An Unexpected Benefit of Travel

Traveling takes too much time and energy to plan.

I’m not sure I can get much time off work.

What if I hate where I go to visit? What if it isn’t as nice as my last trip? But I’ve never been somewhere like that before. It can’t top the last place I went. 

What if I get sick? Or lost? What if something happens? 

So many times we either hear or we use the excuses listed above. Whether we say them out loud or in our heads, these thoughts are said in some way or another. The results are that many view traveling as something for just a select group of people and something that is too stressful, too tiring, too scary, or too foreign.

Let me tell you what many are never told – travel is beneficial for your life. Of all the benefits that travel provides, one of the biggest benefits I see is confidence. Travel truly is life changing. And the sooner you do it, the sooner you are allowing it to change you. Let me explain to you what I mean.

I never traveled internationally as a child, so my first trip out of the United States was a business trip to London when I was in my early 20s. On that trip, I fell in love with international travel. Shortly after my first trip, I got to go back. How fortunate! I made plans to stay the weekend after my week in the office to explore the city. And I planned to explore alone for 48 hours in a foreign city, despite never having done the same domestically. I was excited but nervous, nervous in a good way. The fear of getting lost listed above – extremely real for me on that trip. Now my fears were fairly justified, as I have an absolutely horrible sense of direction. But I still had to fight it. Part of facing our fears is first realizing what it is that is holding us back most. It is being honest with ourselves so we can be more intentional about solving the problem. For me, one of my fears was getting lost.

In fact, I remember being afraid that I’d get lost in the airport. The airport – not even the city itself. Yes, I was thinking I wouldn’t even make it into the city and that I’d just be wandering around the airport, jet legged with a heavy suitcase with no way out. I admit this not to look like an idiot but to say that I get and I understand what fears you may have. Even being one who has loved travel and desired travel my entire life, I still heard those thoughts in my head. Believe me, I get that they are real and they exist.

So here’s what happened that weekend. I know you are dying of curiosity. I found my way out of the airport – ding, ding, ding…success. I was able to take taxis and find my way around. On Friday night after arriving at my hotel in London, I unpacked and reviewed my plans for the next day. In typical Type A fashion, I had extensively planned. I tend to do what most people would call over plan when I’m going to encounter a new or different situation. But you know what – I’ve never been annoyed at myself or thought it was a waste of time for this over planning. It is simply what gives me reassurance. And if the cost of this reassurance is a little more time, than it is a price I’m willing to pay.

I’d strategically planned out all the places I wanted to hit, the hours they were open and the best route to take in order to hit them most effectively in order to reduce taxi fare and time (this was before the days of Uber). The more I looked at my plans and my map, the more excited I became. For the most part, I did stick to my weekend in London plan. With every executed action and every new thing I encountered, my confidence grew. I can’t remember for sure, but that was probably the first time I’d eaten alone in a restaurant. Now I can’t count how many times I’ve done that and without thinking twice about it. See – confidence.

Two things I have to say about eating alone. One – no one cares about you as much as you think they do. They just really don’t. So get over yourself. Two – on the rare event that someone stops and does notice you, I guarantee you the only thing they would think is that you are comfortable and confident in your own skin. When I travel, there are certain people I notice. The ones who stand out to me are the ones you can tell are 100% comfortable with themselves. It is a certain vibe and look and very hard to explain. But when I stumble upon a woman bundled up in a thick, fuzzy sweater extremely engrossed in a book to the point she doesn’t have a clue of what’s going on around her – she’s comfortable. When I see people wearing quite unorthodox attire, I realize they are comfortable being them. We need to strive to be those people – both traveling and in everyday life.

So how did I reflect this growth of confidence? In one of the busiest cities in the world, I took selfies of myself. I toured Westminster Abbey with an audio guide. I walked across Westminster Bridge to the other side where I asked a complete stranger to take a picture of myself with Big Ben in the background. I went up in the London Eye, taking in the city views with couples, families and other solo travelers. I stopped for lunch at a simple, outdoor café and enjoying some people watching. I walked for miles in shopping and urban areas, using the river as my guide. I went shopping in Harrods, and I shopped in a variety of other clothing stores. I toured the Tower of London and went up in the London Bridge. I wandered through streets of vendors selling anything from flowers to used books. It wasn’t long into the weekend, I stopped worrying about getting lost and simply enjoyed the moment.

The thing about traveling is that it does get you out of your comfort zone. Even with having a very extensive list you absolutely cannot be 100% prepared for it. And this is what makes you grow, what stretches you, what makes you come back a stronger and more confident person.

Did I take wrong turns? Just a few. But did I also learn about empowerment and the freeing feeling of deciding 100% of what you will be doing for two days? Absolutely, I did. When you travel alone, you are more observant. That waitress you have in the restaurant, you might actually remember her name and what she looks like. Others around you are more vividly clear. On the flip side, you are also approached more and find yourself conversing more with others. When I run with headphones in, I get a few waves. When I run without headphones, people say hi, ask how it is going, etc. When you travel alone, you are removing those headphones so to speak. You’ll talk with others more. Introverts – hang with me. Think about how much you learn from other people and how your awareness of the world grows when you are faced with viewpoints other than your own. And the more you learn new about others and about the world, the more confident you become.

A prime example of this is from my recent trip to DC. I was wandering through the US Botanic Gardens in downtown DC, looking at all the flowers and secretly wishing the sun was out instead of being cloudy from the recent downpour. I came upon an aloe vera plant and a woman came up to the plant and started talking to me. She goes “This is my absolute favorite time to come here and take pictures. All the rain drops on the flowers make for beautiful shots.” From the woman in the garden, I learned about perspective. We can always use reminders of perspective and positivity.

I talk about traveling alone not because I think it is better to travel alone than with a significant other, friends, family or a travel group. I’ve had wonderful trips both with others and by myself. But I bring it up because when you are alone, your trust in yourself is so much stronger. It has to be. You can’t rely on others for anything. You can’t rely on the other person telling you which line on the Metro you need to ride or the way back to the hotel. You can’t rely on someone else to pick which of the attractions to see or where to eat. You book excursions and you make decisions on the fly when plans don’t go as planned. And with this trust and with these examples of new situations, your confidence grows. And with this confidence growth, you become a stronger and better version of yourself. Tons of self-help and motivational books are dedicated to helping you to discover yourself and to become your biggest, boldest self. I’d offer a suggestion on top of what they propose – plan a trip, either by yourself or with others.

The great thing about confidence is that it stays with you for life. Now maybe you feel like it leaves when new situations arise or when struggles feel insurmountable, but trust me – it is still there. I see a ton of correlations to the benefits travel provides you and the benefits you get from running. I think one of the biggest is the ability to go back in your memory bank and pull from it a time you remember struggling with something. You remember the struggle but then you also remember how you, more often than not, became victorious in the end.

The fact that I have run a half marathon provides me with far more than bragging rights, a bib to hang on my bulletin board, and a medal. It gives me historic proof that I went from something I couldn’t do to something I could do simply with planning, careful execution, and hard work. I say that sounds a lot like gaining confidence. So you see – every time we challenge ourselves to travel or to do things we normally wouldn’t do, we are building ourselves up and making ourselves stronger for the future.

And that’s why traveling isn’t an option for me. Traveling, like other important things in my life such as working out, eating healthy, setting career goals and setting personal goals, isn’t an option. It isn’t an option because I know that long term it makes me feel better and stronger. Travel is liberating and it is cleansing. It forces you away from your daily routine. It shows you new things and new experiences. It clears my head and challenges me in a way I could never be challenged otherwise. It changes me.

To this day, my weekend in London still vividly on my list of top days of my life. You know those days that just stick with you, through and through? I use those days and lean on those days when I need a reminder about overcoming and about pushing myself in order to get positive results.

Traveling is a risk, no doubt about it. Travel is tiring. Some of the most tired times of my life have occurred while traveling. I’ve eaten at crappy restaurants, and I’ve attended places that I wish I could have gotten my money back. I’ve gotten very sick on trips. I’ve gotten lost. I’ve stressed about taking time off work. And I’ve even become burnt out on planning a trip. But the pros outweigh the cons and I truly do believe it helps you become your best self. And isn’t that what we are all striving for?

 

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