“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”
Admit it. You haven’t traveled as much as you’d like. There are probably hundreds of states and countries and islands you want to visit one day. But one day keeps slipping further away, as you accumulate more and more reasons why you can’t drop everything to travel.
A global pandemic, for one.
While traveling might not be easily accessible at the moment, it’s the perfect time to start making plans for the future. There are so many reasons why I think traveling is an important building block for a person’s psychological development. I’ll start with these.
1. Spontaneity is the key to happiness.
The first time I booked a flight on a Monday that departed the following Wednesday, it was the most exhilarating moment of my life. Sad but true. I always assumed travel plans had to be made months in advance. And while I was only going halfway across America, the freedom of getting on a plane two days after I felt the urge was unbelievable.
The happiest people I have ever met are the ones that say yes. Contrary to popular belief, these people aren’t fearless or invincible. They simply refuse to second-guess decisions that make them feel good in the moment.
They don’t overanalyze. They don’t worry or anticipate. They just live. Spontaneity — and the adrenaline it induces — breathes new air into old lungs. I can’t help but think it’s one of the very few, natural elixirs we have for staying young. Spontaneity and adventure. Traveling checks both boxes. It preserves my childlike wonder of the world and keeps me living in awe.
2. Everybody’s doing it.
I don’t typically suggest succumbing to peer pressure but when it comes to traveling, one simple reason to do it is that everybody else is. Before 2020, travel had never been so easily accessible and affordable. But nobody’s waiting for you to jump on the bandwagon.
We experience FOMO for a reason. The world is big and it’s waiting to be explored. If not by you, the next Joe Shmoe will do it. Why not join the conversation? Traveling provides a hands-on experience of history and cultures that you just have to see for yourself.
Writer, filmmaker, and political activist, Susan Sontag said, “Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs” but that’s not the point of it. I’m often accused of not photographing my travels enough. A three month trip to Australia was captured in 33 iPhone photos and I still haven’t heard the end of it from my friends and family. But this isn’t how I measure my time in a new country. It’s also not what I want to take home with me.
We take photographs (mostly) to show other people. My phone can try its hardest to capture what I’m seeing with my own two eyes but it’s never going to compare. I’m interested in the real thing, the real-life experience, the stories I can tell, the pictures I can paint with words because I didn’t view the scene through a screen.
“Essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”
Many of us live vicariously through our friends,’ and even strangers,’ Instagram accounts. I’m not sure if this is a blessing or a curse. Are you encouraged by these photographs to pursue your own adventures or are you satisfied viewing paradise through someone else’s lens?
3. Get to know your true nature.
Traveling reveals a side of ourselves we very rarely tap into. It tests our patience and our relationship with the unknown. It reveals our true colors in foreign territory, in places we don’t feel entirely comfortable.
The first time I ever traveled outside of the United States alone, my plane, ironically enough, experienced engine failure. I was on my way to Sydney, Australia, when we emergency landed on Pago Pago, a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific.
At first, I was terrified. As much as I had always enjoyed traveling and as much as I loved the feeling of flying — of being suspended in air, so many miles up that your brain can’t even comprehend the distance below your feet— there was always a voice inside my head that wondered, “What if this plane goes down?”
I knew I should have listened, I kicked myself as a nervous flight attendant made the announcement that we would not make it to Sydney that day.
Instead, we landed on a beautiful American Samoan island, with no cell service and a single runway. We were shuttled to a hotel where we had dinner and accommodation paid for. After sharing a few free beers, I took a midnight swim in the ocean with people I had met in the midst of all this chaos. I woke up to a banging on my door at 3 AM informing me that a new plane had arrived. I got a glimpse of the ocean I dipped in as the sun rose over the misty mountains and somehow, everything was OK.
I learned something about myself that day — that even in the face of fear and vulnerability, I had all the necessary tools to navigate life gracefully. And nothing is as scary as it seems in your imagination. Not even engine failure. I never would have learned that about myself if I hadn’t taken that flight.
Traveling is a test, in and of itself, that you have no chance of passing if you don’t take the exam. Whether it’s your patience or boundaries, you’ll never know how much you have or how much you can take until you try.
I had fallen into such a routine back home that my growth and personal development felt stunted. Sure, life was less scary and more simple from the comfort of my own couch, but binge-watching Broad City for the fifth time isn't an experience. Why do we prefer to watch other people living their lives instead of living our own?
4. Make new friends and challenge old relationships.
After college, I found it really difficult to make new friends, not because I didn’t try but because I lived in a town where everyone already knew everyone. Traveling has brought me to destinations that attract people from all over the world. I’ve been introduced to people of all ages, from all walks of life. Yet, we hold one very important thing in common: our desire for more.
Similar to college, most of those you meet abroad are not only eager to meet new people but they’re also less likely to stand you up at that yoga class you drunkenly made plans to attend the following morning. People who are traveling — especially those traveling alone — are always looking for new and exciting things to do and they’re usually seeking companionship while they do it. Breaking the ice is always easy with fellow travelers because you already have a lot in common.
I’ve rarely met anyone I didn’t like while staying in hostels or meeting up in digital nomad hubs. I’ve found that the people you meet while traveling are usually more genuinely interested in getting to know you. I imagine this is probably because they’re less distracted by everyday stressors. They also tend to be the type of people who leave their phones behind. They’re not mindlessly scrolling Instagram while pretending to listen to the tragic story of how your guinea pig went missing when you were in fifth grade. They’re not stalking Instagram because they’re out living the lives we feel FOMO about in the first place.
If not solo traveling, traveling with a friend can really make or break that relationship. Think you know somebody? Try spending two weeks straight with them and the cracks will start to show. Traveling with a partner is a great way to test the strength of your relationship. It forces you to learn all of their hidden quirks, to entertain, explore, share, and, most importantly, compromise.
5. Once is better than never.
I wholeheartedly support dropping everything to travel once in your life. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? My hope is that doing it once will go so well that you’ll make it an annual event, or better yet, you’ll consider shirking social norms and pursuing it full-time.
Before my grandfather passed away, he confessed that his life was measured, in greatest length, by new experiences. He scratched his head, disappointed at himself about all the mornings he sat around, reading the paper. While these ordinary days occupied most of his memory, it was the trips to Europe with my grandmother that brought tears to his eyes.
6. You’ll appreciate coming home.
Sometimes you have to get away in order to understand the beauty of where you began. The first time I returned to my hometown after being away for six months, everything felt smaller, and, in its reduced size, the fall foliage appeared brighter, the familiar streets felt safer, the whole town welcomed me back with open arms. There really is no place like home, but Dorothy never would have known that if she hadn’t left Kansas.
Now get out there and find your Emerald City. And if you’re not sure how to get started, this next article is for you!