I was an incoming junior in college the first time I came to visit Venice, Italy. I remember how scared I was when I took the water taxi from the airport for the very first time. My thoughts were flooded with doubts–what was I thinking? What is so romantic about backpacking in Europe alone anyway? Why go through all this stress when I could just be at home with my friends?
All that went away once I caught a glimpse of the cathedral– it was so wonderful and like nothing I’ve ever seen. It surpassed all my expectations and pretty soon all I could feel was excitement. I knew then I would see the world. Less than a year later, I bought my first DSLR and my journey to travel the world began.
I’ve been to many places since, but coming back to Venice still gives me goosebumps. No other trip has had a more significant impact on my life.
If you are thinking about traveling abroad, I cannot begin to tell you how fantastic this opportunity could be. Traveling has changed my life and here are the reasons why:
1. Traveling Broadens Your Perspective
Youth can be extremely limiting. On the one hand, you have energy and ambition. On the other hand, you don’t know enough about the world to help guide that drive. Being pushed and pulled in different directions, without the experience needed to help you make judgments, can leave you feeling stuck.
In college, it may feel like the number of paths in life is limited to the number of majors offered by your university. You probably already know it isn’t true. But, it’s difficult not to doubt your instincts when society is telling you something different.
Culture is pervasive, but traveling is an antidote.
In Norway, I met two young men in their early twenties who left Poland and took up jobs as fishermen in Lofoten. They told me they did it because they wanted to be closer to the mountains. In Portland, I met a guy who traversed the pacific crest trail not once but twice! The trail is 2,650 miles and generally takes about five months to complete. While I was studying in Spain, I met a girl majoring in the “science of surfing.” She plans to move to Hawaii someday. Once there, she intends only to take jobs that would allow her the flexibility to surf every day.
If we see the same thing day in and day out then the tendency is to paint anything different in a negative hue. Leaving your country to live in the mountains is unambitious; using months of one’s time to hike becomes irresponsible; majoring in anything that will unlikely lead to a well-paying job is frivolous.
There is a priority shift that happens when you encounter something that is all at once familiar and foreign. In college, we tend to focus on little bullet points on our resumes in the hopes to impress a corner office type enough to offer us a job. We spent the weekends at parties, talking with others about what we would do “when we grow up”. Those years were fun, but after going abroad, I realized how limiting those goals and values can be.
Travel gives you a chance to step back. To ask yourself some key questions and align your values with your life choices: How am I spending my life? Are my values my own or dictated by those around me? If I value free time, does that align with working a 40+ hour work week? If I appreciate nature, does that align with being in an office or home 90% of the day?
Traveling gives us the distance needed to view everything we take for granted at a different angle. We re-examine our beliefs, question the direction of our moral compass, and allow ourselves to think with a broader understanding. Seeing the world can not only make you a different person but a more authentic one.
2. Traveling Cultivates Creativity
Exposing yourself to new places and ways of thinking will have a distinct impact on your creativity. Think of each moment of your life as a unique color you use to express yourself with. Traveling broadens your horizons and offers the colors you need to paint the most vibrant image possible. Whether you’re interested in writing, painting, or computer coding, the more life you’ve lived, the better your creative energy will flow.
One reason for this is that coming into contact with other cultures allows you to view things from a different perspective. You’ll understand, in a very fundamental way, that there are different approaches to tackling a problem. In whatever work you choose to do, this multifaceted process allows you to express yourself in ways you wouldn’t have thought of before. That is the hallmark of creativity.
In his groundbreaking book, “Originals,” University psychologist Adam Grant claims that working abroad has a strikingly positive influence on creativity. Exposing ourselves to new cultures give us the chance to absorb a new way of looking at problems. It gives you additional tools in your toolbox when approaching any situation.
Someone from France has a cultural background that may predispose him to solve a problem in one way, where someone in Cape Town might see it another way. Getting both viewpoints and combining them into your own offers a unique perspective to any challenge.
Research has discovered that those living abroad have demonstrated a marked increase in creativity. A study conducted in 2009 found that individuals who lived abroad are excellent at creative problem-solving.
When it comes to the arts, a 2015 study of fashion houses also boosts the claims that travel enhances creativity. In this study, fashion companies that had directors who worked abroad for long periods were also not coincidentally rated the most creative. The longer the designers lived abroad, the more creative their work.
For example, traveling to Japan has exposed me to its minimalistic style, which I love. Since then, I’ve applied this aesthetic to all of my projects from photography, to website design, to architecture. Also, I’ve learned from my travels that color means different things in different cultures. Thus, I tend to not take the psychologies of color theory too seriously in my photography.
Psychology has found that the most creative insights come from “distant associations.” Distant associations are when people make connections in their mind between things that are only slightly related. Someone creative might think of “food’ if you say “table,” while someone less creative might say “chair.” Their minds are making those distant connections. Traveling abroad enhances distant associations by expanding knowledge and experiences. This distant association may also be the reason why bilingual people show higher creativity than those who only speak one language.
So much of our creativity comes from seeing old things in new ways and connecting the dots on concepts that seem unrelated. The newness provided by immersing yourself in a foreign culture adds to this and can help you innovate beyond what you thought possible.
3. Create a World Wide Network of Friends
I’ve traveled around the globe, and because of that I can say with confidence that almost anywhere I go now, I’ll have a connection there. Leaving the comfort zone of your city or country ensures that you’ll be making real connections with people from all walks of life.
Having friends from different countries and cultures exposes you to opportunities you wouldn’t know about otherwise. It could mean anything from a chance to try new foods, visiting some out of the way spot, or even offering business opportunities that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
For example, I was able to help a friend planning to visit Kenya but was afraid to go alone and needed information. Because of the connections I had built throughout my travels, I was able to connect her with a friend I first met in Galapagos, but who lives in Kenya.
Because I regularly travel, making friends in every country is a huge benefit for me. Having friends all over the world means that I don’t have to travel alone. Anywhere I go I have minimal problems when it comes to access. That access could be to information about the country, a place to stay, or to good company. I’m sure to meet people who I trust and who I’ll have a great time with.
In another, more meaningful way, the benefit to having friends is… having friends. Having people in your life that you care about, and who care about you, is a means unto itself. Most of the moments that make our lives great happen with others. Buying things doesn’t make us happy; people do. Fostering the meaningful relationships in your life will enhance and increase those moments. You’ll be a better person for it.
4. Nothing Is Guaranteed
I learned about the temporary nature of existence first hand when my father died in a motorcycle accident. We were only four blocks from our home, traveling to get some ice cream when it happened. One moment he was happy and healthy, then the next, he was gone.
Life is precious, but also not guaranteed, and at any moment it could all be taken away. The same is true for your health. Our bodies can be fragile, and the exciting life plans you have for “later” may not be possible when that later date finally hits.
One of the best reasons to travel while you’re young is that you may not get a chance to later in life. It’s natural for us to take the things we do today—working, talking, laughing– for granted and believe that they will be available to us tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is not always true. And that day in the far future that you say you’ll explore the world may never come.
It’s essential that we seize opportunities when they’re available to us. They won’t be there forever and neither will we. There is a joy that comes with exploring the unknown. It’s a feeling you’ll revel in during your travels across the earth. Don’t mark those experiences for a later point in your life’s calendar.
Ignoring the possibilities of traveling when you’re young may leave you with the regret that comes from saying “no” when you should have said “yes.” Live life now because nothing is promised.
5. You May Not Want to Someday
If you’re considering traveling now, know that this is a wonderful position to be in. Not everyone will have a chance to consider the idea of traveling in their lifetime. With that in mind, also understand that, someday, you may not be able to consider it either.
You may be unwilling to travel because of many factors such as family, health, career or just plain disinterest. An old friend of mine had recently confided with me that he had taught of traveling quite a bit when he was younger. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the same financial freedom that he has today back then. Today, however, the idea of traveling and the amount of work it necessitates exhausts him. In particular, he finds the thought of sleeping on hotel beds draining.
My friend loves his life today and has no complaints about it. And of course, I am happy for him. But while we were having that discussion, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if? What if he traveled back then when he was willing to sleep on floors and take long train rides? What kind of incredible places would he have seen and wonderful memories he would’ve made?
6. It Molds You Into a Better Person
I have dozens of personal travel stories. Beautiful memories that I love sharing with others. They involve victories and happiness, as well as losses and heartbreaks (yes, sometimes traveling can break your heart). I wouldn’t, however, trade them for anything.
Each one of those memories has made me into a better person by shaping my mind and my heart with the lessons they held. These lessons have had a genuinely positive effect on how I see the world, and myself… In your own travels, I hope that you come across similar experiences.
No matter where you go, I’m sure your time abroad will expand your imagination and your ability to empathize with others who we share this beautiful planet with. Those life lessons have been like gold to me.
7. It Makes You Fall in Love With Life
With all the beauty and adventure that comes with traveling, you cannot help but learn to appreciate life in its entirety. Meeting new people, making new friends and learning new cultures all contribute to developing a love for life. Loving life becomes effortless when it’s filled with beauty, connection, and adventure. It just comes naturally.