I wish I had the perfect words to describe the transformation that traveling has created in me. But an impact so profound, admittedly, can never fully be explained. Ultimately, it should be experienced and enjoyed. Here are my thoughts on the lessons I’ve learned.
Ever since I left my hometown of Montreal, people have been asking me, “What’s it like to live in a place so different from what you’re used to? How does it feel to see all of these new cities and countries?” I usually respond with something along the lines of “It’s amazing! Or it’s a whole new world!” The truth is, traveling can be as punishing as it is rewarding, as easy as it is difficult and as ugly as it is beautiful. And that’s one of the best parts, it takes the former to appreciate the latter.
I recently booked a multi-city trip to Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, three of ten countries I would’ve traveled to in the past year. I’m by no means the most well-traveled man in the world, but I have fully embraced the life of a nomad.
Again, it’s hard to accurately describe the metamorphosis a person experiences once they’ve spent enough time outside of their comfort zone. It may take minutes, months or years, but the change, if you’re open to it, is inevitable. I’d like to sit here and convince you that my decision to travel the world was entirely my doing, but that would be a lie. Traveling, for me, was and still is a powerful calling; one that comes with hardships.
You wake up, your room is pitch dark. You roll over, grab your phone and get blinded by the light it emits, you put it down or you squint for a while until your eyes adjust. Then you’re inundated with Instagram or Pinterest pictures that are so beautiful, you can’t tell if they’re real or photoshopped. You switch to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr and your timeline is filled with pictures of your friend’s recent Euro-trip, sponsored adds for travel deals that seem too good to be true and links to a million and one different travel blogs. And this is all okay. Not only is it okay, it’s utterly and positively fantastic.
But there are parts of that bigger picture that often go unseen. There will be moments when the well of patience you thought you had will run dry. Abject loneliness can and will strike at any time, without warning. Doubts will seep into your heart and mind, settle, and spread like wildfire, bringing you to the point of near paralysis.
In some form or the next, you will experience moments of extreme discomfort and anxiety. You will feel as though no one can understand you, and at times, you’ll be absolutely right. The boring routine you once dreaded will seem inviting, safe and enjoyable. Getting lost is unavoidable. Panic will consume you. Worrying will become second nature. Stares and laughter, harmless as they may be, will seem like weapons donned against you. You will constantly feel as though you are being ripped off by local merchants and cab drivers. Thoughts of “this was a huge mistake,” will swim around in your head.
Do not slow down. Do not waver. Do not turn back. Let your wanderlust and hopes of completing your journey not only to unknown destinations around the globe but to a deeper place within yourself, push you forward. Let your curiosity for all things strange be your Northern Star.
If you stay the course, new life and purpose will awaken in your once sleeping soul. Feelings of euphoria and bliss will humble you and make you thankful, because you will now be conscious of your own self-discovery, in the deepest depths of your heart.
Over the course of your travels, you’ll be collecting moments; moments that will eventually form the foundation of your life story. But none of this will happen without first opening your mind and being receptive to new and different ideas, people, sites, sounds, smells and customs.
As tempting as they may seem, sometimes you’ll need to stray from the run of the mill tourist destinations to make the most beautiful discoveries, both outside and in. Traveling is choosing to walk your own path, rather than the one assigned to you by society.
You will connect with locals and fellow travellers more quickly and sometimes more deeply than friends and family that you’ve known for your entire life. You will find new friends, and together you will build a new family, not to replace your initial family, but to extend it. Among other travellers, you will develop ties based on the common experience of foregoing a neat sedentary lifestyle for an unpredictable nomadic one, even if only for a few days or weeks. As a traveller, you will almost always be the black sheep.
The truth is, many people simply do not have the tools for a life of constant travel. They have not faced personal hardships. World issues like racism, over-population, inequality and pollution are mere concepts to them; a set of ideas to be discussed, rather than acted upon. But that’s not to say that these tools cannot be acquired. While I maintain that the world is a big and beautiful place in need of constant discovery and rediscovery, many parts of the world are not the screen savers you see on your computer desktop or the breathtaking panoramic views we see in million dollar Hollywood movies. It’s the continuum of awe-inspiring to gut wrenching experiences that will jolt you into a truer sense of personal and worldly reality.
The fact of the matter is, while you’re traveling, living out your dreams, some people’s lives are nightmares, stuck on an endless loop. Nightmares that can only be understood once witnessed and experienced. People in some of these places, who know little more than suffering, can be both warm and welcoming with smiles and kind gestures or dangerously aggressive and hostile with shoving, shouting and worse.
In places like this, it is of paramount importance to be both sympathetic and empathetic. You have the luxury of escaping their reality, they, for the most part, do not. I’ve found that these circumstances that differ so greatly from the norm where I’m originally from, are the most rewarding. They leave me no choice but to find the calm in the chaos.
You don’t travel to find out if you’re curious about yourself and the world, you travel because somewhere inside, your curiosity is clawing its way out. Travel is the way in which it manifests. No mountaintop, valley or monument will confirm to you in a deliberate way “Yes, you have now discovered yourself and the world, I grant you safe passage home.” The places you see and people you meet are simply the triggers that propel you deeper within and further out in the world. Travel will make you consider things you never would have or could have before.
Why are some corners of the world luxurious and wealthy while others are downtrodden and disenfranchised? Why do some people accumulate more riches than they could ever use in ten lifetimes while the only possessions some people in other parts of the world have are their very lives? How can I change the world for the better? What is my true purpose on this earth? The more difficult and complex the question, the stronger your sense of purpose, self and your place in the world becomes.
Throughout my travels, I’ve had the luxury of meeting people who are financially and comparatively poor, but equally rich in mind, heart and spirit. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met people who sip fine wine, exist in a perpetually drug induced state and only frequent parties in the finest establishments; yachts, twenty bedroom houses and the like.
The world as we know it is changing at an alarming rate, taking more and more from the mainstream world we see in magazines and on movie screens; the world of the west. Nations that were once shrouded in mystery are opening their doors to outside influence and blending old customs with new norms. Though many countries maintain a firm grasp on their traditional identities, I suspect the inevitable effects of time and the forward progression of technology cannot be escaped forever.
I can’t promise that you will walk off an airplane in some foreign location and suddenly, as if by divine selection, have a life changing epiphany about yourself and the world. However, I can say with certainty that if you challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone, bask in the beauty of the wonders you will experience and face the less savoury aspects the world and life will throw at you on your journey head on, you will emerge a far greater person with a much more intimate understanding of the world and in its inner workings.
The value of travel cannot be quantified in dollars Its impact goes far beyond numbers. It can be hideous, fatiguing, discouraging and outrageous. But If done right, it is lovely, magical, profound and compelling. In fact, the coexistence of these extremes is what I love most about traveling.
As seen on Godriftaway