paths. We simply became Facebook friends at some point over 10 years ago, and the rest is history. What I can say is that over the years, before we came into contact again and re-ignited a friendship, I had unconsciously (if Nadia tells the story, it was a conscious effort) followed some of Nadia’s adventures over the years and admired her lust for travel, beautiful places, and connecting with people.
In 2017, I reconnected with Nadia as we became increasingly involved in social activism, and for the first time in years I had a chance to hear her travel stories firsthand. I got to hear about beautiful Guatemala, crossing the border into North Korea, and details about her family that lived in Iran. There was something incredibly aesthetic about this wonderful life she’d lived, and yet also it was messy. That’s what I liked about her stories, they were incredibly real and imperfect. Over time I was surprised to learn, however, that not everyone in her close community viewed her experiences in this way. Nadia was often confronted with societal expectations that did not validate the life of one who loves to travel for the sake of traveling. Not only as a break from tirelessly working in a corporate environment, not only as a means of connecting with distanced family and friends, but traveling as a space to connect with yourself when inner questions go unanswered.
For some, travel can seem like an irresponsible escape. I’ve fallen victim to that stereotype. I’ve had close friends tell me that I would eventually get over traveling (I didn’t), or that I would never find a partner that would be okay with me traveling (which is problematic to think that I might need permission), or that it was a financially irresponsible hobby and one day I would have to get a real job. As I got older, I did exactly the opposite of what was expected. I found a partner who shared my wanderlust. I found leadership roles in my field that gave me the finances I needed to support the lifestyle I wanted. I also simply learned how to budget and save money in a way that did not damage my financial security. I did what a responsible adult was supposed to do.
Society did very little to validate the amazing experiences I was having and the skills I was developing because of my consistent immersion in other cultures. What was important was that I found a suitable job, eventually got married, and had children. If I wasn’t checking off the boxes, it wasn’t impressive. At the end of the day, I never devalued money, work, marriage, or children. I just wanted the ability to decide what accomplishments were going to be meaningful to me. It’s a choice that I think everyone should have. I wanted to be allowed to be “a mess” and run away and explore because this is how we find ourselves. Having taken the path that I have, I feel confident as ever in the life that I want to manifest. Truthfully, I think travel has made me a better student, a better partner, a better employee, and in the future, it will make me a better parent.
I want others to see how powerful travel can be for an individual, even if through your own personal lens you can’t see how it is benefiting someone else. The reality is, it is only a judgement that you can make for yourself. In this vein, I wanted to highlight some of the tangible benefits that I have received from travel. Even in my dumbest, youngest moments I was always benefiting from my experiences, and it’s made me who I am. For this reason, I’d like to share six essential areas I grew in while globetrotting. This list is ever so incredibly accurate, but not exhaustive. If you’ve traveled, try forming your own list. If you haven’t, consider the possibilities. You never know what kind of impact hopping on a plane to explore an unfamiliar place will have on you.
How to Develop Stronger Mental Health: Travel has helped me to find a safe space to examine how to tackle anxiety, depression, or other challenges in mental health. In addition, it has helped me to see that mental health is not viewed in the same way around the world, and that there are spaces that are open to spending time on self-care and balance without seeing it as a weakness.
How to Build a Better Understanding of Self: Travel allows you to take the time to examine who you are, your values, whether your goals are working in your favor, and if any paradigm shifts need to be made. Some of the best personal growth occurs when you are alone. Literal and figurative silence and seclusion are some of the best methods for engaging in self-reflection.
How to Thoughtfully Expand Your Perspective: There are some things you simply cannot understand about the world unless you go out and experience it. Throughout the years, I’ve created a stronger understanding of world history, how big differences in culture impact that way we see the world and live our day-to-day lives, and I’ve had the privilege to shed light on perspectives that I wasn’t taught in school or raised to understand. I am literally a smarter, more open, more thoughtful, and more creative person because I’m able to better connect the dots when it comes to the human existence.
How to Make a Tangible Impact: As a person who lives a privileged existence, especially when acknowledging the spectrum of the quality of life around the world, I have learned to humble myself. I’ve learned to examine the “why” behind a phenomenon before judging communities and their progression. I’ve also learned that those who live lives with less privilege don’t need saving. They need my support, understanding, listening ear, and resources. I have learned to be a thoughtful ally that creates change in a way that respects the vulnerable spaces I am entering.
How to Test Your Boundaries: At the most surface level, I have continuously proved my thoughts of my capability wrong. From consistently overcoming my introversion, to problem-solving getting lost, to making myself uncomfortable again and again, I have learned to be an increasingly flexible human. This has paid off in many ways, but especially in my professional life and how I approach meeting goals. I know what I can do, and I’m willing to push the boundary further, and I also have the organizational skills to follow through on my goals with incredible efficiency.
How to Be a Radical Leader: Along the same vein, I have learned how to be an advocate that uses their voice in an effective way. I have learned critical thinking skills, how to thoroughly research an idea, and how to develop a structure or solution to the most challenging societal issues. I could not have done this without seeing that vast variety of thought and talent that exists throughout he world. It literally helped me land my current role in building programming for under-served college students in Houston, and I know it will lead to future growth in my career.
And so you have it! I hope this list entices you to set off on your own adventure. If you developed a skill or experienced a benefit that isn’t listed here, feel free to comment your own learning curves from your travels below.