Travel has made us better people. There I said it. Yes, travel is fun, educational and can be life-changing, but making someone a better person? Really? Absolutely. This is how traveling has made us better people:
If the sum of all of your experiences makes you the person that you are, then travel makes up a large portion of Kati and me. Typically, we are either doing it, watching it, reading about it, or just thinking about it. Whether near or far, we love to explore and experience different cultures, try new things and get to know different types of people. We do not have a bucket list; we have a to-do list and we feel so fortunate to have gone to so many places and seen so many different things.
Different People and Cultures
Kati and I both were raised in small insulated towns. I, in the United States and Kati in Germany. We were not brought up in communities that were very diverse or even had a view of the outside world. Traveling has allowed us to experience cultures and people from around the globe. It has given us access to people from all religions and see how other people live. We are non-judgmental. From the Shona in Zimbabwe to the Arabs in Egypt to the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic, we see there are more similarities than differences. We have experienced that all care about their families, their health, and their jobs. We see that immigrants have changed the world – overwhelmingly for the better. We have seen injustices but also people passionately fighting for what they believe is right. It has made us more aware of our actions and how we fit into the world. It has made us want to volunteer while traveling. To hire local people and to do our small part for the local economies. It cannot be overstated how much this has changed our perspective of the people of the world.
Not obsessed about Personal wealth
In the US as in many places around the world, personal wealth is the end all be all. It is the driving force for many. People are judged by it and friends are made because of it. But we have learned from traveling something different. There are many people, though they are not wealthy and do not have much materialistically, that are incredible. They are interesting. They have become good friends and can be relied upon. We have learned that people without much tend to share more willingly. They will literally give you the shirt off of their backs. And yet, many people with so much more would not. People without much materialistically will sacrifice everything for their family. And care for their neighbors. We are not saying that there are not any good people that are also wealthy, but many tend to be consumed with their holdings. It is the driving force in their lives. They judge others because of it. And they want to make an outside show of it. And most continue to work to accumulate even more.
People tend to forget that probably one of the cars that we drive in the US, has a greater value than probably the net worth of 80% of the planet’s population. What we have learned through our travels it not to judge people because of the amount of money they have or not have, but by their character.
The key to travel in many cases is flexibility. How do we react when a situation does not work out? We have been stuck in an airport all night in Luxor, Egypt. We have missed our flights to Europe. We have lost luggage. We have gotten lost while driving in a foreign land. The hotel does not look anywhere like the photos. The list goes on and on. But we do not get upset. We do not allow it to ruin our trip. We accept that this is all part of the experience, and still enjoy our time. We move on. We adapt.
This has other real-world benefits. Do we get frustrated sometimes? Sure. But we never allow it to ruin our day, our trip or our adventure.
This is a big one. Traveling has allowed us to go down the Amazon in a dug-out canoe. To climb Huayna Picchu in Peru. To go to the arctic to see Polar Bears in the wild. To track Gorillas in Uganda and experience the Big 5 in Kenya. To build a log-home in the woods in western North Carolina. To chase the Northern Lights in Finland and Norway.
We have tent camped throughout the US. We have hiked the top-down Narrows trail in Zion. We have white-water rafted. I learned to fly small private planes. And there is so much more.
The key is not that we don’t get scared, it is we don’t let being scared stop us. We have tried and done so much. We have not always been successful, but that again is all part of the experience.
Being adventurous means something different for everyone. Some people see camping 20 miles from their home as adventurous while others would only count something like jumping out of an airplane. Whatever it means to you, try something out of your comfort zone. I moved to Mexico, Zimbabwe, and South Africa and Kati moved to France and went to West Germany once the wall came down. Those were all adventures and were way out of our comfort zones. But we did it. We were successful. And it gave us confidence to try other adventures.
Happier and More Balanced
Traveling has certainly made us happier and more balanced in our life. Why happier? Because we love the process of travel. We love to plan it. To research it. To finally do it. And why balanced? Because of our experiences we know that we are lucky in so many ways. To be able to travel. To have the means to travel and to have the experiences that travel brings you. We know that the world is a bright place. It is not scary. The sky is not falling. And in many places in the world, there are people that are trying to better it.
To see the work that people have undertaken to save animals around the world, or to replenish the rain forest and to study climate change. The impact that some are making, both small and large, in the least likely places. It is remarkable. It makes us happy. We want to be a part of that and hopefully leave the world a better place. We are not all-consumed about money and we realize that money never loves you back. We try to prioritize important aspects of life, not what car we drive, or how big our house is. We love our lives. Our ordinary, middle-class lives are wonderful. And we have travel to thank for that.
We are more Social
Another great aspect of traveling is that you become more social and more friendly. We have met so many great people on the road. From the White House Photographer in the Arctic to environmentalist in Africa. From the Egyptologist in Cairo to the Chief in a remote tribe in the Amazon. All of the experiences were amazing and all were because we are not afraid to make friends on the road.
Though we never travel with a group, that does not stop us from meeting people and going to places together. We have learned how to make conversation. To go up to people and “break the ice”. Everyone has a story and most times the story is pretty interesting.
Stop being an introvert and start making friends. You will again find that there are more similarities than there are differences with people around the world. The waiter you have in Mexico – guess what? He has a family. He might be going to school or taking care of a child. He might just be there to make some money and will be taking a trip soon, or just came back from one. He might just be the most interesting person you meet on the trip and end up talking to him for quite a long time. Who knows? But it is worth finding out. Make friends on your travels. Accept people no matter what their background and point of view.
The one aspect of travel that we have really liked that we are more relaxed. We have just about made every mistake possible while traveling and guess what? It still worked out. We love the quote in a movie that says “Everything will work out in the end. And if it hasn’t yet, it is just not the end”. That is so true. That missed turn has allowed us to see something that we wouldn’t have normally. That missed flight has given us extra time in the city. That flat-tire has allowed us to meet some really wonderful people that stopped to help. We don’t get upset. We don’t have a melt-down. We just go with the flow. We are relaxed about it. And that has helped us in our real life. To not make such a big deal about every little thing. To allow life to unfold at its own speed and in its own way.
When you are traveling you really find out how little you actually need. And in many ways, having less leads to a much better time – one you will talk about over and over. I remember going to Acapulco and losing my wallet. We had to figure out how to get back to Mexico City with no money. We had to adjust to be able to eat and go places. It was a nightmare while doing it, but guess what? It is the one time that I went to Acapulco that I can actually remember. The one time that sticks in my mind. And truly shows the generosity of people that did not have much. We had to ask for help. And we got it.
Kati and I had a similar experience in Egypt. A person that we met along the way drove hours to our hotel and picked us up and took us to the airport. It was out of his way. We were basically strangers, but we were stranded. He took time out of his night to help and that will never be forgotten. We tried to pay him for his troubles and he would not accept it. Though we knew he needed money, we could not give him any. It was an act of friendship.
And guess what? If we had all of the best it would not lead to a happy life. We see so many people chasing their dream of having all the toys in life. And when they get them? They are not any happier than before. We are human. We all need the basics. After that, we do not mean much. Because of our travel experiences, we have stopped searching for happiness in material objects.
More Intelligent and Interesting
Unless when you travel you never go outside to explore, or you head straight to the bar, travel can bring you such wisdom and knowledge about the world. Traveling has taught us so much about the place we live in. We have seen the effects of climate change first hand in the Arctic. We have seen what happens with deforestation in the Amazon and poaching in Africa. We have seen the scars on a landscape from drilling and mining. And yet we have also seen such wonders. A pod of killer whales swimming alongside us in Alaska. A bear mother with her cubs out searching for food in Canada. Polar Bears playing with each other. The magnificence of the Pyramids in Egypt and walking into the Sahara Desert. They have all been wonderful and have allowed us to learn so much compared to just reading about them in books.
To see a glacier that is half gone in less than 50 years is a moving experience. Or how the indigenous people are coping now that their permafrost cellars are melting away. These experiences have changed our lives. We see how we are all connected and what happens in the Arctic or South America affects us in the US or in Europe. We are able to express our thoughts. We can talk about it after seeing it in person. We have learned so much about history, geography, and nature that we could never have learned from just books. It has and continues to be a wonderful part of our lives and a real joy to realize that age is no excuse to stop learning.
Our Final Word
All in all, travel has made us more accepting of different cultures, not obsessed with personal wealth, more flexible, and more adventurous. We have become more relaxed, less materialistic, more intelligent and interesting and happier and more well balanced. What more could someone ask for? We have become better people.
Don’t believe me? Well then don’t travel. Stay at home. Come up with all of the excuses why you don’t. But for us, we are getting ready for our next trip.