Indeed, getting away is so much fun, especially to surreal places that are very different from your hometown, but that is only one way to see it. Time and again, I wonder to myself: Whatever lessons I have accumulated through my travels, would I have ever learned them in school or at a library? Maybe, but not exactly.
You know the top-most part in Maslow's Hierarchy that we all are aching to achieve, the self-actualization? Precisely that is what traveling has given me, something schools never taught me- Lessons that give life a deeper meaning. Here are 10 times travel taught me what books never could:
1. Fear is just an illusion
The first time I had to travel solo to Austin, TX, it was because my friend had canceled on me, and my tickets were already booked. The first time I climbed a mountain in Nepal, it was because the team I traveled with was doing it, and I had no other option. My instructor literally had to push me for my first scuba dive stride because I was too afraid to do it in the deep. Believe me, I dreaded a lot of things before I started traveling. But because I was pushed out of my comfort zone each time, I realized that fear is just a conditioning that anyone can overcome. On the other side of fear is strength.
2. Your problems are smaller than they seem
Whether it is breathing in the air under a thick blanket of stars in Kenya, unharmed by the city lights or a 5-year-old homeless kid playing tag with his street-friends in India, experiences like these are bound to stir something within you. You become less greedy and come to appreciate what you already have a lot more.
3. There is a lot to be grateful for
I can't tell you the number of times I have come across people who haven't been able to travel because of health problems, affordability, life-long injury etc. It only made me realize how much of a privilege being able to travel is, and that not many of us realize that. To see nature's intricately woven wonders placed all around the world, all so different from one another, and to not feel a renewed appreciation for life is impossible.
4. Home isn't necessarily where you were born/where you spent your life
I learned early on that home is just a feeling and not a tangible place. Trotting around the world can make you feel 'at home' in the oddest of places, be it on the summit of a mountain amongst strangers that have bonded to become family-like over days of hiking, or in a 9-hour train from Milan to Rome just staring at the beam of the sun peeking through the scenic Apennine Range bordering the vast sunflower fields. It could be an indescribable nostalgia or the manifestation of your ideal home.
5. Travel isn't a solution for running away from your problems
"I need a vacation from this hideous work life!" or "I need a break from all this drama!" Are just a few reasons why people seek to buy plane tickets to paradise. Traveling isn't paradise, and it surely isn't the solution to your problems. Yeah, your problems do not chase you to a new destination (except in your head), but they do not resolve themselves back home. I used travel as a method of denial, and it surely showed me my place: neither were the problems I was running from solved nor was traveling all sugar and candies for me. If anything, over the years I learned to respect traveling and let it teach me what it has in store, instead of forcing the unnatural.
6. People are more alike than you think
Wherever I've gone, people have been very helpful. Whether or not you speak the same language, you are able to communicate through love and mutual respect. Little gestures like a smile, or a compliment goes a long way with strangers no matter where in the world and what cultural differences – it makes the world a smaller and a better place.
7. You are capable of a lot more than you give yourself credit for
Believe me when I tell you this, there are so many things you have absolutely no idea you are capable of doing right now. Travel made me realize that. I used to be a very shy person afraid to express my opinions and traveling alone pushed me to talk to strangers and build friendships around the world. Whether it was the time I didn't 'almost' miss a stop at Pisa because I was woken up by strangers in a train who I ended up seeing the whole city with, or the girl who I sat and talked for hours with in Manhattan and learned why she was homeless making money on a day-to-day basis, I opened up as a person. I see traveling as a portal you walk through, only to come out as a slightly or completely different person: a better one.
8. Don't judge a book by its cover
All Muslims are not terrorists, all blacks aren't criminals and all blondes aren't bimbos. Even I am guilty of this innate habit to categorize everything, something I do not understand why people tend to do. Reality is subjective and putting tags on our surroundings is unfair, especially when it comes to people we care about. Having traveled since I was few months old, I came to learn that nobody is perfect in this world, and instead of condemning each other for being in some sort of minority, we should look at it as an embraced strength and beauty. Traveling will make you uneasy and teach you how to accept everyone and everything just the way they are.
9. 'Alone' doesn't mean 'lonely'
Traveling solo has helped me learn how much I enjoy my own company. However, in telling others that I am on my own during my journeys, I noticed that people made that pitiful face and asked me if I wanted to join them on their so that I don't feel lonely. There is a fine line there: being lonely is a feeling of neglect, birthed from not having meaningful relationships, whereas being alone is an empowering feeling of having meaningful relationships, yet choosing to take a little regenerative self-time. I learned that people confuse the two all the time, even though they subconsciously know the meaning of it.
10. Self-reflection is so important
Immersed in a strive for what's to come, we often tend to overlook what's at hand. Being in a foreign land oftentimes forcefully brings our ever-wandering mind to the present situation as we experience new sensations and acknowledge their existence. Coming back from my travels to the fast-paced work environment only made me realize the importance of taking a few moments each day to self-reflect. Some people do this through meditation, others through journaling.
To read more about my journey as a traveler, check out my blog, ' Trot With Arushi'.