When is the last time you experienced something new? I don’t mean a new donut at Tim Hortons or a new pair of shoes, I mean something truly new and exciting. Do you remember how it made you feel? Nervous? Full of adrenaline? A bit of both? Either way, I am willing to bet it made you feel alive. Now I don’t know about you, but that is the feeling I find myself constantly seeking. I would not consider myself a thrill seeker, and I don’t need to bungee jump off a bridge to get the feeling I’m talking about. The feeling I am referring to is the one that makes you stop and say to yourself: “Damn, this life is awesome”. I have experienced it while standing atop a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean in Italy, building a house in a countryside town in El Salvador and while sitting on a patio with my friends enjoy a cold pint.
While these circumstances are extremely different, there is one very important common element they all share. These moments are now pictures on my wall instead of dreams in my head because somewhere along the line I decided the fear of new things wouldn’t stop me from experiencing life.
I grew up in a small town, where things rarely changed. My friends in kindergarten graduated with me from high school and the biggest change I can remember in my time there was when they opened a bigger grocery store. I love my hometown, but for some reason I always had the urge to leave and go explore what’s out there. The most important event in my time back home came in the eleventh grade when I participated in a trip to El Salvador to build a home for a family with Habitat for Humanity. I would be lying if I didn’t say that applying for this trip scared the crap out of me. I had barely been outside my province, let alone to a foreign country.
My time spent in that country ignited a passion for travelling and an appreciation for experiencing life that I didn’t know existed until I left home. I spent the entire trip in awe of everything I saw, soaking up the landscapes, the language and the culture. From the moment the wheels of the plane touched down back in Canada, I couldn’t wait to head off on my next adventure.
Many travellers joke about the “travel bug” that bites you and then you are hooked. I believe that the need to explore new places and experiences exists in everyone, the “travel bug” just brings it out. Once you are hooked, you begin to find out why some people leave home and never come back.
It teaches you how to deal with adversity
Travelling isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it gets difficult, and you have to deal with it. Learning how to calmly deal with a missed train, overbooked hostel or lost passport teaches you a valuable skill that helps both abroad and at home. It teaches you how to overcome obstacles instead of giving up, because often giving up isn’t an option. Once you have pushed your way through a few of these walls along the way, it begins to give you a confidence in yourself that you are able to deal with the circumstances the world throws at you. This is as important for travelling as it is for life in general. You can plan every single aspect of something down to the tiniest details. While planning is important, there is always going to be a wild card. The most successful people are the ones who have the confidence to deal with curveballs as they come.
You learn how to meet new people
In a world full of social media and text messaging, people tend to get to know eachother via words on a screen versus actual face to face interaction. The skill of walking up to someone and introducing yourself is becoming more and more rare amongst people, especially young people. Travelling, especially alone, forces you to interact with others outside the confines of the digital world. Personally, meeting new people from all over the world is my favourite part about travelling. Locals, travellers from other countries and even fellow Canadians met on the road became some of the best memories and experiences of my travels. Some people you meet, you will never see or hear from again, and others can become lifelong friends. It’s like networking except instead of for careers, it’s for adventure. The ability to introduce yourself to a complete stranger and find things in common is one of the most beneficial human characteristics you can have. It helps with careers, making new friends and who knows, maybe it’ll help you find that special someone someday. As children we were able to make friends with anyone, and somehow through the awkward teenager years we seem to forget how. Putting yourself outside your comfort zone in a city by yourself means working up the courage to say hello to someone you’ve never met. While in Prague, I made friends with another traveller simply by giving him one of the extra beers I had so he could participate in the drinking game we were playing in the hostel. I have coined this term as the “friend beer” and I would highly recommend it as a method of meeting new people.
You learn to see the world in a different light
When people are at home, they often become immune to all the world around them has to offer. I grew up half an hour from Niagara Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. To me, it has become associated with tourist traps, expensive gimmicks like haunted houses, and a general urge to avoid it at all costs during the summer. Every once in a while a friend will come to visit who has never seen the falls, and they are in awe of it. It always takes one of these visitors to remind me what an incredible wonder of the world I have not far from my front door. Travelling the world teaches you to open your eyes and absorb your surroundings rather than go through life with tunnel vision. What’s the point of spending a week in Florence if you don’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of the architecture and the atmosphere of the city? The same can be said for being at home. A city like Toronto is as vibrant, diverse and exciting as any city in the world and has so much to offer if you can learn to open your eyes to see it.
Leaving your home is a scary and exciting adventure. Some people will do it once and never again, others will leave and never come back. The important thing to consider, is that no time spent learning about another culture or another place in this amazing world will ever truly be a waste. You will end up learning something about yourself, other people or the world that will change your point of view. Whether it makes you yearn for more adventure, or appreciate the comforts of home, seeing more of this world than our own backyards is a certainty to make you stop and say “damn, this life is awesome”.