How Travel Has Changed Me

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We've all read the stories and heard the testimonials: Travel can be a pretty life-changing experience for a lot of people.

For some, their eyes are opened wide to new cultures and ways of life. Some fall in love — either with a place, or a person in it. Some decide that the nomadic lifestyle suits them, and abandon all semblances of their pasts. And still others return from their travels with memories and experiences that will shape and influence aspects of their lives for years to come.

Everybody travels a little bit differently, and everybody takes away something different from their travels.

Travel has changed me.

There's absolutely no doubt about it. I am not the same person I was when I graduated high school, untraveled and yet eager to see the world.

In the years since I graduated high school, a lot in my life has changed. I went to college, moved away from home, got a job, and took advantage of every possible opportunity to pack my suitcase and go out and see the world.

In high school, I dreamed of travel. I wanted to experience new cultures, maybe pick up a few phrases in a new language, and come home with tales and photos of far-off lands. But that sort of travel isn't necessarily life-changing.

Spending a week abroad is not nearly enough time to really comprehend and appreciate any one place. I, like so many other travelers, was at first obsessed with racking up all the travel experiences I possibly could, to collect them like keychains or postcards in order to display them later on my bookcase like trophies. I went bungy jumping in New Zealand. I played a marching band concert on the Great Wall of China. I ate gelato in Italy. I toured Ireland with an Irish rock band.

But none of these experiences changed me. At least, not fundamentally.

Sure, my first trip to New Zealand made me fall in love with the country. My trip to China opened my eyes up to just how very different our two cultures are. And all of my jaunts instilled within me the desire to see, do and learn more.

But my real, life-changing travel experience did not come until my senior year of college, when I decided to study abroad.

I could go on and on about the benefits of studying abroad. But why bother? So many others have already covered it. Bottom line: Study abroad is awesome, and you should do it.

Studying abroad had been something I’d wanted to do since those high school days spent daydreaming about travel. I wanted to live somewhere else for a while; get a true sense of a country that was not my own. New Zealand was a logical first choice.

I left everything behind to go to New Zealand – my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my comfy bed, the sense of security that comes along with everything that is familiar. It was terrifying, and yet liberating at the same time.

It was easily the best choice I have ever made.

Going to New Zealand was something I did solely for myself. But that meant that everything to do with the trip was also completely up to me. I traveled alone, dealt with a nightmarish housing situation on my own, and was compelled to meet new people on my own.

But, having no one to rely on except yourself forces you to approach things differently; it forces you to change. Living in New Zealand for nearly five months forced me to become more independent and self-sufficient.

It was in New Zealand that I believe I really grew into myself. Discovering something new about my host country, living abroad, or traveling often led to the discovery of something new about myself. The whole idea of “finding oneself” through travel may sound silly, but, considering the amount of learning that can take place abroad, it’s really not such a far-fetched concept.

I may not have come home from New Zealand looking any different. I didn’t return with a funny accent, new political views, or a strange diet, either. But I did come home changed in more subtle ways.

Being on my own for months left me plenty of time to contemplate a lot of things about my life. Traveling around a country that I adored made me realize that life can be about doing things you love, and not just about things you think you’re supposed to love.

Once I returned to Ohio, I realized that the epiphanies I’d had overseas were important. Though I looked and sounded like the same person who had boarded a plane five months earlier, I didn’t feel like the same person anymore.

So I decided to make some changes in my life.

I decided to focus on travel writing for my undergrad thesis. I broke up with my boyfriend. I cut ties with some friends who never had really been friends at all. Simply put, I began focusing on the things in life that I loved, and letting go of everything else.

It took travel to make me realize what I really want to get out of life. I want passion and joy and adventure, not complacency and regrets. I want to love the life I’m living; to be challenged in order to appreciate the success and good times more.

And it took my trip to New Zealand to make me realize this. It took travel to make me realize that I’m the only one who has the ability to change the course of my life. I’m the only one who can go after the things that I want.

Without a doubt, travel has changed me. Shaped me, even.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

——

Have you experienced similar transformations as the result of travel? Was there one specific moment when you realized you had changed? How are you different?

18 Comments

  • That is an amazingly moving article. I connect with so many things you mentioned ! Being away from your habits and what you know makes you realize what exactly is important – it’s only then you really know. Travelling made me grow a decade in a few months, because you only rely on yourself. If you don’t do what you gotta do, nobody else will. ”It was in New Zealand that I believe I really grew into myself.” Now that’s exactly what I’m always telling people (although I was in England).

    Now I know I couldn’t spend my life in a single place – I need to explore, to learn, to even be violent to my own comfort zone. The good part of having a home is coming back. But you gotta leave first.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving such a nice comment. 🙂 I’m glad others can relate!

      And I totally agree with that last bit — that in order to really appreciate home, you have to leave first.

  • I agree about travel and change. I think it changes all of us. Well, I think longer-term travel changes all of us. Dealing with foreign cultures over a period of time. It is a true growth experience.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..Getting my Travel Groove Back

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I think travel of any sort has the ability to lead to some sort of change — even if it’s just a small one. Even a short-term trip abroad for someone who hasn’t traveled much before can be eye-opening. It’s a big, big world out there.

  • Michael says:

    I’m sort of sad I didn’t take up the opportunity to study abroad but it didn’t occur to me then and I went to college in the states. I met some people there that had studied abroad and eventually I went with one of them over to Europe. Sense then I’ve had a bug to see more. Recently I lost my mom to cancer and she told me she regretted not seeing more in her life. I don’t plan to have those same regrets.
    Michael recently posted..Get Polarized – Sunglasses that will make you go WOW

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Sorry to hear about your mom. 🙁 I know what you mean about not wanting to have any regrets, though. That’s the main reason I studied abroad. It was something I had always wanted to do, and even though my family and friends didn’t want me to go so far away for so long, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go. Sometimes, you just have to do it, no matter what others think. Call it selfish if you want, but certain things you just have to do for yourself.

  • Jenny says:

    Travel definitely makes you more independent. When your a lone, you have nobody to rely on but yourself. It forces you to do things outside of your comfort zone and gives you insight to what you’re truly capable of!
    Jenny recently posted..Why am I considered selfish for traveling around the world

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Sometimes I think college students should be required to study abroad. Traveling on your own forces you to grow up pretty quick!

  • RossRoams says:

    You’ve put so many of my thoughts more perfectly than I could. Two months into a ten month backpacking adventure, I am changing more than I can describe. I often wonder what emotions will surround my return home. How will I feel, will I be able to return to life as I lived it before? It wasn’t bad but I don’t think I want to.

    Traveling has made me more adventurous. It is giving me the energy to seize moments and the wisdom to know which are most important to seize. I am becoming more open and accepting of uncomfortable situations. I’m also learning how to live worry free because worrying is stressfully futile. Heading back into ‘normal life’ with mantras like “No experience is a bad experience,” will change the way I live the rest of my life.

    I can’t stop smiling, especially when I realize I still have eight months of traveling to go.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It sounds like travel is treating you incredibly well, Ross. And that’s so great. I always love to read about how travel changes people – even if they don’t know it;s happening at the time. Just think how much you’ll change in 8 more months!

      There’s no doubt about it, travel certainly can be life-changing.

  • Good for you! All your sacrifices and experiences did something good for you! At least you won’t regret any of your decision right? I can personally understand your situation because people I used to live independently in a way. All challenges that I’m facing everyday makes me a better person.
    Samantha Dermot recently posted..Symptoms Of Teeth Grinding

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Samantha! And yes, all the sacrifices paid off, and I’m living with no regrets! Which is an amazing way to be able to live, if you ask me.

  • Kim says:

    Nice post Amanda! Sometimes you experience a change so profound you wonder why you return looking the same. You think you should appear different somehow, but the change is inside. The beauty of travel.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thank you, Kim! Travel can definitely be transformative. But yes, it’s always strange to come back looking the same, but feeling so much different!

  • Vicky says:

    Great article Amanda. 7:23am sitting in my home office, I am wondering how I can actually start doing what I love. I stumbled into your blog by googling some pictures for my vision board. Before I go back to work that I have been dragging myself.
    I am Korean, I was born and grew up there, I studied abroad in fact, in U.S, (I lived in Columbus OH for a couple of years too since my husband is from Marion Ohio:)) and travelled China, Taiwan and lived for about a month in Poland, travelled more Eastern Europe when I was in college, recently my husband and I went to Colombia. You know, I LOVE travelling. Like you said, one week vacation of being in another country is not enough. I want to see more. Now I am living in L.A and working for a very high demanding sales job. You can make money, but makes your life full of stress. It is not what I want to do, I don’t know how to get out and start doing what I love. Your blog post was inspiring, I want to take step forward by ‘focusing on what I love’. Although it often gets interrupted by daily work that brings you negative energy. Thanks again for the great post and I will be back for more ! 🙂

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