5 ways travel changes you FOREVER

A version of this article first appeared on Wisdom Pills


Travel is stepping outside of yourself into the unknown. It's embracing all that comes with a dramatic shift in scenery. Whether you adventure with a group of friends, a loved one, or brave the world on your own, traveling will strip you down to your authentic self.

It can be the most exhilarating and existence-affirming thing you ever do. It also has a tendency to frustrate you to tears, fill you with crushing self-doubt, and wear you down with boredom. These new highs and lows will cultivate emotional intelligence and even self-confidence as you see how much you can achieve both mentally and physically.

For me, travel has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. It’s reductive to call it a great experience.

Going home and feeling that something has changed is a huge confidence booster. Even the simplest realization that you don’t have to stay where you came from, can change everything.

Here are the 5 ways that travel helps you unwind, unlearn, and undergo a personal transformation.

1. Culture shock

Culture shock has been described as an emotional roller coaster. It’s true to some extent. Everyone experiences culture shock differently.  Some people might laugh off a few cultural differences, but the shock can paralyze others.

Being in a new country where things are different can be frustrating and disorienting. Those type-A personalities are sure to find the lack of control difficult. To get through culture shock you have to let go of the illusion of control and ditch your expectations. It could be the first time in your adult life that you feel you have no volition or voice.

Dealing with a language barrier is always challenging. At times, nothing you do seems to communicate how you feel. It's easy to feel helpless and lonely.

Small differences between home and abroad can add up quickly, making you feel homesick. Each country has their own idea about how to design a bathroom and what kinds of food is edible.

When I was in Vietnam I was constantly eating food that I wasn’t familiar with.  One day I saw that the lady I buy fruit from had red apples with “Washington” stickers on them. They were imported from the United States and expensive. I bought them anyway and they tasted like autumn back home in the Pacific Northwest. It gave me comfort and helped me to appreciate the how different the tropical fruit was in Vietnam.

Culture shock can take away your passion and make you feel overwhelmed. Simple tasks like finding a washroom, ordering a sandwich, or crossing the street become gargantuan tasks. It's draining on your energy and focus!

It’s important to take it a day at a time and not let the shock engulf you. It can be like slipping into a too-hot bath. It’s uncomfortable at first, maybe painful. But you’ll get used to it and eventually you will delight in all it has to offer.


Canadian pineapple in Vietnam


2. Find your calm

Unwinding while traveling can lead to a state of calmness more profound than you could find at home. There’s more downtime than you might expect involved in traveling. Contrary to popular Instagram feeds, travel isn’t all action all the time. There’s a lot of boredom that can follow.

Use this downtime to see what you’re like really like once you’re outside of your home. Examining what you like to do in your free time can say a lot about what satisfies you in life. What are you doing to dispel boredom? Are you still productive? Do you zone out and watch TV for 4 hours a day? Are you satisfied with that? Do you like to sit in a busy cafe and people watch or do you like to be totally alone on a beach at night?

What you do in your downtime on while traveling is often radically different from what you do at home. In your hometown, there are different expectations of how you should spend your time. Unwinding while traveling can show you where your heart lies and what makes you happy.

Some traditional travel advice is to do as the locals do. Following their patterns helps you adapt to their rhythm of life. If they are taking a siesta, you should have a nap too. Maybe you'll discover that you love a noon-time nap. It’s a surprise when you learn something new about yourself. You are flexible, open, and ever-changing.



3. Workout for your EGO

Everyday life while traveling is full of successes and failures. There are a lot of mistakes to be made and embarrassments to be had. You have to check your ego because bringing it on your trip with you is not helpful. It will hinder your ability to learn and have new experiences.

Travel opens you up. The world is big and there are other people living lives you can’t even imagine. It’s hard to be a proud traveler. You are humbled and in awe. Your self-importance is diminished by all you see around you.

It’s unproductive to be egotistical. Travel is inherently frustrating and annoyances help build character and make you more grateful.

To keep your ego in place, take a more minimalist approach to life. A lot of the times when traveling you have to adapt to live with minimal necessities. Not having your belongings with you makes you more vulnerable. You're more like your true self instead of how you contrive yourself to be.

The best way to make your ego sit at the back of the bus is by total cultural immersion. Being the only outsider easier than you think. Sometimes you need to travel only an hour away from a major city to find yourself unaided and totally alone. Here you may find yourself the center of attention.

I when I was traveling I barely went a day without someone telling me how beautiful I was. I tried to be careful not to let that inflate my ego. But no one in my city had ever come up to me and told me something like that. Still, being an outsider and feeling like a special unicorn helps push your ego to the other end of the spectrum. Your ego is in flux while traveling and testing its boundaries helps you learn about yourself.


dog in Vietnam


4. Deculturation

I thought that encountering cultural difference would make me less uptight, and I was right. After traveling I am more friendly, patient, kind, and remarkably slow to anger. Being an outsider and having others try to make you feel included makes you see that you should treat everyone with that same kindness.

Travel makes you realize who you are when you’re outside of your natural environment. It reveals what beliefs from your country you share, and what you have adopted to fit in.

Two things happen during a deculturation process; you discard what you have from your own culture that you don’t need and you pick things from the surrounding culture. For example, I highly regard equality. This is a value I share with my country. So naturally I balked at some of the patriarchal qualities of other societies. But while abroad I participated in calling out and yelling at people to get their attention in the cafes, restaurants, and markets. It was wholly against my social conditioning but it helped me fit in more.

It’s empowering to have this hands-on experience and see how thin the veil of culture is. It gives you hope that it’s changeable for the better and makes you proud of what works well.

5. Gratitude

Travelling will humble you and teach you true lessons of gratitude. It can make you feel rich even as a budget traveler.

Sometimes the gratitude is immediate, such as “I’m grateful that we don’t have open sewers in my country.” There was so much that I realized I take for granted in my everyday life. I appreciated many of my first world comforts more once they were returned to me. I never thought that I took my advantages for granted until I traveled.

I didn’t realize that I could be grateful for safety regulations and air quality control. I don’t have to worship air conditioning, being fearful and at the mercy of power outages. The cool, fresh air of home seems a lifetime away when you’re sweating it out in humidity and heat.

You can even actively practice gratitude. Either as part of a mindfulness practice or to just to brighten your day. Write in a journal at the end of the day that to record what you're grateful for. In the long term, practicing gratitude makes you feel satisfied and happy.

Looking back on my own gratefulness journal I kept while traveling, most of my entries are food related.  There were days where I was grateful for my friends. At times I was grateful for simple things like having hot water for my shower.

It’s easy to go home. Home can always be there and though some things change it will be how you left it. The FOMO is pointless.

Since I returned home, I have renewed motivation and resolve to work hard to get the life I want. I have traveling to thank for that!