I personally got the travel bug as a result of my upbringing. I have an English father and a Spanish mother so I was exposed to multiple cultures as a birthright. You may think that two identities is enough, but my dad’s job meant that I grew up moving around. I lived in Madrid, Brussels, England, and New Jersey before the age of 10, and as such many cultures formed part of the person I am today. I would describe myself as international, someone whose identity and sense of self cannot be tied to one sole nation. I think everyone is shaped by the places they visit much like I have been. Travelling is my foremost passion and something I have been privileged enough to be able to do. Although I could probably write an excessive list, I’ve tried to keep it to what are in my opinion the top 3 reasons to travel (written whilst listening to “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, in case you want to get inside my mind space)…
1. Memories and experiences
You’ve heard this time and time again in the context of travel, all the “you’ll never be the same” and “find yourself” crap. Realistically though, what you do on any trip will add to your memory bank, whether these experiences influence you in any kind of dramatic way is entirely up to you. Either way they are there, you’ve made them, and they will form part of the summation of your life.
The beauty of the things you’ll experience whilst you travel is that they are both chosen and completely coincidental. You can plan a trip, choose things you want to see, and places you want to stay, but you also have no control over certain things that will happen. Yes, you make a conscious decision to see Machu Picchu, a wonder you’ve been dying to see, but what will the weather be like during the hike? Will you have a torturous time, bogged down by an upset stomach after too many mojitos the night before? Maybe. Will you get up only to find that you cannot see the citadel because the clouds haven’t cleared and be a little disappointed? Only to be mesmerised by how slowly but surely they clear to reveal a beautiful sun lighting up what are epic ruins in an even more epic backdrop of spectacular mountains? You better hope so!
Now, you’re probably thinking this is all fluff because you make choices everyday to do certain things and no matter where you are things just happen that are out of your control. True, very true. However, when you’re travelling you are always more present and appreciative of these moments. You are making a conscious choice to go and be somewhere outside of what is your norm, and this “escape” naturally heightens your experiences. You can make a trip as structured or unstructured as you like but either way you will always experience the unpredictable or unexpected and that’s where the memories which are etched into your mind will be made.
Lastly on this topic I’d be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t touch open the pure sensory experience of travelling. Photos are beautiful. They are able to capture a moment, but only the visual. No matter how stunningly shot, even if you can imagine the sounds and smells the photo convokes, it can never equate to actually being there witnessing something. New York City is a concrete jungle we all know well and we’ve all seen the shots of Manhattan and it’s skyline but you haven’t experienced it until you witness the shadows of the skyscrapers as you walk, the scream of taxi horns, the omnipresent buzz of multiple languages spouting from the mouths of all the tourists in Times Square, and the smell when you walk past a hot dog stand. All this altogether makes the place and its worth physically being there to understand it.
Personally I love learning, in particular learning from experiencing, doing, and being shown, a hands on education. When you travel you have the opportunity to learn away from the pages of books. I don’t just mean going to a museum and getting the sense of the history of a place (which I try to always do by the way as I am disaster and often don’t research before), but learning from the people you meet. When I was backpacking solo around South East Asia I learned from other travellers how to protect my bags from theft, I learned how to navigate tricky and uncomfortable situations (out of pure need), and I learned how to navigate myself in unfamiliar places where I didn’t know the language. There are some things you can’t learn from books in my opinion, or at least lessons that don’t stick until you experience them yourselves.
3. Understanding differences & diversity
I will never forget my first experience with culture shock. It probably doesn’t sound super dramatic but the first time I truly registered differences in people and culture was when I moved to the States. How could an English speaking nation be so damn different. Remember that all I’d known up until then was Europe. What were these massive roads? These huge Hummers? Why did everyone live in a mansion? How on earth were they letting people drive at sixteen!? The United States was a different world. Sure I could interact with these humans (albeit not without tea and scones comments after they heard my accent) but this was a lifestyle that I was completely unfamiliar with. I went from from a continent where the average house was smaller and I could walk to places easily to the suburbs of New Jersey where I discovered the “soccer mom”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved living in the States but aside from the language there is no way I would liken it to living in the UK.
Not only was the lifestyle different but the people I interacted with were different and diverse from those I knew from Britain. The minorities went from being Asian British to Black and Hispanic. The stories and backgrounds I heard were completely different, and yet I found common ground. I assimilated amongst the people in my community and made good friends just like I did everywhere else I had lived. No matter how different on the surface I made connections. I consider my ability to appreciate and value the differences of a new environment as well as assimilate into it a product of the places I’ve lived and visited.