I am 36 years old and I can confidently say that my decisions to travel—to explore different countries and cultures—have been a few of the best choices I made in my life.
I am not talking about travel in the sense of “booking an all inclusive trip to the Bahamas” where you receive an ice cold lemonade upon arrival and the biggest decision of the day is whether you make that extra investment in a poolside cabana.
Now, don’t get me wrong, that sounds pretty sweet, but those aren’t the experiences in life I crave.
When I was 19 I decided to go to Haiti on a two-week mission/service trip. Not the typical place a 19-year-old is spring-breaking. I just knew I wanted to experience something more.
And I did. That trip changed my life.
So much so that I signed up to go back for six months and teach at a local school. I was immersed in the culture. I was given an opportunity to share my gifts. And, most of all, I was receiving much more than I was giving. It was not always easy. I saw what real poverty looked like for the first time, but I also saw what real joy looked like, too.
My world view at 19 years old was just being shaped and I am so thankful, 17 years later, that I chose the dirt floor of a class room with 20 absolutely gorgeous and smiling faces as my spring break that year instead of getting a tan. I can’t imagine the direction my life would have taken I had I made a different choice.
Because after that trip, everything changed. And these five principles have helped to guide and shape the person I am today.
1. The world is bigger than our iPhone screens.
Well, 20 years ago I guess you could say “back yard,” but with literally anything we want or need at our fingertips these days, some might say why travel when you can, you know, snap chat all day long. Maybe snap chatting all day long is actually keeping us from engaging and exploring the world around us.
Put the phone down—unless you are using it to book a plane ticket.
2. Traveling teaches us compassion.
My first experience traveling was visiting one of the poorest countries in the world.
From my travels to Haiti, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and of course, Costa Rica, one common thread that weaves through all of my journeys is that I have lived a very privileged existence.
The fact that I can leave my country and for the most part, go where I want, is extremely fortunate. It becomes very, very clear that no matter what country we are from or what economic status we hold, we are all one, beautiful human race.
The smiles of the children we will meet along our travels will open and melt our hearts in ways we never imagined. Their toothless grins and bare-feet will soften everything we ever thought we knew—about anything.
3. We have no excuse not too.
Nope. We do not.
Take it from me. I am 36 years old now with a nine month-old at home and a mortgage to pay. I don’t think that I can stress enough that I am so thankful I travelled while I was young (did ya get the point yet?).
There have been many late nights with my son where I find myself rocking him to sleep daydreaming about all of the adventures I have had. The things that we might think are holding us back now—money, resources, don’t have a passport, etc.—are all things to rise above and overcome. Yes, it does require putting a plan together, following through and being responsible—but the rewards we will reap and the lifetime of memories we will create are priceless.
As Nike keeps on telling us over and over again, Just Do It.
4. Being part of a global community is empowering.
Just by travelling we are elevated to this amazing status where we can immediately make a friend for life in about 10 minutes.
I have had more fun with the complete strangers I’ve met on the road, from all over the world, than with some of the friends I have had since birth! It is magical and difficult to put into words actually, but we seem to connect to friends we meet while traveling and see them as family.
It’s one of those things we need to experience to really know. Another great reason to get out there!
5. The opportunity to serve.
It may be because my first experience in travel was also my first true experience in service.
After my passport was officially stamped, I was hooked. Service, in one way or another, is a filter that I desire to live my entire life through, and it is because I took a journey and gave of myself and my talents, freely.
Teaching school on that dirt floor in Haiti, filming a documentary in Ecuador and living in Costa Rica with True Nature Education gave me the wisdom to see that living in service to others is a way of life that lives on long after we take our backpack off. It is a daily gift.
One of the greatest gifts that travel has given me is the ability to look at my life, everyday, as a journey.
We can take the spirit of traveling across distant lands and seeing things with new eyes right into our own back yard. My son will inherit my obsession for looking through a passport full of colorful stamps from places seen.
My stories and memories will live on through him and hopefully his desire to see the world and make it a better place. And that is how traveling changes us—for the better.
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Apprentice Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: via author