5 Ways Traveling Changes You

Today I checked the date and my stomach lurched forward with such force, I expected to look down and see it staring up from my keyboard. My elusive return flight is scheduled to depart in one week. How?!?

This realization summoned a spiral of sentiment. Confusion overtook me, then somber, then gratitude. I picked up my journal and flipped through the penned pages. And I found myself here.

From touching down in Denpasar mid-October to (currently) typing away from the South Island of New Zealand, these past several months have proven the power of travel. I'm a different person than I was upon arrival, on an emotional, psychological, and spiritual level- to name a few. These shifts have been a giant blur defined only by reflection. But the personal growth has been so profound, I realized there was no way these changes were exclusive to my own experiences.

So, I did the natural thing. Or, at least... the Kasey thing. I asked other backpackers how they felt traveling had changed them.

The responses aligned so point-blank with my own list, it was almost creepy. Below I've compiled the five recurring themes on how individuals feel traveling has deeply changed them. Oh, must I add: these are brought to you by some of the highest quality people in the world (you know who you are).

1. Fearlessness

Traveling thrusts you to the edge, with thousands of miles of unknown beneath your toes, no railing, and no way to backtrack. You're stripped of every shred of familiarity. You've got nowhere to run. Doesn't that sound nice?

Hear this: by bursting the bubble of normality, traveling fosters fearlessness. It does this by forcing you to adjust to new and unusual circumstances. Whether it be approaching a group of strangers or overcoming a phobia, there is no better place to dropkick the sh*t out of your comfort zone than abroad. Traveling presents each person the opportunity to grow into the best version of themselves because limits cease to exist. The vast majority of travelers left their judgements, expectations and preconceived notions at home. If you're not one of these people, fear not... the spirit of inclusion is contagious. This environment generates growth in its purest form. The reason people hold themselves back usually stems from fear. Abroad, nobody is consumed with the fear of being judged, because nobody cares to judge them! It's a lovely two-way street. 

Me being fearless in Wanaka, New Zealand

Me being fearless in Wanaka, New Zealand

2. Letting go

By no means delicately, traveling teaches you to loosen the reigns of control. On the road, things have a habit of going miserably wrong. Blood boils. Tears of frustration are shed. You've got no choice but to square up and roll with the punches. As put wisely, "you can either get crushed by the wave or learn to go with the flow." Traveling is a constant exercise in accepting, adapting, and letting things run their course. It teaches you to control only what you can. In a world of delays, language barriers and inevitable miscommunications, the only thing travelers can always control is their attitude.

3. Humility

The more miles traveled, the less merit there is on belongings. Travelers learn that things are just things, and memories are the most precious gifts anyways. Minimizing your things and maximizing your experiences is the moment a visitor becomes a traveler. 

Experiences that fall outside our comfort zones show what's truly of value in our lives. Becoming exposed to new lifestyles peels our layers back, one at a time. Traveling reminds us of the tiny place we occupy in the world, and how much more there is beyond our measly selves. This sense of humility teaches us how much more is out there. It shows us our perception of right and wrong, good and bad is relative to our culture and environment. Humility teaches us that nothing is black and white. Everyone is doing the best they can, regardless of their circumstances. The one differential- the goodness that transcends across every culture- is kindness.

4. Decisiveness

Traveling is an open-ended question mark, from where you're headed to who you'll encounter along the way. An open agenda is a gift, but one that calls for some old fashioned decision-making. The reason? Passiveness is fatal to adventure. Decision-making is a vital muscle that needs exercise and TLC. These on-the-road decisions will be in regards to the food you'll eat for dinner, your daily activities, and the people with whom you build memories. Travelers quickly learn that life is too short for crappy food, boring days, and vanilla friends. If you're not enthralled by your surroundings, it's up to you to make a change. Traveling teaches you to take responsibility for your predicament. You learn to take pride in your independence and pave your own road. 

My friends and I taking the road less traveled on the Tongariro Trail in New Zealand

My friends and I taking the road less traveled on the Tongariro Trail in New Zealand

5. Empathy

Along the road, you encounter people from different ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds and, moreover, different worlds. These people introduce you to new perspectives and the more lessons you acquire, the more you seek. You find yourself filled with wonder and gratitude. Your heart bursts with compassion and leaves you wanting more. You ask yourself: what is this feeling? That feeling, my friend, is love, fueled by empathy. It's the healthiest form of addiction.

Simply defined as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another," empathy is profoundly developed by experiencing the world. Traveling bridges the gap between realities by connecting individuals from different corners of the world… people who grew up in different environments, speaking different languages, eating different foods. These connections plant seeds of deeper understanding, divulging this big truth: we're all the same. The only thing that separates us is privilege.

It's never easy to close a chapter of travel. But with a heart abundant in gratitude, moving forward, I know I'll be carrying pieces of this trip alongside me forever.

Life in and of itself is about the journey. May each of you manifest the power to inspire and be inspired as you navigate your path, whether that be near home or far. And remember that home is not isolated to one place. It's a state of mind, a sense of belonging. Home can be created within people, and it can be spread out across continents.

I know mine is.

Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did now know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
— Italo Covino

With light and love,