Gap year, sabbatical, vacation, press trip, exploration — the label doesn’t matter.
Every travel adventure promises personal change. It’s virtually impossible to travel to a new place – where you’ll be surrounded by new people and a new culture — and be completely unaffected. Everyday life revolves around familiar locations and people: It’s comfortable. Your perspective is rarely challenged and your obligations dictate your schedule.
Travel strips all of that away. Step away from the routines, the suits, and the usual lunch spot, and suddenly the fog lifts, exposing you to the routines of others.
A big misconception regarding the connection between personal change and travel is that it requires a three-month trek across Europe so that you can find yourself. It doesn’t. Not only can travel change you in a short period of time, it can happen mere miles from your doorstep.
Diversity of culture and scenery exists from town to town — the change depends solely on exposure and an open mind. The exposure can lead to subtle or drastic change.
For instance, you may meet a person who tells you his life story on a bus on your way into a new city, opening your eyes to how someone else lives. Or maybe you’ll visit a destination that has fought through incredible obstacles – say, a devastating hurricane — and overcome them in a manner completely foreign and inspiring to you. Regardless, you walk away with an altered mindset.
My first trip to New Orleans epitomized both the subtle and drastic changes to perspective.
Having grown up in sunny Colorado, I was accustomed to clean streets and an outdoorsy culture, and in contrast, New Orleans was a vibrant shock of music, art, and gritty life. The fact that this shone through despite the lasting effects of Hurricane Katrina provided a more substantial change to my mindset.
A decade after the devastating storm blew through New Orleans, remnants of the destruction remained, largely visible in the subsequent poverty it left in its wake. And yet, the culture and local lifestyle continued to thrive, arguably stronger than ever.
The city has rebuilt and continues to open its doors to locals and tourists alike. In contrast to the nearly crime- and natural disaster-free environment I was accustomed to, New Orleans was a breath of fresh, inspiring air. And the beignets didn’t hurt, either.
Here are a few ways that travel can change your life:
It expands your network
Even if the people you meet on a trip don’t immediately become a part of your inner circle, they usually wind up having a lasting impact. For example, you might chat with a shop owner who shares her favorite restaurants, and that becomes the basis for a travel story. Or, maybe a person you chat with on the plane winds up knowing where to find cheap souvenirs. Keeping in touch with some of these new people in your life can help going forward – and you can do the same for them.
It makes you more confident
Every time we visit a new place, we’re forced to figure out how to get around, how to talk to strangers, how to negotiate for our needs in different ways. Each time we successfully accomplish these things, they can inspire us to feel more comfortable with the unfamiliar and make us stronger going forward. Not to mention that we become more resilient – it’s harder for things like last-minute change, delays, and bad directions to throw us off.
It gives you stories
No matter where your travels take you, the trips will provide you with fodder and photographs – even if it’s in your own town. Whether you’re interested in presenting them formally as a freelance writer or photographer, or you simply want to exchange travel tales at a cocktail party, the experiences will last forever in terms of providing ways to share your observations.