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5 Ways Traveling Makes You a Better Person

I’ve visited about 19 different countries, and I’ve lived (with a job and mailing address) in 5. I’ve had some crazy adventures and could tell you some crazy stories that are more amusing than most of the sitcoms you’re going to watch this month, but I’m not going to tell you about them because I’ve learned that nobody wants to hear about how you’re better than them. I’m not saying I’m better than you; what I mean is that if you tell people stories that make them jealous then they tend to resent you for it because it inherently comes off as bragging no matter how innocent your intentions are. So people don’t want to hear it; they want you to hear their stories. Dale Carnegie explained this concept in his famous treatise on human nature “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” If you want to make friends, you let them talk, and you act like you’re jealous of them.

So I do my best to refrain from telling anyone (even world travelers) too much about my world travels, and even then I only talk about stories that are pertinent to the topic of conversation at hand. While this tactic keeps me from alienating people, there’s something valuable lost by it. At the risk of sounding conceited I’m going to tell you anyway because it’s important.

Objectively speaking, traveling the world does make you a better person. Let’s not get hung up on whether it makes you a better person than the person standing next to you; the point is that it makes you a better person than you were before. Here are 5 reasons why:

Traveling humbles you and teaches you new things. As children we learn how to navigate the world by mimicking the people we’re raised around. We don’t question whether there’s a better way to do things. We just assume that the way the people around us think and behave is the way to think and behave. The longer we repeat these thoughts and behaviors the more ingrained they become.

No doubt you know some old person who has been thinking and behaving the same way for so long that there’s no hope of them ever changing even though it’s obvious to you that they’re hopelessly out of date. That’s because the more ingrained our old patterns of thought and behavior (which we mimicked from the people around us) become the more invested we become in our culture. Now, every culture does some things better than others and some things worse than others. No matter how great your culture is, it’s still incomplete. There are invaluable life lessons to be learned from other cultures that you could never possibly imagine because they’re so far outside your experiences. The more you travel the more you see this, the more it breaks down your prejudices and preconceived notions, the more it opens your eyes.

A word of warning though, you’ll never fit back into your original culture’s mold after you’ve broken out of it. You’ll go back home, and everything and everyone will be different. Actually, they’ll be exactly the same. You just don’t fit in anymore, and you never will.

Traveling teaches you how to adapt. I’ve heard stories about Americans flying to Germany, stepping off the plane and upon hearing everyone speaking a different language they freak out and board the next plane back to America. On the other hand, you can drop a world traveler in the middle of any city on the planet and they’ll settle in and navigate their environment like a special ops soldier dropped in the wilderness. This skill isn’t just useful for getting dropped in a foreign city though. There are new experiences around every corner, even in the city you’ve spent your entire life. If you consistently run from new experiences it cripples your ability to thrive in any environment. If you consistently accept the challenge of life it trains you to thrive in any environment and live proactively with self-determination instead of letting the tides of life bash you into the rocks.

Traveling makes you a more animated person. Every culture has its own idiosyncrasies, cultural nuances, stories and forms of art. How bland would your tastes be if the only food you ever ate was McDonalds? How bland would your style be if you only wore togas? How bland would your vocabulary be if you never heard a foreign word? How bland would your mind be if you never heard any stories except the ones of your ancestors? I lament the fact that there are so many places I’ve never been, so many people I’ve never met and so many stories I’ve never heard because I know that my personality is more bland because of it. Yet I know people who have never left the county I graduated high school in, and they’re proud as hell about it, but in the end they’re really just celebrating how mundane their life and thus their personality is.

Traveling gives you more complete perspective of how the world works. I once met a German who explained to me that America’s fanatic patriotism is a mirror image of the same blind nationalism that handed Germany over to the Nazis. I once met a South African who explained to me that black Africans view African Americans as white. I once met an African American who explained to me that African Americans call each other “nigger” as a way of conquering that dirty word. I once met an Australian who explained how “Australia looks towards America” and “New Zealand looks towards Europe.” Even though it’s obvious, I never knew that the Vietnamese call the “Vietnam War,” the “American War” until I visited the American war crimes museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I never knew what abject poverty was until I visited Cairo. I didn’t understand globalization until I saw an Arab in full sheik robes walking through the mall in Kuwait City carrying two giant bags of KFC chicken. I never knew how sexually repressed America is until I went to a topless beach in Italy. Every culture you visit is another piece of the puzzle. The more you see, the more you’ll understand. The less you’ve seen, the less pieces you’ll have to work with and the less empowered your mind will be.

Traveling makes you a more complete person. That’s what all of this adds up to. “Knowing is half the battle.” “The more you know, the more you grow.” I can tell you all of this, and you can comprehend it rationally, but until you actually step out of your comfort zone and into a new world, you’ll never truly understand it. Of course, this presents a conundrum. Even if you could visit every country in the world you still wouldn’t have enough time to spend in each country to fully digest what each of them has to offer. So what does that mean? We’re doomed to ignorance and incompleteness? I suppose technically that’s true, but I like to focus on the positive: each new experience makes you a better person than you were before, and becoming a more complete person is its own reward regardless of what happens tomorrow. The only question is how far you’re going to take yourself.


3 Responses

  1. I saw your sloth blog about debating christians and I thought this was only an American thing. Do you still have to contend with creationist evangelical nonsense over there?

    • I wrote that blog about debating christians when I was living in Austin, Texas. We don’t have to deal with evangelical creationist nonsense over here. I’d have to write an entire blog to explain the religious vibe in New Zealand. In fact, I think I’ll do that. Feel free to drop us a line if you have any more questions about anything.

  2. This is a wonderful article. The psychological and physical benefits of travel are undeniable, plus you will have some incredible stories to tell. We absolutely adore travel and we encourage everyone to pick a destination, grab your gear and get out there!

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