When I was 16 years old my Dad took me on my first trip overseas. I was young and going through the struggle of being a teenager (see picture). We started in Rome and as soon as we landed, and I walked out of the train station into the streets of Rome, I was in love. I was in awe. I was in shock. And my life was forever changed. We visited Croatia where my Grandparents were born. There I met relatives, visited my Great-grandmother's grave, and saw the house my Grandmother was born in. A house that still to this day doesn't have running water. No single event in my youth changed me like that trip did. I was humbled by Croatia, I was awakened by Italy, and most of all, I was addicted.
It was four years before I was able to travel overseas again and by this time I had met Adam. Together we signed up for college course that included a trip to Europe. Lucky for him, and our relationship, it only took one trip and he was hooked as well. In the years that have followed we have had the opportunity to visit many places and people are often surprised how much I have traveled for my age and ask how I do it. It's expensive and I get that. I haven't always made the smartest choices with my money, but I've never regretted a single trip. So many people get married, have kids and become so engrossed in daily life that they don't take time for themselves to do what they want to do. If you want to travel and see places, you have to make it a priority You have to plan and plan and plan some more, but I swear that no matter what sacrifices you endure, it will be worth it. Every. Single. Penny. So for people that haven't put the time or money aside for travel, I've made a list of 10 reasons why I think everyone should take at least on trip abroad and really experience traveling.
1. You realize how lucky you are to live in the US
It takes going abroad to truly realize how nice we have it in this country. There are so many things we take for granted in this country including free refills, ice in drinks, cheap gas, light switches for controlling lights, large comfortable beds and unlimited space. In less than a day in another country you will start to wish you had little things that you took for granted all of your life. Once you return home, you will always be more aware of all the luxuries that afforded to you and you won't take things for granted as much. It's a good lesson to learn.
Sign right off the road warning of landmines and not to enter.
2. It makes you realize how vast and diverse our world is as well as how much commonality people share.
When you travel you get to meet amazing people and hear their stories. It is fascinating to here stories from your parents' past, but it is just as fascinating to hear a total stranger talk about their life in a completely different part of the world. They have different experiences and exposures that you won’t have, but hearing their stories and learning about them is priceless. Being in Japan and seeing people do things we do everyday like hugging loved ones, hanging out with friends, seeing a couple in love on a bench, or a Mom carrying her small child made me realize that although I could in no way communicate with them, we had a lot of common ground. Going to church in Croatia where my Grandmother used to go as a small child made me so connected to her and the people in the area. I didn't know them, but going to Mass, which is the same worldwide, brought me closer to them in a way I never imagined possible.
3. It improves the relationships with those you travel with.
You bond, form memories, share experiences and come home with lots of stories. Some of my greatest memories with my family have happened while traveling. We've had deep conversations, laughed until we've cried, and worked together in stressful situations. No matter how much they can drive me crazy, I've always felt closer and bonded more with my family while on a trip with them. You learn about each other and learn together and it's priceless. I know that one day when my Father has passed, his children will all be together reliving our famous stories of trips with him. We will be telling our stories for the thousandth time and still dying of laughter. If family is important, then traveling with your family is the best way to enjoy your time with them.
Adam and I waiting to see the Egyptian exhibit in London.
4. It enriches your life and makes you a more well rounded person.
You gain life experiences. You learn to deal with stressful situations, how to navigate, how to pack up everything you need in a small bag and how to be responsible for all of your belongings. You learn to read directions and follow signs. You learn to respect and conform to other cultures rules and lifestyles. YOU LEARN…a lot! Life experiences give you wisdom and in a three week trip abroad you will learn more than you will at any four year college. The more you know and can do, the more well rounded you become. There is a saying that I love from Mark Twain that says “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
5. You learn history and culture- the good and the bad.
Seeing it first hand is totally different than reading about or seeing it on tv. There are no words, pictures or video that can explain what it feels like to stand inside St. Peter's church. No history book can explain the size of the Roman Forum. No documentary of the Yugoslavian war can prepare you to see buildings bombed out or feel the emptiness that embodies Pompeii .The best way to learn the history is to experience it. Rene Descartes said, "Traveling is almost like talking with those of other centuries" and it’s so true. Want to understand the Japanese culture? Go to Japan. Learning about a country's history and their culture before you visit is valuable, but living it first hand will leave a lasting impression.
Standing where the Emperors throne was in Ancient Rome.
6. It will make you happier.
This is a big one. Taking time for yourself and breaking away from everyday life makes you happier. Getting away form the hustle and bustle of daily life, work and responsibilities and spending some time just having fun, eating out, and doing stuff you wouldn't normally have time for will increase happiness. Anyone who loves to travel wishes they could do it all the time because they realize how happy they are when they are exploring the world, but that high from travel stays with you long after you return and the anticipation and excitement of an upcoming trip also makes you happier.
7. You step out of your comfort zone and push yourself.
You try new things, you explore, and are more adventurous. Everything is exciting and new and worth trying just once. A huge part of travel is the adventure. Walking through the street of foreign city can sometimes be an adventure in and of itself, but when you are out of your comfort zone you also tend to try new things that you would have the ability or the guts to try at home. Adam has eaten food in Japan he would never dare try in America. When in Rome, do as the Romans do so to speak. We've been skydiving, rock climbing, and hot air ballooning in places that we couldn't pass up. While some of the things we've done abroad are available here, you don’t always have the drive to try new things in everyday life. Getting out your comfort zone and trying new things will open your eyes to new passions and make you proud of your accomplishments and yourself.
Hang-gliding in Interlaken, Switzerland.
8. You get to experience the beauty and majesty of the world we live in.
Part of travel involves getting to see different parts of the world with landscapes so vastly different from what you are use to and would never otherwise get to see. You don’t have to go across the globe to reach a beach, but what about walking through a bamboo forest? Or seeing trees so big you can drive through them? So much of travel is just soaking in the landscape and enjoying mother nature. Going to Switzerland last year I was transformed by the beauty of the world in a way I’ve never been before. It changed me as a traveler and now Adam and I are much more interested in exploring land and not just cities. When asked what my favorite experience traveling has been I usually reply with scuba diving. While going to cities all over the world is amazing nothing compares to the beauty of a whole different world 100 feet below the waves. If you experience the world you will be in awe of it. It is a spectacular sight to be seen.
Berner Oberland, Switzerland
9. It is something that can never be taken away from you.
Having a nice house, car, or clothes is nice, but traveling isn't something material and so once you gone somewhere and taste their food, or smelled their country or seen the beauty it’s a memory forever ingrained in you that no one can take away. Travel is the only thing you cannot buy that will make you richer. It’s not a physical good, but it’s a physical, mental and emotional experience and once you've had the experience it will stay with you forever. People and things will come and go, but memories last a lifetime.
10. It will strengthen your faith.
It’s hard to experience the world without being in complete awe of it. You will realize this world is full of billions of people, living their life, their own meaningful and important lives with their own story and history and it makes you realize there is something greater than all of us. You will witness beauty, compassion, suffering, and nature and if you are believer it will only strengthen the idea that only something greater than all of could have dreamed up such an amazing place. Standing on top of a mountain looking down to the world below one cannot help but truly know that there is a God.
To quote Mark Twain "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Travel is the best investment in your life and I can only hope that everyone gets to experience a place beyond their wildest dreams at least once in their lifetime.