“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it” - Samuel Johnson
After spending the summer of 2008 living and working in London, I became hooked. Eight weeks gave me a small taste, and I wanted much more. The bus trips to Oxford and Bristol, weekend trips to Ireland and Spain, and all the days spent in London. The people, the food, the art, the culture. It was all brand new to me, and I loved it. So what exactly makes traveling so great? Here are a few of my top reasons.
Learning the culture
Growing up in a small Midwest town, I never could’ve imagined the world outside the US (or even on the west or east coasts). You see things on TV, but you never really know if it’s real or true. Our big trips were to Florida and Colorado and South Dakota. No doubt that we visited some great places, but the culture is relatively very similar to the Midwest.
Once out of the US, I started seeing that things were so much different in other cultures. American football was almost unheard of in many countries. This is a sport that was followed very closely by most of the people I knew, but people couldn’t care less in London. With an open mind, I began watching soccer to try to see what was the big deal. Eventually, I saw their point of view and absolutely loved the different aspects of soccer. And this isn’t just with sports…it’s with public transportation, family relationships, work/life balance, etc. People’s views of the world are greatly shaped by where they grew up. Traveling provides the chance to step inside the culture and truly understand why people think and act a certain way.
Bangers and mash, Spanish potato tortilla, ceviche, Czech goulash and dumplings, guineau pig, bull testicle soup…I would’ve never had the chance to try many of these if I hadn’t been traveling. As Anthony Bourdain can attest, food gives you a real look into the culture. Food is what brings people together. A two hour, five course meal with an Italian family, a French bakery on the corner, street food in Peru. Eating is a significant part of our lives (we do need it to survive, after all!), and each country eats different foods in different ways. In most countries, the food has stayed relatively the same throughout hundreds of years. The Incans grew a lot of potatoes and rice, so you’ll still find that in the Andes. The Midwest has been a huge producer of corn, and we still eat a lot of corn today. Food is another way to see the way of life of the locals.
Although customs and cultures may vary greatly, the people are scarily very similar. My Peruvian host mother in Ollantaytambo had the same qualities as many people I know in the US. She worried about me the way my own mother would worry. A Couchsurfer I met in the Czech Republic reminds me of a friend from home. Most importantly, the generosity and kindness of people all over the world is the same. Whether it’s an American businessman/woman, a local shop owner in Bolivia, or a waiter at a restaurant in Budapest, most of us have this natural care for each other…this sense of kindness mixed with curiosity. I’ve found that almost all Couchsurfers have this, and that is why I keep going back. Meeting these people while traveling has made me very optimistic about the world and humanity.
If you open your ears and are truly interested, people will share their stories. Even if it’s someone on the bus or at the market, listen intently and ask questions and the other person will open up. The stories you hear are priceless, and I guarantee you will learn something new. You will learn about some opportunity out there, or why a culture is as it is, or just why someone may act the way they do. Take the time and energy to be a good listener, and you will learn more than you could ever imagine.
Traveling is an adventure. In our daily lives, most of us could give a pretty good projection of how tomorrow will go. We have things scheduled, we know the exact way to get to somewhere, and we know who we will probably be communicating with. When traveling, that all goes out the door. You may have a plan, but something will become complicated and unexpectedly throw off the plan. If you are going to really enjoy traveling, you must change all expectations for the day and just go with the flow.
You must travel with an open mind and take in all the little details of the world around you. Watch closely how the elderly Spanish men in the park are smoking cigarettes while playing chess. Look at all the fine details on the typical Peruvian clothes. Look down on the beautiful surrounding mountains from the top of Mt. Evans in Colorado. Force yourself to interact with the storekeeper who doesn’t speak your language, and show your skill of body language to explain what you want.
It doesn’t matter where you go; traveling is always an adventure. All you have to do is step out of the comforts of the daily life, open up your mind, and go with the flow. No doubt you will create memories lasting a lifetime and have a few awesome stories to tell.