Got Wanderlust?

Here’s how to really travel

Pretty much every person I know would travel the world if they could, yet there are still so many people who have never stepped foot outside of their home countries, or even home states. There are many reasons people don’t travel, but money, of course, is the main one. Traveling is really, REALLY, expensive. Not only do the expenses include flights, but there are also hotels to pay for, food, activities, local transportation, souvenirs, and countless other expenses that pile up very quickly and are sure to turn any sane person away from such a thing. But the reason so many people choose to pursue this pricey activity, even if it may mean making a few sacrifices, is because of what you get out of it.

I have been fortunate enough to grow up traveling with my family, and I have truly been shaped by my experiences abroad — each place I’ve been, and every person I’ve met, has played a role in making me who I am today. I have learned countless lessons from traveling, but what I now realize is that there are two different ways to travel: one can travel as a way to briefly escape routine and relax in paradise while not straying far from the way they are used to living, or one can become immersed in local culture, choosing experience over comfort.

In my early traveling days, I always traveled as a tourist. My family stayed in comfortable hotels, participated in tours and activities, and spent only a few days in each location before moving on to the next city or town. There’s nothing wrong with traveling like this, and there’s no doubt that it can be a more comfortable way to travel, but how important is comfort, really? Since I’ve started to do more traveling independently, I’ve realized that there’s so much more to discover about the places I’ve been to that just can’t be discovered through this form of travel.

Recently, as I’ve stopped traveling so much with my parents, and started to travel more on my own and with friends, I have begun to chip away at the many barriers that prevent a traveler from really experiencing the culture they’re is in. Some of the ways I’ve done this are by staying with local families rather than staying in hotels, getting to know the history and culture of the area I’m in, and generally attempting to be less of a ‘tourist.’

The experiences you gain while traveling with this mindset are entirely different than those you gain as a tourist. When you travel without any expectations for how your experience will turn out, you learn many important lessons along your way. You learn how small our world really is, and how similar we all are — it’s not too difficult to form a meaningful bond with someone from the other side of the world, even if language is a barrier. You learn how to be curious and step out of your comfort zone, a lesson that is important no matter where you are in life. You learn how to be independent, while still meeting incredible people of all different backgrounds. You learn that sticking to a strict plan isn’t everything, and going with the flow of things can sometimes lead to better experiences than research and planning can. You learn a deep sense of appreciation. Appreciation for the ability to travel, appreciation for all the things we take for granted, appreciation for the beauty of living simply, appreciation for other cultures and traditions, and appreciation for this beautiful earth we all call home.

The experiences we gain and lessons we learn from traveling not as tourists, but as people, ready to learn and appreciate all that the world has to offer us, are endlessly meaningful, and will stay with us throughout life. That’s why it is incredibly important, in my opinion, to travel without expectations of what we will find at the destination, and always carry our experiences with us in life. The ability to travel is certainly a privilege, but it is one that I hope all young wanderlust-obsessed travelers-at-heart are able to learn from at some point in their lives, because the lessons we learn from traveling are far greater than any lesson we could learn in the classroom.