Travel is not only a great form of education about history, architecture, and cultures; it also leads to a great deal of personal growth. In fact, longer-term travel could be one of the best emotionally healthy things you can do. I’ve been traveling non-stop for over 8 years and the person who I am now is not the same person who started this journey as in 2006. I didn’t originally set out to do anything more than see sites, take some adventures, and get time away from my mind-numbing routine and job to re-energize. However, I realize that I’ve actually changed my mindset in many ways since I started traveling. In addition to getting much better at geography, knowing history, and understanding cultures – travel has also taught me a few things about myself.
After living out of a suitcase for years, I can safely say that I have mastered the art of living with less. I went from thinking I needed a whole bunch of stuff, to barely needing anything. Now it amazes and confuses me when I come back to the US and see these huge homes with 4 car garages, and massive square footage. I look at it and think – why do we need all of that? I have found that the simpler I live and the less I have, the happier I am.
I see this all over the world in various culture – people with less seem happier. Other cultures are not about consumption, but they are about providing or only using what they really need. This is why Mongolia is one of my favorite countries – they live one of the simplest lifestyles in the world. Their home is a ger (tent) without plumbing or any interior walls. They heard livestock to make a living and provide for themselves. Granted – I’m not ready to retire to a ger, however I have learned that there is a benefit to having less.
2. Appreciating the Real Thing
I took a bite of papadam in Delhi to stave off my hunger until our real meal came. Light and crispy, it tasted similar to what I had in NYC restaurants many times before. However after a few seconds went by all of a sudden it hit me – my mouth was on fire! This is definitely not what they serve in NYC I thought as I tried to douse the fire with water.
Pretty much every cuisine I’ve tried in the US is good, but eating the original is always better. The herbs you get with your Pho in Vietnam are different than anything you’ll find in Vietnamese restaurants in the States. The food in Thailand is MUCH more spicy than what we are used to in America. And no matter how much Indian food you’ve had in America, you’ll arrive in India and there will be a million different types of food you’ve never even heard of!
You don’t really know a country’s food until you get there and eat it in that country!
3. Don’t Judge
One of my favorite things about travel is that I’m surprised practically every day by something that challenges my assumptions of right and wrong. The first time I saw people praying in a mosque I was enthralled and it left me rethinking about all of the preconceived thoughts and ideas I had about the Muslim culture based on what I was exposed to in the US.
Or maybe it’s easy to see a bunch of young men riding on top of a bus in Nepal with a herd of goats and immediately judge the situation as backwards and unsafe, but travel has taught me not to judge, but instead appreciate things and form my own opinions based on my experiences – not the media.
4. I Am More Brave Than I Ever Thought
You don’t really know what you are capable of until you are forced to get out of your routine and comfort zone. And travel will most definitely take you out of your comfort zone – it’s up to you how far you want to push yourself.
Over the years I found myself driving in foreign lands such as Kazakhstan and Mongolia on roads and in conditions that I never thought were possible.
I drove a Rickshaw across India unsupported and I have been conquering my fear of heights regularly as I hike, up mountains, abseil down waterfalls, and kayak rough waters all over the world. I often think, “who is this thrill seeking woman I’ve become?”
5. Ditch the Plans
As I think about all of my travel experiences for the last 8 years, there is one consistent trait that makes something a GREAT experience – it’s the ones I never saw coming; the times where I ditched my plan and just went with the flow.
The time I had lunch at a restaurant in Spain and decided to accept the Chef’s offer to come with him to a tapa’s event that night; ending up in the middle of a fabulous local food experience.
I never would have found on my own. Or the time when I decided to say yes to having a drink with someone that then led to surfing lessons in Sri Lanka. Or when I decided to ditch my work and take up my fellow traveler’s offer to come with them to the Milonga Club in Buenos Aires. I’ve done a lot of great tours around the world, but the best experiences are the ones that are unplanned.
6. A Smile is the Best Icebreaker in the World
I don’t speak another language besides English, but that doesn’t stop me from traveling. My best form of communication is always a smile and it works all around the world.
About the Author: Sherry Ott is a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. She travels to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography.