If you know me well, you know I’ve had my fair share of travels. I’ve been to places near and far, places similar and comfortable, and places wildly different with not much the same at all.
I’ve been gone for simple weekend trips. And I’ve gone for 14 months. I’ve eaten the best food of my life and some food I hope to never taste again. I’ve seen sites, met people, and learned histories that I didn’t know existed until they were right in front of me.
I’ve watched sunsets and sunrises in places that I can’t speak the language. I’ve packed and unpacked countless backpacks, suitcases, and purses–some with perfection and some without an absolute clue. I’ve sweat my ass off in hot and humid climates. And I’ve frozen in crisp, rain-soaked winds. I’ve walked under waterfalls, through archways, and into caves. I’ve sat in cafes, looked at art, and listened to local music. There have been countless tours and miles walked.
There have been nights filled with laughter surrounded by amazing people and there have been nights filled with tears missing amazing people.
It’s dramatic and cliche, but also thoroughly true, that travel does indeed change you.
It’s challenging to visit a new city and not see something about it worth appreciating. Have I loved every single place I’ve visited? No. Have I respected and admired at least one thing about every place I’ve visited? Yes.
Your eyes are opened to new architecture, foods, wildlife, and customs that each place holds within its borders. You hear local languages that you can’t understand, but that can be stunningly beautiful. You visit historical sites that you can’t imagine a world without. You find the ability to compare and contrast this new place to your home base and your eyes are opened. You see things you like and things you don’t.
There may be animals that scare you (huntsman spiders in Australia,) smells that disgust you (sewage in Thailand,) and noise that bothers you (traffic in Vietnam.) But there may also be gorgeous structures like nothing you’ve ever seen (Angkor Wat,) tastes that you wish would never go away (real Italian cuisine,) and stars brighter than you’ve ever imagined (game reserves in South Africa.)
You are also introduced to different ways of life. You see the effect of different political systems, social policies, and societal norms. And it makes you stop and think. Should we be doing that? Is it okay to question something I’ve always known? Should I take a leap and try something new?
It can also make you feel fortunate for the life that you know so well. Your eyes may be opened to a different, less-comfortable standard of living. You learn to appreciate things that you didn’t even realize you should be appreciative of. It teaches your heart to be compassionate, understanding, and gentle.
While places themselves can surely cause the ripple of change growing inside of you, I’ve found that it’s the people you meet along the way that send the wave into motion.
Traveling introduces you to like and unlike-minded people. You’ll meet best friends and you’ll encounter people you never hope to see again. And while each one plays a very different role in the passing days, they still play a role.
You encounter people with incredible stories–some who have endured hardships that you can’t imagine, some who have accomplished great things already, and some that are stunningly similar to yourself.
Everyone comes with their baggage–literally and figuratively–and some how you all manage to unpack together. Some of these people may convince you to leave behind that old sweater (bad job, failed relationship, or mistake,) that you’ve been clinging on to. And some may remind you the value of the simple shirt (blessings, relationships, and accomplishments,) that you’ve worn for years.
Because you are all on a journey, you manage to bring things out in one another that you’ve forgotten about. You’re encouraged to tell the story about where you’ve come from and what’s brought you here. You also have the ability to create new narratives with these people, creating stories for those waiting for you at home.
You’ll meet strangers who are curious and compassionate. You’ll laugh with people of different tongues over language barriers. You’ll ride planes, trains, and automobiles with a million people going to one place for a thousand different reasons. Interactions may be small, but it doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.
Travel allows you the opportunity to step back and question your norms, appreciate your values, and reflect on the good and bad because of the people your path intersects with.
Travel changes you in uncountable ways. Plain and simple.
I am not the same person I was when I boarded my first international flight. I can’t undo the miles and memories formed around the world. I can’t unsee the landscapes and structures different from my own life. I can’t stop comparing what is and what could be based on the places I’ve visited. And it would be impossible to forget the faces and laughs of those who have made my travels so wonderful.
There is, however, one thing that all of the countries in the world couldn’t change.
Regardless of distance and time traveled, nothing can change the place and people that raised you. While the exteriors may look different with each return, the memories and lessons learned run deep inside each of us.
Some people may resent that, but I don’t. And no one should. Every piece of your journey has led you to where you are today—whether it’s been on a plane trip across the world or simply a stroll down the street.
I’ll never forget knowledge learned, places seen, and the beautiful friends met on my travels. But I’ll also never forget to keep coming home.
And for all of that, I’m forever fortunate.