With great journeys come great life lessons. I’ve made the world my playground and my wanderlust has become my Northern Star. Traveling has gifted me with some of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learned—lessons I could never have learned in a classroom. I’m now able to view cultures from the inside out with an unbiased lens rather than the outside looking in. Today, I’d like to share 6 of these life lessons with you. I think they’re essential to every traveler’s mental and emotional toolkit.
1. You need perspective.
Humans are biologically coded for travel We’ve evolved to walk upright and traverse long distances. We can go for long periods of time without food and water. And most of us can be (sort of, kind of, a tiny bit) smart or resourceful when our backs are against the wall. Birds can fly anywhere in the world, but season after season they fly to the same places then return to where they initially left. That’s because they’re hardwired to do so. Human beings are not.
With that in mind, traveling gave me perspective. I quickly realized Montreal, Canada is not the center of the world even if it was the center of my world. My way of life at “home” was very different from that of countless others. After seeing homeless, limbless, disenfranchised men, women and children, I realized things like running water, a hot plate of food and a healthy family were blessings, not the norm.
Lesson: Talk about your blessings more than you talk about your burdens.
2. You need to be adaptable.
Plans change on the road, a lot. At times, I’ve felt that my travels have been more a chain of unforeseen events than the result of a carefully crafted itinerary. I’ve never been one to panic at the thought of rolling with the punches, but now I’ve become adaptable.
Granted, that type of mentality shift is not easy for some. Some of us have an almost innate need for control and become paralyzed when we no longer have it. Ironically, once you give into the notion that life is a series of ever-changing events and the fact that you can’t control all the outcomes, you’ll gain control of your attitude towards change. You’ll learn that many roads lead to the same destination and that the journey is the best part, not the arrival.
Lesson: There are many paths to the same summit.
3. You have to be prepared for discomfort.
Discomfort is traveling for hours on a cramped, smoked filled bus in the dark and being dropped off in a small Vietnamese beach town that barely has streetlights. Discomfort is having every set of eyes in a Chinese restaurant suddenly shift toward you as the room falls quiet enough for you to hear your heartbeat. Discomfort is standing in front of some of the world’s most beautiful wonders, but you’re being surrounded, photographed and touched because of your melanin levels and hair texture.
Discomfort is something that many people in the western world know little about. Traveling teaches you to embrace discomfort. It reveals your will to persevere. You’ll interact with change, rather than become a victim of it. You’ll be forced to sink or swim. But you’ll swim, or at the very least stay afloat. You’ll open your mind, body and spirit to different cultures.
Lesson: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
4. You have to have an open mind.
Traveling forces you to meet new people. You’ll share hostel dorm rooms with strangers. You’ll party with a pretty girl (or guy) and in the back of your mind you’ll know it may be the first and last chance you may ever have to get to know them on any level.
Tip: Smile. Ask for a dance, a name, a number, anything!
You’ll see your peers and people from different corners of the world and walks of life. You’ll share laughs about silly things. You’ll have deep conversations. You’ll become more and more open to any and everything. It’s not a matter of if or how, but when.
Lesson: If you don’t go through life with an open mind, you will find many closed doors.
5. You need to realize what’s really important.
We live in a world governed by retweets, likes and shares. We think the people who interact with the digital versions of our lives are our friends. Yes, some people may in fact be real friends who genuinely care for us. But you’ll find that many followers and friends are fickle.
Traveling has a way of filtering the people and things that matter least. A backpacker is forced to carry only what is necessary. When you’re thousands of miles away from home with low spirits, it’s the phone call or message from a real friend that will give you the energy you need to keep going.
Social media matters less. Material goods matter less. You spend less time maintaining weak relationships and more time building new ones. In other words, you focus on who and what is important.
Lesson: Don’t put too much weight on the first appearance of things, show is not substance.
6. You’re going to be inspired like you’ve never been before.
Inspiration, creativity and travel are intimately linked. You’ll live new experiences every day. Your senses will be flooded over and over with sounds, smells, sights, tastes and textures that you’ve never interacted with.
That shift of perspective you’ll experience? Your new ability to experience the world openly? They’re precursors to your creative rebirth. If you weren’t a creative, you’ll become one in some form or the next. If you already were a creative, you’ll find inspiration in everything around you.
Lesson: The world is but a canvas to the imagination.