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How Has Travel Affected Your Life?

Tom asked me what lasting impact travel has had on my life.

I thought it was an interesting question. After I came home from Norway (country 193/193), I did a number of radio interviews where the host asked me similar things.

I didn’t always know how to answer these questions. I usually ended up saying something trite (“It’s been amazing!”) before realizing that the better solution was to tell a few stories. I may not be able to sum everything up in a pithy response, I reasoned, but I can talk about the people I met in Pakistan or that midnight train to Tbilisi.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that travel has had a tremendous impact on my life. It’s hard to know where to begin, but I’d point to a few overall categories.

General knowledge. I’m certainly not an expert on every country or region, but I do have a decent surface knowledge of most parts of the planet. I could quickly name the capital city for just about every country (after all, I’ve probably been there). I’m no specialist but I do know a little about almost everywhere.

More importantly, I’m pretty sure I could land anywhere and be able to quickly figure things out.

A mix of restlessness and contentment. I’ve learned through travel that you can be at peace wherever you are or you can be restless wherever you are. I’m often a bit of both. I like being on the go. Before I come home from a trip I start planning the next one.

I like having a lot of projects, even when the overload causes stress elsewhere in my life.

Some amount of cross-cultural awareness. I make a lot of mistakes, but I like to think I’m generally aware of how to behave in different settings. I’ve introduced a number of “foreign” practices into my life at home and around the world. I hand people business cards with two hands (Japan), I don’t wear shoes in my house (much of Asia), and my favorite meals are Indian or Pakistani.

At the same time I haven’t fundamentally changed much about who I am. I think that’s okay, too.

Courage. Probably the most important way that travel has impacted my life is that it’s brought me courage. I’m a worrier by nature, even when things are going well. Through travel, though, I learned that things will usually be okay—and even when they won’t, I can regroup and keep making progress another way.

I’ve learned as much from the mistakes and misadventures as I have from the times that everything went as planned. I can’t imagine what I’d be doing if I hadn’t pursued life outside my doors and beyond my comfort zone.

How about you—how has travel affected your life?

Comments here.

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    49 Comments

    • Mary Kate says:

      Best education ever….travel. Best way to understand and empathize with people and learn their cultures. Best way to realize why water
      must be conserved and valued. Best way to appreciate nature and wildlife. Best way to appreciate your own country and how to make
      it better. Best way to learn not to be judgemental. Best way to want to make a difference and do something worthwhile when travel.

    • Quade Baxter says:

      While I have nowhere near the milage as your travels, mine have been spread over more years. I find that travel is the best cure to what ails me in the general sense. I am about 6 months into a life of living the vagabond life abroad, and stress had left my world(about 95% at least). And I have taken to living healthier, from the exercise of not driving everywhere, plus eating fresh foods instead of cardboard food like in the past.
      I can truly say I am a new man, because of travel…and 30 lbs lighter to boot!

    • Nine says:

      On 26 March it will be four years since I left my home, though I didn’t realise that I would be away for so long. Travel has taught me to constantly make and recalibrate back-up plans, to have faith that I will basically be okay, as long as I’m somewhat streetwise and trust my instincts. It’s increased my confidence in myself and my abilities, and made me feel at home anywhere.

    • Glenyse says:

      Traveling to other countries made me more accepting of people who come from other countries and culturally have to adjust to being in the United States.

      I was that impatient chick that had an attitude when trying to explain something in English to people who didn’t have a good command of language, for instance, when someone needed directions. Traveling taught me that those shoes fit me just as well when I am in a country where I don’t know the language or customs. I struggled heavily the first time I went to France…but it was because I had not yet learned to relax, learn a little of the language and drop expectations.

      Travel has also taught me to be more open-minded….many of my off-the-chart travel experiences involved saying yes to something that you could never find in a travel book or on a travel blog.

      Patience, acceptance and the ability to relax and go with the flow is just as important as my passport!

    • Carl says:

      Great post Chris!

      Amongst the many ways travel has impacted me, a few stand out:

      1) Liberation
      The first time I travelled alone many years ago and realised I could indeed travel alone happily was truly liberating. Although I wouldn’t want to travel alone all the time I also know I can should an opportunity arise to travel somewhere I really want to and I struggle to find an accomplice! This has spilled over to other areas of my life.

      2) An Increased Feeling of Being Lucky
      Especially when travelling to less developed parts of the world I am reminded how truly lucky I am to have been born where I have in the world, with the family and friends I have and how different (and harder) things could be had I been born elsewhere in the world.

      3) Expanded Self-Knowledge
      As well as an increased appreciation of other cultures, travel has improved my knowledge of me a lot.

    • The most important thing about traveling for me is experiencing the way other places actually are, not the way they are portrayed in popular media. I’ve been lucky enough to get paid to travel and interview people from other cultures and get to know what they really care about, how they see the world, etc.

      In my opinion, many (if not most) Americans suffer from the false perception of ‘American Exceptionalism’ that is simply inaccurate in many cases. Traveling to other places that are far more advanced is a great reminder that there is more to the world that what we’re served up in mainstream media.

      There is no substitute for being on the ground, observing and listening to what people truly believe. Perceptions of what certain places are like melt away when exposed to the situation on the ground. These experiences form memories that shape my view of the world, which in itself is constantly evolving.

    • Jeff Goins says:

      Like any good trip, travel has made me realize that I’m “not there yet.” I’m not finished, not quite done. And this is the miracle of being alive.

    • Janis says:

      Today, every day moments are experienced through this big beautiful global filter of travel and people I have met around the world. Their stories (challenges and triumphs), their culture ~ daily rituals, customs around meals, families, music, spiritual beliefs.

      I now see my self through a global perspective ~ truly humbling! 🙂

    • Kurt Swann says:

      Chris, I agree with the points you made and I could add this one item. One part of traveling I like is that everything is new, whether it’s something as simple as finding a place to do laundry or learning how to ride a local bus. For me, the value of travel is sometimes I’ve been able to keep that same attitude when doing ordinary tasks at home. It doesn’t work all the time because I’d still rather be folding my t-shirts in China than than at home. But travel is a good reminder to appreciate and be curious about ordinary parts of life no matter where I am. . . . Kurt

    • Ivonne says:

      Travelling has given me more options, so it’s been a lifechanger for me.
      Growing up as a city girl who never left her country until the age of 25 it was mind opener. I can’t tell how thankful I feel for travelling. It changed the way I think, the way I communicate with people and the way I express myself. It is wonderful how seeing other cultures, gives you a new perspective and approaches to all the events in your life. Not only you get to connect with other people, you also get to be part of their lives, change them, just as they transform yours. It’s a wonderful exchange of knowledge and views. Right now I can’t conceive my life without those things.

    • Travel has taught me that there are wonderful people everywhere. That hospitality is a universal tradition. That we really can all support each other and care about the well being of all people globally. travel humanizes people we have perceived to be different than us.

      Also travel has taught me to think outside the box, because being on the move, as well as seeing how other people solve problems or build culture, keeps me from getting stuck in ruts. In this way, travel has truly expanded my mind.

    • Toby says:

      I love travelling. For me, as an Aussie, travel has reinforced how incredibly fortunate I am to live where I live with the opportunities I have. I feel like one of travel’s greatest gifts is to take me out into the world and so I can look back at home more clearly.

    • Sweta says:

      Travel has changed my life in so many ways! I wrote this as I am on a 2 month adventure with my hubby and toddler. We planned to ran to the warmth in southern Spain and after a few weeks ended up in my 36th country (Portugal) as traveling keeps you spontaneous. I found love while traveling met my husband in Peru almost 10 years ago (he lived in cusco) I’ve served my ancestors in Sindh Pakistan during the floods as an American born in India which required so much courage as you speak of Chris cause their is nothing more fearful than the unknown but when you meet the world you witness the unity in all of us. My 2 y/o has been to over 10 countries and I have now built my business around my love of travel. My message is Make Your World Bigger literally and figuratively. Many people want to travel because they want freedom and adventure but the think they need an outside circumstance to give that experience and I show them they don’t! To me its about the people you mert when you travel the connections are unlike what tiy experience when you don’t expand yourself.
      When you travel you see the world with bigger eyes and suddenly a life much bigger and better becomes closer! Sweta

    • Oleg Starko says:

      If I had to pin it down, I would say that there are 4 ways in which travel impacted me a great deal:

      1) I learned to empathise with people more. If one has been to other countries, talked to people of different cultures, nations and creeds, one knows that we are different but, at our core, the same. There is no better way to open up your mind, to become kinder to and more accepting of others.

      2) I cherish human interaction and friendships a lot more, whether home-grown or forged in travels. It’s a great big world, and all we really have in it is each other. Traveling, partaking in other people’s joys and hardships – even merely bearing witness to them – helps to realise this.

      3) I have a newfound appreciation and love for my homeland. There are wealthier, more cultured, more picturesque places than my native country, but I adore it nonetheless, and wherever the road takes me, I never forger my proverbial roots.

      4) I met the love of my life in my travels. No further elaboration necessary, I’d say. 🙂

    • Vicki Hill says:

      The travel I’ve done has created a craving for more. My past trips & the travel-yet-to-be fill my mind more than anything. Obsessed-To-Go is my personal tag line! I can give up most everyTHING, realizing instead I could buy an airline ticket or tanks of road-tripping gas. When stuck at home, I constantly read travelogues, travel blogs & pour over adventure-induced photographs. I’m addicted & can’t wait for the next trip!

    • Travelling have tremendously challenged (and improved) my intuitive skills and my ability to trust in it.

      Whether it was sensing danger (and telling me that I should not board a plane during a snowstorm in Montreal), deciphering if I should really take a specific ferry across Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala (not taking the ferry is why I’m still alive today) or getting a felt sense for my environment when lost and not speaking the language (Bangkok at 2am), travelling has helped me hone my intuition and I’m forever grateful for it.

      It serves me well in business, in my travels and in everyday life.

    • Dave Delaney says:

      Were it not for my need to travel, I never would have met the love of my life. It’s funny where life takes you. I started in Toronto, traveled to Ireland, fell in love with a girl from Tennessee. We lived abroad for a number of years, moved back to Toronto, and now I live and love Nashville.

      Oh, and we have a couple of awesome kiddos too.

      Thanks Ireland! 🙂

    • Sherrie Phillips says:

      I agree with all the comments above. But the thing that resonates with me the most about travel is the amazing and unexplainable coincidences. I’ve been thinking about writing a book about the stores! For example, 3 days before I left for Ireland I had a dream about a woman showing me this odd looking poncho. The poncho itself wasn’t odd but the way it was knitted together was. About 4 days later I am on the Dingle Peninsula and turned around to see the thing I had dreamed of staring at me in a woolen shop. It was a scarf and not a poncho but it was unmistakably the item from my dream. Things like that let me know that I am where I am supposed to be! And that just scratches the surface.

    • I started traveling when my grandmother took me behind the Iron Curtain when I was 11. It was scary experience for a kid from a rural farming town, but it opened my world in ways for which I will be forever grateful. For me, travel is about self-knowledge as much as it is about knowing a place. It has built empathy and understanding in me (especially when I can stay in a place for a while), it tickles my sensory experience of the world as well as my sense of wonder, and it satisfies my explorer’s spirit. It is a full-blown addiction for me, but I’ve tried to find more-local activities that offer similar feelings. I love it!

    • Travel has freed me from having roots.

      I’ve always admired people with roots. People who live in the same place their whole life. People who have the same family they have known all along. People who know the friends they will be having lunch with in twenty years, because they live the same old story, attached to their roots.

      My life has not been like that, but in America, it’s setup to believe we should be like that.

      I tried to manufacture roots by buying a house, and getting active with my neighborhood association, and buying lots of stuff to weigh me down.

      And then, I sold it all, and started to travel.

      What I realized was that I am not meant to be rooted in one place, and I can be of greater service to the world if I travel to where the currents of life take me.

    • John Stuart says:

      Traveling changed my life and world view for the better.
      I have many stories to tell, in fact I’m writing a book on it.

    • Though I haven’t traveled near as much as some, I’ve spent enough time in other countries to reap a lot of (mostly unexpected) rewards. I think the biggest one is the ability to be comfortable with myself–by myself–and my surroundings in almost any situation or in any place. I guess it’s a certain kind of confidence, too, and an ability to communicate with people whether we speak the same language or not. A knowledge that we’re all human, all with similar needs and quirks and varieties of personalities and all that. So even in my own country–home turf–I have a better sense of peace with people and things now that I didn’t used to have thanks to all the travel.

    • Lea says:

      I didn’t travel a lot (in comparison to you – no one has either :))

      In our busy world it’s necessary to leave and come home again, to see/honour/appreciate/reconnect what the little miracles are in your home-country. That’s what I learned 🙂

    • Ray says:

      When I lived in Russia for two months with a host family, I had the surreal experience of realizing just how much of my own childhood was influenced by growing up in a third-generation Russian-American family. Suddenly situations and experiences and little family quirks made perfect sense because “OH! THAT’S where we got that from!” I had many “because we’re Russian” moments.

      My anthropological training also means I can take a wider look at my experiences abroad and explore the practical and theoretical components to them ^^

    • stacey k says:

      of the myriad lessons of travel – i’d put simplicity at the top of the list.

      on my first trip, i lugged so much STUFF along… and i ended up in remote villages in fiji, where ownership is hardly a reality. first, simplicity for the sake of mobility has leaked from my travel practices into my at-home practises. second, simplicity because of the striking absence of ‘stuff’ accumulation i’ve seen in various cultures worldwide (and i’m not even referring to those living in poverty.)

      great post, chris, and great lessons in the comments, everyone 🙂

    • Like everyone else, travel has absolutely changed me for the better. Among a million other small things, it’s made me more patient, flexible, and grateful. It really is the best education there is!

    • Paul Latta says:

      I just returned from a month in Mexico. Previously, I had only been there on day trips off of cruise ships. After being inspired by you and other life hackers, I made the move to dive in feet first.

      It was a great experience on every level. I learned a lot, saw a lot, met great people and had a blast.

      Long-term travel is a great way to recharge your soul’s battery.

      This journey has served to get me back to my writing. I used to view it as a chore but now it has become a craving.

      Looking forward to my next trip.

    • James G. says:

      When I was 25, I went on the road with a Broadway musical (crew, not cast). That was sixteen years ago. Almost two years ago, I came home, and I’ve been miserable. I don’t miss the job (mostly), but I do miss the travel.

      In September, when some other things are taken care of, I am going back on the road, this time without the job, to be with my GF, who is still touring with a musical. I can’t tell you how excited and happy (and nervous and scared) I am to be going back to traveling full time. Along with that will be building some sort of business that can be done on the road. So it’s a massive upheaval, and it’s thanks to travel, love, and re-cultivating a life I have missed.

      How has travel affected my life? I feel like I have a harder time living without it. Travel ruined being home for me, or at least it has for now. And it also allowed me to be with someone I truly care about, and never would have met otherwise.

    • Sara Young says:

      No matter where I go, it is the people that I speak with that make the most impact and have the most significant effects on my own life. The more I travel, the more I feel like the world is smaller and larger than I thought it was. I learn about myself through others and through the unique challenges that travel places on you.

    • Carole Talan says:

      Travel for me is about the people and the animals I meet. I have made lasting friendships with people of all ages and races all over the world. Knowing them and loving them has opened my eyes to experiences and cultures that I would never had discovered otherwise. And, I love animals, so finding and photographing both wildlife and domesticated animals has been a great joy. I have gone to great expense and time to cuddle koalas in Australia, sloths in Costa Rica, pandas in China, penguins in Argentina, baby cheetahs in South Africa, jaguars in Brasil, sheep in New Zealand, baby tigers in Mexico, joeys in Australia, etc. The list goes on and on. And, in each of these countries, I have made lasting friendships with people. People are more alike than they are different, and traveling affirms that.

    • Quinn says:

      My travels so far have completely re-written everything I thought about the ‘normal’ annual vacation. My wife and I have now prioritized travel in our life and actively plan more than one big vacation a year! We’re also now saving for a gap year and an extended adventure!

    • Davis Nguyen says:

      Traveling has like you Chris, helped me open my mind to different practices and ideas, expand my comfort zone, and find my values in life.

    • Dawn Petrill says:

      Travel has affected my life tremendously- has given me such a wider scope of life.
      But I think the best ones to answer this question are my kids. They are 7, 11, and 14 and we’ve traveled with them since they were tots. Their view of the world is broad and encompassing. Nothing is off limits in their minds. When they hear of countries in the news they ask, “when can we go there?” I’m so glad we’ve been able to pass down our love of travel to them (as evidenced by the fact that they’ll often ask where we’ll be going next when we are still on a trip!) and hope that they carry on that passion to future generations.

    • Patrice says:

      Traveling makes me more aware of just how fast paced and stressful my environment can be at home. When you live in a larger city…constant movement becomes the norm. Rest and relaxation has to be very intentional, and I rarely make time for it. When I travel, it always amazes me at how relaxed other cultures are – sometimes time doesn’t even seem to be MUCH of a factor. It’s always a welcome reminder to just slow down, live in the moment and enjoy the journey.

    • Rinkoo says:

      I believe traveling helps you feel at home at many places and not just one. It makes you more sensitive to other cultures as you need to adjust and not just read about on a website. It has certainly made me feel richer in terms of social and cultural wealth.

    • What a great question. I can’t wait to spend more time with the comments here and perhaps develop this on my own.

      But in a nutshell, travel has had an enormous impact on me. I consider travel my personal growth boot camp, but with a lot of pleasurable benefits like great new foods and people and art.

      I’ve gained so much appreciation for the world. I’ve gained so much confidence, especially from the year I was a nomad in Europe. I get to feed my curiosity and love of learning.

      I am humbled, I am awed. I am revealed to myself. I play the roles of student and teacher. I learn more and learn how ignorant I am.

      Travel pushes me past so many boundaries. I’m forced to be adaptive, to be fit, to be naive and savvy.

      I’m very grateful that I have the means and the desire to travel as much as I do. As you’ve said before, it’s a lifestyle choice. I choose to spend my extra money on travel, every time. Now, if only I would follow your lead and get savvy about miles….

      Thanks for leading us in so many ways around this great world of ours, Chris.

    • Ron Richter says:

      Long term travel was the best education for me. My confidence increased and I learned to organize my life in any country that I enter.

      There is a downside however. I traveled from age 25 till 28 for more than 3 years non-stop. Lived in many countries and experienced many things. It is like leaving the “Matrix”, once you do it, you can not simply go back like nothing happened. I became unemployable as I figured out that sitting in an office, working for somebody else, and starring at a computer screen while life passes by is not an option.

      This made me very depressed and I quit my “save and secure” job after 2 years. I know that I can never go back to a regular life and will have to find a way to make a living as entrepreneur. Once you travel for so long, you will become addicted and can not quit. Right now I am in Chiang Mai, with enough savings to live for at least 6 months here. Finally I am contented again.

    • David says:

      Travel changed my life. I was a very shy kid, the one that cried at the prospect of speaking in front of the class. Needless to say, my parents were shocked when at 16 I told them I wanted to apply for an exchange program that would see me live in Switzerland for 3 months. In truth, I was thinking about the chance to ski in the alps, too blinded by that dream to be afraid. Besides, I figured, the odds of being selected were pretty slim.

      Somehow I was chosen. The experience changed the way I look at everything from food (just eat what’s put in front of you), to the relative value of experiences and things. I made some good friends and decided I needed to see the rest of the world. I’ve been travelling ever since.

      Now travel is a big part of my family. In particular, I love the prospect sharing it with my 1 year old daughter (6 countries so far), even if she’s too young to remember it now. I hope to show her as much of the world as possible. I hope she learns that perspective is everything, that we are incredibly fortunate, and that a little risk is ok every now and then.

    • Anita Chase says:

      Travel has helped me not just know intellectually but truly realize how universal many of our core wants and desires are, no matter where we are from.

    • Oliver says:

      Even though I would say there’s a difference between travel and travel, I consider both to have a significant impact on life. It changes your perception and actually shapes your home as well as yourself as a person(ality). I think at a certain point travel becomes a way of life, we actually “become” while travelling…

    • Greg says:

      After traveling in 46 countries I’ve learned that 1.) there is more than one way to do things 2.) people just want to be happy 3.) things normally work out 4.) the overwhelming majority of people are nice & trustworthy 🙂

    • Patrick says:

      Chris, this is awesome! I think without a doubt, travel expanded my horizons, and taught me so much about the notion that while we return to similarities, it’s differences that should excite us and ignite in us a deep curiosity that provides purpose to our days. I wrote a little manifesto recently on our blog, and spoke about the idea of becoming a better listener of the stories I hear, and more intentional in telling those stories, particularly those of the marginalized who for too long have been told that their story somehow matters less than mine.

      If you do things right, that is to say you travel with incredible love and passion, you’ll encounter stories that yearn to be told.

      This post resonated, thank you!

    • Even though I’m by no means such an intrepid traveller as yourself Chris, travel has been an important part of my life – as has learning languages. I love to meet people on their home turf, and to see what’s important to them. I love seeing the architecture around the world, and the influences from other (colonial) countries. It’s probably a cliche, but I do believe travel broadens the mind – it helps you to see life through someone else’s eyes, and to walk around in their skin for a short time.

    • Valerie says:

      Definitely courage.

      Travel has also made me more self-aware. Who I am when I’m traveling is the purest form of me, in that all my comforts are stripped away and I’m left with my own thoughts and reactions. It’s a humbling and incredible experience!

    • Darcy says:

      This is a great list that I agree with. For me, there is a deeper value I get from travelling that I cherish the most. Travel really increases my sense of connection with the world and with each other. I love being in a historical place and imagining people long ago traversing in the same place. Walking through the streets of Paris and seeing the same streets and buildings that Chopin saw generations ago. Walking through 2000 year old homes in Pompeii and imagining somebody living there or through the market imagining the sights and sounds. I realize how connected we are to our past and the people who lived on this earth so long ago were no different than we are now. I love meeting people and immersing myself in their culture and feeling that, despite external differences, we are more alike than different. We all feel the same emotions, want the same things. I love walking through nature and realizing that we are an intricate part of it, not separate. Feeling at one with the trees and the dirt and the streams. Beyond that, travelling is great fun. Nowhere to be, adventure abound!

    • I love seeing the architecture around the world, and the influences from other (colonial) countries.

    • Elvin Torres says:

      Hi Everyone! wow! a lot inspiration here about travelling. In terms of mentors or teachers, I feel that travelling was it for me. I grew up in the Dominican Republic. Until I was fifteen all I knew was my little area/neighborhood. At fifteen I moved to NYC. An amazing culture shock. After high school in NYC, I joined the us navy. My life was transformed by travelling with the navy. Dancing flamenco in spain, eating a horse sandwich and drinking wine in italy, eating with my hands and on the floor im kuwait, drinking and driving in greece, getting a haircut, a massage and eating in turkey, taking the train in korea, eating tapas in spain, falling in love in spain. I love travelling, and I think Im getting sick because I have not done it in a while. I’m getting ready to travel the world and learn languages! I’m a traveler! I need to find a way to write stuff down this time.

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