Lessons Learned From Traveling The World at 18

Hey guys, sorry for going silent on you this past month!  You wouldn’t even believe the sequence of events that recently occurred…  But we’ll get to that another day.  My long-term goal on this blog is to be as transparent as humanly possible, but for professional reasons and to respect the privacy of those close to me I’ll save those stories until enough time has passed.

Regardless, after graduating high school early to travel Asia I’m back in the U.S. now.  Prior to this journey I’d never been to another city by myself let alone another country.  I remember experiencing a modest amount of anxiety leading up to this three month journey, but as all the travelers I consulted prior to leaving said, “You’ll be fine.  Everything will fall into place once you arrive.  You just have to get on the plane.”

At the time I remember wanting to believe them, but still feeling uncomfortable with the uncertainty I knew lay on the horizon.  Of course, they were right.  Everything did turn out just fine and that’s why I’m bringing you today’s blog post.  I want to share with you the lessons I’ve learned from traveling these past three months to help give you perspective on how you yourself may benefit from traveling.

The reasons you should consider traveling (even, and especially if you’re young) are:

(1.) You’re constantly being exposed to novelty.  When you travel, simply taking a walk though the city can keep you off the autopilot you likely find yourself falling into at home.  Learning to use public transportation, trying new foods, and laughing at yourself as you attempt to use chopsticks all help refresh you from the repetitiveness and daily grind that’s so easy to succumb to when you’re at home.  In short, the novel situations you find yourself in each day abroad help stimulate your mind and keep you mentally fresh and engaged.

(2.) Traveling helps you learn about what you do and do not like.  Part of this is because being abroad tends to help bring your adventurous side to the surface.  You’re more likely to try new things while traveling even if many of them are things you could’ve tried in your home country (though there are obviously more new/unfamiliar options available to you when in a foreign culture).  Traveling also helps you learn more about yourself in general.  I never considered nature particularly important to me, however, once I’d lived in Saigon for a couple months (where there is almost no nature) I realized how much I took nature for granted and how much I actually cared being around it.  Even if you don’t intend to travel on a permanent basis, the self-knowledge you acquire from traveling temporarily can be used going forward to structure your life back home in a way that allows you to be more effective and enjoy yourself more in the process.

(3.)  Travel shows you there’s no one right way of doing things.  You may notice that in the country you’re visiting they don’t talk much while eating.  Being from the U.S. you may consider this to be strange, but you have to be open-minded and accept that there are pros and cons to this approach.  Not talking while eating may result in less information being exchanged, but you’re more likely to sufficiently chew your food and thus digest it better.  This could actually result in more energy for you to be social the rest of the day!

(4.)  Traveling forces you to develop emotional resilience.  Although travel will give you some of the greatest experiences of your life it will also expose you to copious amounts of bullshit.  People will charge you more because you’re not a local.  People will try to steal things from you. You’ll get lost.  You’ll fall in love and then have to leave.  But as painful as some of these experiences may be, the adversity you experience will contribute to your personal evolution and the development of your character.  (Seriously, look at all the characteristics you most like about yourself.  There’s a very good chance you developed those character traits during difficult times.)  Working your way through the challenges you’re forced to face allows you to enjoy the most profound reward of all; a higher level of consciousness and being the person you want to be.

(5.)  Travel helps you see the world as it is rather than as the fantasy it’s comfortable for you to imagine it being.  Seeing the problems the world has doesn’t make you a pessimist.  It makes you a realist — someone that’s in touch with reality.  If seeing how the world works is painful enough for someone to the point they have to delude themselves, who really thinks the world is a bad place?  In other words, yes, I’m saying realists ie. people who accept the world as it is are those with the most profound appreciation of life.

(6.) You’ll see that the world isn’t such a scary place.  To be fair, I’ve only gone to six countries (Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia) so I can’t speak for the entire world, but from what I’ve experienced the overwhelming majority of fear most people have regarding travel is simply fear of the unknown amplified by the media’s sensationalism of the dangers abroad.  Never having taken the time to explore a foriegn culture leaves you susceptible to this. It’s not hard to give someone false expectations of a place (ie. mainstream media foreign crime and danger sensationalism) if they’ve never been there.  This is especially true if someone doesn’t even care enough to read books and educate themselves on the country nor is it inconceivable why mainstream media would take advantage of this (the ease of grabbing the average person’s attention and the potential monetary value of that attention).

(7.)  The people that you meet while traveling are incredible!  Especially if you visit a digital nomad hub such as Saigon, Vietnam or Chiang Mai, Thailand you’ll be amazed at the quality of conversations you’ll be able to hold.  When was the last time you met your friends back home for lunch and were able to discuss with them how to become an effective copywriter, the health effects of msg, and what it’s actually like to date a crazy Columbian girl?  Not every traveler you meet will be someone who lives in alignment with your values nor will every traveler be someone you aspire to be like.  With that being said, however, it takes guts and mental exertion to leave your life back home and sustain yourself abroad so you can bet you’ll meet some damn interesting people.  Of course, the locals are amazing as well.  As long as you make reasonable efforts to respect the local culture you’ll be amazed at how friendly and welcoming people can be.  Even with a language barrier, positive interactions are possible and it’s relatively easy to meet friends that speak English as well (if I found them in Vietnam, you’ve got a good shot at finding them wherever you go).  Whether it’s motorbiking across town with a friend you met an hour ago, treating your new Vietnamese girlfriend to her first Mexican burrito, or cracking jokes with your girlfriend’s gay friend you’d be amazed at how quickly you can integrate into a different society.  Sexual orientation, culture, or even language barriers needn’t be things that keep you from making friends.

(8.)  Perhaps most importantly, traveling gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself!  This is in part because you’ll learn to be more self-reliant (especially if you’re giving this a go at a young age).  The other aspect of this is that you’ll no longer have a role others will expect you to conform to.  If in your hometown you’re known at the quiet guy others may react negatively when you attempt to speak up or talk to girls.  However, when you’re across the world nobody has a role which they’re trying to force you to play.  You can’t be told to stay in your box when others have never had the chance to categorize you.  When you travel you have the ability to choose who you want to be in each moment.  There exists perhaps no better accelerator for your personal growth.

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