Let’s say you’re thinking about taking some time off and traveling the world like we recently did.
It’s a given that you won’t come back from a world-wide walkabout as exactly same person. Some people write books about their life-changing experiences, but for most travelers, the changes are small. To friends and family, the only immediately noticeable difference will be an annoying tendency to share world travel related anecdotes. “This reminds me of the time I was grilling kangaroo meat in Australia….”
But even if you have an “ordinary” world travel experience, here are some of the ways that world travel might affect you:
- An understanding of what a huge and diverse place the world is. There is a big difference between knowing and understanding. You might know that it hurts to break your leg, but until it happens you don’t
really understand. Everyone knows that 95% of the people on this planet don’t live the USA, but until you’ve visited some of these places and seen how billions of people live their lives in very foreign ways in very foreign places, mostly indifferent to what goes on in our country, believe me, you don’t really understand.
- Softening of tightly held opinions. When you grow up in any given culture, you inherit a set of opinions that seem inviolable. Freedom of speech and the inherent superiority of the free market are ingrained for us Americans. It’s shocking to encounter entire countries full of people who live out their lives valuing things that seem strange to us, and indifferent to principles we regard as fundamental. Your opinions probably won’t change at all, but you’ll realize that there are a lot of different ways to live out your life happily, and that that is all that matters to most people. (Though maybe they would be even more happy with freedom of speech and a free market)
- A better understanding of your own culture. Somehow I had always assumed that because America is a melting pot of different cultures, that the way we do things is the just the most reasonable way, and what everyone else does is their “culture”. You might not carry around such a silly notion, but even so you’ll notice a million little things that people around the world do differently. Everything from what time we eat dinner and how we hold our silverware to what our government taxes and where new shopping centers are built, it’s all cultural.
- A long list of ways America could be improved. As you travel you will inevitably encounter ideas for how you’d like to see America change. Some things will never change – we work long hours and take insanely short vacations, it’s who we are. Others – like public transportation and an appreciation for fresh food – are objectively better and might find their way here if enough of us work at it.
- Appreciation for America. Living in the United States, you can’t help but take a lot of things for granted. Travel the world and you’ll collect a long list of things to be grateful for. Start the list off with free water at restaurants, one of hundreds of only-in-America things that you’ll miss when you travel the world.
- A Second Education. You might have thought history was boring in high school, but you won’t find it boring when you visit the places where history was made. Stand next to the massive rocks Incans built with, visit WWII concentration camps, and walk down the road – still with the same basalt paving stones! – that Julius Caesar walked down triumphantly on his return to Rome, and history is suddenly fascinating. The same thing goes for geology, geography, zoology, botany, and gastronomy. It’s the field trip of a lifetime.