I heard this saying, that “travel is the best teacher” or “travel is the best education”. I always believed this, but I never really understood what this meant until now.
The past 14 years I have been on the go, traveling and experiencing the world on-and-off. I just visited my 40th country and next month will be my 41st. I realised quickly the benefits of being this way professionally – it makes me a better marketer – and it also has been good for my soul.
Travel DOES teach you things that homebodies will never learn or understand. This is what I have found.
You learn to be Agile
Even the best planning, cannot remove some of the unpredictability of traveling. Things change beyond your control, and it can be as simple as getting on the wrong bus. When you travel, you have to think fast and logically. You have to “think on your feet” – literally.
This is a great habit to get into as it can be applied in so many areas of your life. You can also develop better intuition, and you start to recognise very quickly when something does not feel right, and you need to make a quick decision and change.
You learn the value of Perspective
If you stop listening to the mainstream media, and only listen to your travel experiences, then the world is a pretty kind-hearted, amazing place. In case you didn’t already realise, the media likes to report BAD NEWS – 99% of the time!
After visiting 40 countries I can safely say, I have a fairly rounded perspective on the world. Not believing everything you see and hear in the media, has overlapped into many parts of my life. I now question EVERYTHING. I look for another point-of-view, I try to remove bias and there are always two sides to every story – even more sides sometimes.
The best thing is that perspective gives me hope. It gives me hope in people and the human race, and sometimes the world is not as bad as it may seem. If you think we were a better world 30 years ago, 50 years ago or 200 years ago then you haven’t read enough history books.
You learn to Appreciate what you have
Materialism and consumerism have overtaken the world. Being a Marketer, this is a tough pill for me to swallow sometimes, which I why I only work with service-based clients and not products.
Somehow, advertising smashing us in the face thousands of times a day has convinced us that having stuff is linked to happiness. If you get a big house in a posh suburb (or anywhere in Sydney), you will be happy. If you have the latest iPhone you will be happy. If you drive an expensive car you will be happy. If you wear the latest trendy fashions that change every week you will be happy.
From everything I have seen and experienced in the world, none of this is true. Now before I hear the argument that my belief is just “white privilege”, I have used my new found perspective to look at this from many angles.
I remember that it struck me when I was passing through a village in Vanuatu, as I watched a family and kids playing, and they looked SO happy. I was even jealous for a second. And then I realised a truth: after the basic needs are met – shelter, food, safe environment – what made these people happy was community, family and appreciation for the little things. I learned a lot that day.
Also, I once stayed for a week in a Guest House in Cambodia on the beach. When I turned on the shower, and the water was slightly yellow, I chose to bathe that week in the clear sea. When I got back to Australia, and turned on the shower, I felt an amazing rush of gratitude that you cannot feel without experiencing something like this first hand.
You learn to be a Fast Learner
When you hit the ground in a new destination, your level of enjoyment in that destination tends to increase in correlation to the time it takes to “figure the place out”.
We are creatures of habit. I once met a UK couple on a day-tour boat off the coast of Paxos in Greece. They told me that they had come back to the same holiday spot in Corfu every year for 12 years. When I asked them why they only came back to the same destination every year, they told me that they knew the place, and knew exactly where to stay and where to eat and it made them relax faster.
Ok, this was outrageous to me at the time, as I always wanted to see the whole world, and returning to one spot again and again seemed crazy, but now it kind of makes sense.
In a new destination, you have to learn the currency and cost of things, how to speak some local language basics, how to get around, where to eat, and what attractions to visit or sights to see. There are also cultural learnings like adjusting to the siestas every afternoon in Southern Europe and South America.
This learning process usually involves some low-level stress and it tends not to completely ruin your experience, but when you travel frequently this is a skill that you develop that also can cross over into your professional and personal life.
You learn Respect and Compassion
The world is full of different belief systems, different cultures and different religions. It’s amazing we all live on the one planet and get along as well as we do (AGAIN don’t believe mass media).
As you travel, you see the history of so many civilizations that built the most amazing structures to honour what they believe. The Egyptians built pyramids and statues to please their many Gods, the Buddhists built temples to help them recall the qualities of Buddha, and the Catholics have built the most enormous, stunning churches around the world to pray to their one true God. There are many more belief-systems and structures and who really knows who is right.
It is the same with cultures. I personally do not believe that women should have to cover themselves up for any reason, but when I visit places where extreme modesty is part of the culture I still respect it, and I dress conservatively. Just because I do not like what they believe doesn’t mean I am right.
Ultimately I think it just comes down to being kind to each other, and I hope you learn similar.
You learn that Everyone is a Teacher
In my travels I have met a huge range of truly amazing people.
In a Singapore hostel, I met a 70 year old pensioner from Ballina, Australia, who scrimped and saved his pension for 9 months of every year, so he could afford to travel 3 months of year on his own around Asia. We chatted for hours in the common room. It was truly inspiring to meet someone who understood exactly what was important to him and how to achieve it.
In Gran Canaria, Spain, I met a fellow traveler from Romania who now lived in Germany. We shared two coffees and had such amazing conversations like we had always known each other. When he left, I realised what a profound impact he had on me. His innocent questions about some of my beliefs really got to me, and ultimately I felt changed from the experience. I even started taking action to push through my own comfort zone to grow as a person and to better understand how to love and accept myself.
It made me think of one of my favourite teachers of all time, Helen, who got me asking of myself – What does bring me joy?
We do develop thinking patterns or physical habits that we often never question and others normally don’t ask us about. I would have never learned this about myself in a book, or in a course. Only by a serendipitous meeting could I ever learn so much about myself.
Also published on Medium.