1. It re-aligned my cultural perspective after it had been skewed for many years.
I was born in Peru, but I grew up in the states. Somewhere, amid my growing up, I began to mold really harshly into my surroundings and the traditional cultural aspects of where I was living. I did not remember what it was like to be Hispanic. English, which was originally my second language, became the primary and essentially only language I ever spoke. I was reluctant to speak Spanish to customers at work fearing I may “sound strange”. I became accustomed to certain types of food and a certain way of doing things, hesitant to anything unfamiliar. Few people knew I was actually born in another country, because I had forgotten everything about my culture.
When I moved to Barcelona, I remembered what it was like to hear only Spanish being spoken around me. When my Colombian roommate made me dance to salsa music with her under flickering neon lights, I stepped outside of my timid and curtained disposition and let myself enjoy it. In Morocco, I sang and danced to Arabic songs and learned how to play a new instrument. When I spent time in France and Italy and Africa I swallowed my self-inflicted doubt and ate the local food, which resulted in a newfound favorite from each place. (Though this wasn’t hard to do because all of it was delicious.) I remembered that there was life outside of my little corner of the world. I learned about life in the desert, life as an expat, life in the less privileged parts of North Africa, and the lives of many different humans around me. I realized how significantly smaller I was, along with the difficulties that I faced, compared to the entire world.
2. It helped me re-gain a sense of confidence I had lost long ago.
I experience a good amount of social anxiety and a perceptible lack of self-confidence on a daily basis. Though I have always enjoyed being alone and stepping out of my comfort zone in slightly less observable ways, it was intimidating and not at all easy for me to plunge myself into the city life. Surrounded by hundreds of unfamiliar faces in a totally new environment while walking the cobblestone streets alone helped me try and find those amiable social skills I had tucked away somewhere inside of me, and use them. When I traveled to other countries alone, I had to learn to find ways to communicate with strangers who spoke an entirely different language.
This experience allowed me to open up and be vulnerable in front of people I didn’t know, which was something that I had always struggled with. I created lasting relationships with people from different backgrounds and gained some life-long friends. I opened up like an egg to a boy I met in a hostel in Italy, and shared my most personal experiences which resulted in me crying as the yolk spilled right out of me. I learned to trust people, while at the same time being cautious, while at the same time saying “yes” to nearly everything — and embracing the experience.
3. I remembered that life is not a prison, and no one should ever make you feel like you are trapped.
Before traveling, I was in a somewhat controlling relationship, and somewhere along the way I began to lose my sense of self. I was trapped and relentlessly labored by the truth and a fabricated version of it — and despite loving the apologetic, frail parts of him, I knew that it wasn’t healthy. I had forgotten what it felt like to be independent. I had forgotten about the most authentic parts of myself because I was living in someone else’s world where I hardly ever had a voice.
The city that I was living in felt like it was getting smaller the longer I stayed. I was bouncing from home to home throughout the destruction of that relationship. When I left, I took back my life and re-gained a sense of self-reliance I didn’t even realize I had lost. I remembered that life shouldn’t feel like a prison, and you are the only person in the world who has a say in the decisions you choose to make. I remembered that love does not require sacrifice, it requires compromise. I remembered that I am perfectly capable of being on my own. I remembered that I do, in fact, have a voice.
4. I realized that our lives don’t really have a proposed destination.
I like to believe that we are working towards something, but sometimes it is so easy to envelop your entire self around this fact that you end up missing out on all the other aspects of life that are happening right now. Yes, your career goals are important. Yes, your future endeavors thrive on the things that you cultivate on the very path that you take to get there. But there is a feeling of tranquility when life starts to slow down some, and things are done with a heightened level of spontaneity.
In the grand scheme of things, our expectations will never truly be aligned with the natural transformation of our lives, and the unfolding course of events that occur along the way. Sometimes there is no purpose. Sometimes it is just all of these experiences stitched together like a woven piece of fabric you carry with you for the rest of your life. You can redesign your route as many times as you want. You’re in charge.
There was something about the slow-paced lifestyle that helped me appreciate the rare moments in between all the stillness. In a way, I had been so preoccupied with struggling to create a future version of myself that I had forgotten to open up my senses to the world right in front of me. This isn’t to say I lost any ambition in the process. In fact, I gained an even stronger yearning for a life without limitations.
5. The world is enormous and we have soulmates everywhere.
There are roughly 7 billion people on this earth, and our social circle is minuscular. I didn’t realize how many different human connections you can make in one lifetime. When I was traveling, I connected with so many different people from so many different parts of the world. Some were fleeting — a brief conversation or day-long adventure — and some, I can’t imagine my life now without them.
If we really think about our existence here, it is so fugitive. I learned that it doesn’t matter how or where we grew up, we all essentially desire the same things. We want love and security and happiness. We want purpose. We want a consequential life, and we are all trying to figure out how to attain it. Traveling, in some way, restored my faith in humanity. Once people start to unfold in front of you, exposing each vulnerable layer of themselves like a snake shedding its skin, you start to see them as their truest self — and it looks a lot like you.