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The Transformational Power of Travel

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey

Most of us want to travel to take a break from the pressures and routine of daily life. It gives us a reason to see new places and experience new cultures. Despite that, many of us put it off, thinking it is something we will do “when we have time” or “when we retire.” The problem with that is life can change on a dime and what we thought we might be able to do at one point in the future, sometimes simply does not happen. Life circumstances, health, relationships, family life, and work commitments change which can alter plans at any moment. We often think of travel as an indulgent experience and that money spent on travel could be spent elsewhere like paying off a home loan or buying a new car. What we fail to see is how travel contributes to our well-being, our personality, our growth, our mindset, our relationships, and to our understanding of life and humanity. Traveling has countless rewards and can be life changing in so many incredible ways.

Enhances Confidence
Traveling can take you out of your comfort zone initially because you’re having to navigate unknown territory and new environments where the customs, language, and culture can be different than your own. Having to ask for directions or realizing that one must adhere to certain rules or ways of the place that are unfamiliar can be a bit daunting. Traveling without friends or family members means you’re communicating with strangers, but once you experience this, you’ll soon realize how enjoyable this can be. It may even be the start of some new friendships.  Even in short interactions, we can learn so much about other places and people. It also goes without saying that the feeling of being able to conquer any type of intimidation or fear we might have, is empowering. This will allow you to explore even further and be open to experiences and challenges you might never have considered taking on before. A friend of mine recently shared his experience of being robbed in Bangladesh and although it was a frightening experience, learning to deal with this in a new environment, only makes one stronger. I, myself, had a shoulder injury in Istanbul and had to get to a hospital. Finding out where to go, how to get there, and how to make it through crowded streets in an unknown area has made me much more confident about handling stressful situations in unfamiliar environments. Experiencing new adventures – and challenges sometimes – means we are surpassing our ordinary way of thinking and doing, and this is why travel has the power to transform us, leading to a shift in our self-confidence level, and an increase in our risk tolerance and mental resilience.

Leads to a Better Understanding of Cultural Diversity
As Nicki Cole points out, “Culture is one of the most important concepts within sociology because sociologists recognize that it plays a crucial role in our social lives. It is important for shaping social relationships, maintaining and challenging social order, determining how we make sense of the world and our place in it, and in shaping our everyday actions and experiences in society.” Culture includes languages, foods, traditions, customs, and beliefs. However, there is much more to culture than we even realize. Cultures lead to characteristics that are formed through language, family values, practices, history, and geographic location. It is composed of both non-material and material things. The non-material aspects of culture are the values and beliefs, language, and practices that are shared in common by a group of people while the material aspect of culture includes a wide variety of things, from buildings, technological gadgets, clothing, to film, music, literature, and art, among others. Learning about other cultures can offer us different perspectives and allows us to learn something new. It can be intellectually and spiritually enriching for both our minds and souls as we understand more about the world and the people in it. Experiencing other cultures can lead to being more flexible, open-minded, tolerant, empathetic, knowledgeable, and independent. Being exposed to other cultures also helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. In addition, cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own, so that as we interact with others, we can build bridges to trust, respect, and understanding across cultures.

Builds Connections and Allows us to Make Friends
Traveling allows us to have new experiences but also to meet people around those experiences. It is amazing how one can strike up a conversation on a boat tour on the Rhine River in Germany or on a shopping trip to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or wherever it might be. Activities and excursions are a great way to meet people, and the conversations we have, and connections we make, can lead to new friendships. Social media platforms also make it easier to keep in touch allowing us to maintain those friendships. Networking opportunities may arise and in today’s world this has become even more beneficial and important. Sometimes you meet a person only once but the interaction remains with you an entire lifetime when memories are revived. I often think of a couple of people my mother and I encountered on a recent trip to Turkey. While it was two hours in our lifetime, I was struck by their immense kindness, generosity, and assistance they provided to us when needed. Give people a chance, get off the beaten path, try group tours, be flexible with plans, connect with the locals, and most of all, give yourself the opportunity to explore which can lead to beautiful connections.

Improves our Health
Many of us recognize that when we return from a vacation, we feel much more relaxed and refreshed. That’s because we remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of life and the result is an emotional response that is actually good for us. Traveling can improve both our physical and mental well-being. Travel means being physically active because you’re walking, hiking, paddle boarding, or swimming so that in itself promotes hearth health, lowers blood pressure, and builds stamina. The Forbes Travel Guide recently consulted Dr. Mehmet Oz who stated that taking vacations can lower men’s risk of death by 21 percent and mortality from cardiovascular disease by 32 percent. Among women, a lack of vacation is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and death from heart disease. Women who go on trips more frequently are less likely to become tense, depressed or tired and are happier with their marriages. Vacationing improves mood and reduces stress. This can help to detoxify any negative thoughts which in turn can also help boost productivity and creativity. Traveling takes you out of our daily routine and into new surroundings and experiences and this can reset your body and mind. It’s obvious that travel comes with a myriad of health benefits for the mind, body and soul, so book that vacation. Your health will thank you for it!

Leads to and Happiness and Satisfaction
Traveling can increase happiness and boost satisfaction level. I mean think about it. You’re away from work and the daily grind. That in itself is enough to change one’s mood and stress level. Travel allows you to get some time for yourself which is important if we are to rejuvenate and re-energize.  Experiencing novelty in terms of our environment and people we come into contact with can make us feel alive and free. In general, people are not meant to be trapped by routine but the demands of daily life can easily do this. While structure is necessary and important, so is deviating from that path from time to time to experience a fulfilling life laden with new experiences, new opportunities to learn, and for the expansion of our mind and spirit. Even the act of planning a trip can be exciting. It also gives us something to look forward to. Travelling can also enhance our inner peace and satisfaction level. For example, being away from home for a period of time can also make you appreciate home and family more. Travel can lead to giving and helping and make us feel good about ourselves.  In fact, we are now starting to see a boom in experiential travel that helps satisfy philanthropic urges. People are also now adapting a more eco friendly lifestyle and are much more environmentally aware. Acquiring new skills, knowledge, friends, moments to remember, and experiences all lead to more peace and joy.

Provides an Education
Traveling is undoubtedly a way to experience the world and gain a practical education at the same time. Most of us would agree with the value of a formal education but so much of what we learn happens outside the walls of a classroom. Travel teaches us about history, geography, sociology, economy, and language. By exploring other parts of the world, or even hidden gems in your own country, you become the adventurer and explorer. Imagine learning about indigenous texts and artifacts, styles of art, architecture, landmarks, historical conflicts, dynasties, culture, and how the lives of people were shaped by historical events. Travel teaches you not just about the world as it was in the past, but it is also one of the best ways to understand the political situation, economic scenario, and social structure of the area we visit and the world we are living in today. We also come to understand others better, but also ourselves in the process. Books can convey information and theories but there is no substitute for firsthand experience enabling us to become more insightful and wiser in the process. Travel contextualizes and brings to life what you read in books so welcome and embrace such fulfilling and life-changing experiences.

Hagia Sophia Museum, Istanbul

Enhances Personal Growth
One of the most important aspects of travel that is truly transformational is that it is your best teacher when it comes to yourself. You realize what you can handle, you become more resilient, and get to reinvent and re-evaluate yourself. You expand spiritually and intellectually and learn valuable lessons along your travels. You come across so many differences which in turn help to rethink our own ways of life. Traveling also enables you to realize your true potential and can help you discover what you really like to do with your time. Over time it has the power to reveal your true self, something you never find if you are always in the same place following the same routine. Sometimes decisions become easier to make because you have space and time to think. Travel can often provide a fresh start if you are going through a transition or recovering from a life event. So pack your suitcase because there is no better time than the present to travel. The question we now need to ask is not where we want to go next, but what do we hope to change about our lives, and then travel to make that happen.

Photo Credits: Meena Singhal

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