“Travelling and exploring the world teaches you more crucial and long-lasting lessons than you could ever learn in any classroom”.
A bold statement and one I fully believe to be true. And by “travelling” I don’t mean simply visiting different places, but immersing yourself in the experience of being there.
I first flew on an aeroplane when I was a mere 28 days old. My parents were never wealthy but always made sure that we had excellent summer holidays and occasional trips abroad in winter too. My thirst for adventure only grew more prominent as I aged; at 24 years old, I have visited around 25 countries. I hope this number will increase exponentially as I continue to earn/save money. For me, travelling makes you a better person – it really is as simple as that.
Regardless of what you think the purpose of life is – whether you value success and material satisfaction, or whether, like me, you believe that the meaning of life is making connections and searching for love and happiness – this statement still rings true. You might travel the entire world and then say, “you know what? Most places were crap, and all I want is a nice cosy cottage in Devon to see out my days with the girl who works at the local pub”. And that is commendable, but until you have travelled and learnt life-affirming lessons along the way, you will never realise the true capacity of your character, and therefore you will never have the maturity to properly fulfil your potential as the person, friend and companion you deserve to be.
Often, the most stubborn, close-minded, short-sighted and excessively vocal people we come across are those that have rarely left the comfortable realm of their familiar home territory and they overcompensate by forcing their arrogant opinions onto anyone in close proximity. It’s true isn’t it?
People that travel develop what I would argue are four of the most important traits in a human being: open-mindedness, humility, self-assurance and charisma. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, experiencing new things daily, learning through practical experience; it all contributes to you becoming someone who is cognisant of, and satisfied with, what they truly are, and what qualities they bring to the table. This security nurtures tolerance and understanding of other people from a range of different creeds and backgrounds.
Imagine a world where everyone would take a step back from their ideologies and attitudes (which they have picked up from their relatives, peers and celebrity role models) and instead they tried to see things from another perspective and practised the art of compromise, based on rational personal experience…what a peaceful world we would live in. Imagine if everyone tried to step into the shoes of those around them and considered a balanced argument before making their flexible conclusions. Travelling forces you to open your mind to new worlds. It teaches you to consider a world bigger than your own little bubble and it teaches you understanding of people very different to yourself, and the circumstances and motivations that influence their decisions every waking minute.
Do you really think (insert insufferable LAD’s name here) would still be posting anti-immigration statuses every 2 seconds if he had actually stepped inside a refugee camp or spent 30 seconds walking down a war-torn street in Syria?
When we travel we stop consuming media propaganda like it’s law and we start to use our own judgment and initiative to form our own opinions, based on tangible evidence, not just something we read in pollutant ‘news’ sources, such as The Sun.
Good Will Hunting, which is an impeccable film, showed us so expertly how a person can learn to kid even themselves, as they sit and preach about art and history and philosophy and the human condition. However, until you have been there and you have seen it with your own eyes and smelt it and touched it and heard it and felt the ambience and palpable energy and texture of it, then your opinion on a subject or place can only carry so much weight, as you fall into a trap of reciting opinions that someone else took the trouble to conceive for you.
I am not trying to make anyone feel self-depreciating because they haven’t been fortunate enough to be able to explore as much of the world as they like – certainly not. I just believe that there is a VAST world out there, and the more we explore of it, the more value our opinions will gain. Travelling means pushing ourselves to break free of the contrived system surrounding us, which we have been groomed for since birth.
Our society is designed to keep us quietly in the corner with just enough leisure to mistake it for pleasure, just enough gentle guidance to prevent too much critical thinking, and just enough disposable income to prevent any kind of revolution taking place. How many of us can truly say we are content with the amount of the world we have seen? David Attenborough might do a brilliant job bringing to life the splendor of the natural world but being there in real life is a whole different, delightful assault on your senses. How many of us are never going to take that leap of faith and go pursue our dreams of setting up a scuba diving company in Australia or marrying a Californian surfer? Most of us, because we have settled into a secure and comfortable existence in our home country, happy to live vicariously through fake idols we observe on TV and the Internet.
And yet when we travel we are at our most happy and we become our true selves in every sense, not the repressed shadow of ourselves that we are back home. We spread our wings and our smiles become genuine and contagious, our minds open up and drink in the glorious world around us, as we experience things that will make us smile or cry for a lifetime. And this in turn reflects onto everything we do, as we project happiness and confidence and an aura of conviction during even the most simple, everyday interactions.
Don’t fall prey to the consumerist machine – the happiest people I have EVER met didn’t have much, but they had life experience you could write an encyclopedia about. They had really lived. And how I envied them for this! When you are 90 years old and sitting on the porch writing your memoirs, the authors amongst you who went out and saw the world – those are the autobiographies I want to read. Exploration makes us interesting, refined and erudite.
Life can be brutally ugly. As Rocky’s immortal words stated, “it will beat you to your knees if you let it”. He’s painfully right. I’m sure most of you reading this can empathise in some way. I remember every single nanosecond of my mother’s final 30 hours, as I sat next to her hospital bed and watched her beautiful face fade away, breath by heaving breath. Life can be unbearably shit. Make no mistake, it can get damn ugly and it hurts and it scars you.
But it can also be wonderful. Truly wonderful. Extraordinary, inspiring, marvellous, and for a fleeting moment, it can be perfect. But that is the thing – life is fleeting. We mustn’t hide from this fact. We mustn’t be frightened of our mortality and the realisation that every passing minute brings us closer to our demise. We must use this as our drive to pursue experiences that are breathtaking and a life that is rewarding and gratifying. Bad experiences give us perspective, which allows us to fully appreciate the good bits when we manage to raise the strength to go out and find them. Heartbreak allows us to feel what love is. Sickness ensures we don’t take health for granted. Happiness won’t get handed to us on a plate, no matter how much we convince ourselves with regular Instagram updates that our relationships and jobs and lives are magnificent – until we go out and travel and take what is rightfully ours, then happiness will remain a concept, not a reality. Not even Steve Jobs or Severus Snape can get out of this life alive, so we must make an effort to live it fully, otherwise we will stagnate, without even realising it.
Travelling heals. It shows you that there is a bigger world out there than you and your issues. Try crying to a starving, traumatised, young orphan, living in a country stricken with poverty because your mum died when you were 24 years old. PERSPECTIVE. It also shows you a beauty that you will never see in your small home town. And perhaps most importantly of all, it introduces you to a rich pool of over 7 billion human beings that might just fulfill a part of you that you never even knew was unfulfilled.
That’s a whole lot of potential friends and acquaintances to make connections and lasting memories with. At the risk of disturbing our equilibrium, we avoid self-reflection to ensure self-preservation. Such internal analysis would probably reveal that the majority of us believe there are people out in the big bad world that might well enrich our lives more so than Katie from down the street or Ben from our Science class. If you love the people around you with all your heart and soul then I will be the first to congratulate you for finding happiness. I just feel that too many people settle for this idyllic, preconceived and ambiguous notion of love and true friendship, when they have in truth only met 0.000000000001% of the population.
How can we comment on whether there exists people who fulfil us in a multitude of different ways until we have travelled extensively and done the empirical research? That’s like saying you’ve only ever tried Indian takeaway in your life but arguing profusely that all other cuisines are inferior! If soulmates do exist then it’s highly unlikely yours was born in the same village as you – so go out there and find them you old romantic you.
Without travel we remain in a bubble, oblivious to the plethora of wonderful diversity that exists in a world built on foundations of stunning natural beauty and filled with talented and loving individuals with so much to offer. Travelling teaches us to be open-minded and efficient with the limited time and resources we have. It teaches us tolerance, respect, kindness, spirituality and perspective to name but a few positive traits.
Many humans in ‘developed’ cultures peer out of their dreary office windows and feel this deep yearning to runaway; that sense of ‘Wanderlust’. If that is you then I implore you to go forth and explore our wonderful Earth. Don’t settle and don’t make excuses. Become the finest person you can possibly be. That’s what I’m trying to do.
And PLEASE put down that bloody phone, stop posting on social media every 5 minutes and actually embrace and immerse yourself in your surroundings, because if you look closely enough, you will find people and things that will shape your fundamental values and alter your outlook on life profoundly.
© Francis Henderson