There are many reasons that people choose to travel. To explore new places, meet new people, try new foods… The exact motivations may be varied, but, whether we realize it or not, we all travel for one basic reason: to better ourselves in some way.
Whether that betterment comes in the form of increased cultural awareness or just a nice tan, it's always there just the same.
Once upon a time, back when travel was not something accessible to most people, the wealthy and elite young men of Britain would take off around Europe for a year or two as part of an educational rite of passage.
This trip — often referred to as the “Grand Tour” — usually involved a tutor and visits to all of the culturally and historically significant places in Europe. This was back in the 1700s, folks, before the advent of modern transportation, tourist services, and Lonely Planet guidebooks.
And yet the value of travel was recognized even then.
The premise of the Grand Tour is still alive today, as evidenced by gap year travelers, students studying abroad, and even backpackers on extended round-the-world trips.
And, because the price and style of travel has changed so much between the 1700s and now, people travel in many different ways and to many other places besides.
The reason behind all of it, however, remains startlingly the same. We travel to learn; to share; to experience; to challenge ourselves. We travel, essentially, because we are in search of some form of change.
When trying to sum up the ways in which travel has significantly changed me, I kept coming back to one point:
Travel has made me more adventurous.
And we're not just talking about bungy jumping or polar plunging, either (though I've done those things, too). I'm talking about broader ways traveling around the world has made me more adventurous in all aspects of my life.
When it comes to food
Growing up, I was quite a picky eater. I didn't like sauce on my pasta or anything other than cheese on my pizza. I wouldn't try strange vegetables, and I wouldn't even drink anything that didn't look familiar. I did branch out with my eating habits as I got older, but I really didn't start getting interested in food until I started traveling.
Whereas even in college I would never dream of ordering Chinese food or going out for a curry, today I'm much more likely to choose to eat foreign foods when given the option — especially when I'm traveling.
I've eaten everything from puffin to seaweed and drank things from Brennivin to Ayran on my travels. And becoming a more adventurous eater abroad has also made me a more adventurous one at home.
I'm now the first person to suggest to friends that we check out the new Greek or Middle-Eastern place in town, or the first to volunteer to give a strange concoction a taste.
When it comes to being spontaneous
I was raised to follow the rules. With a heavy conscious, a penchant for good grades, and a cop for a father, the rules were always important to me. But, when you follow the rules to the letter all the time, you often leave little room for spontaneity.
I've said before that studying abroad in New Zealand helped me become a more laid-back person. And it definitely did. But travel in general has made me a more positive and relaxed person, too — and also a much more spontaneous one.
When you travel frequently, you begin to appreciate the beauty of the unexpected. You start realizing that things are largely outside of your control, so you stop planning so much and just go with the flow.
Not only has this made me a happier person overall, but my new-found spontaneity has also led to some of my most exciting travel stories. If I hadn't loosened up and become more open to adventure, I never would have kissed that boy in a bar or gone to the Olympics or jumped into a river in Scotland on New Year's Day. And what a shame that would have been.
When it comes to relationships
Traveling overall has given me a lot of confidence in myself. Especially as a solo traveler, I often find myself in situations where I am totally at my own mercy. I alone can decide my fate and make or break my travel experience. So I've learned how to adapt to challenges and solve problems on my own. And the result has been a lot of empowerment.
This of course has spilled over into the social part of my life, influencing all of my relationships. I am now more comfortable being the one to strike up a conversation or invite someone out for a drink or to ask to tag along on an adventure. I'm just more comfortable being ME in relationships now.
And I'm not just talking about romantic-type relationships, either (though the confidence has certainly changed those, too). ALL of my relationships — with guys, friends, family members — have been impacted by me becoming a tad bit more adventurous.
When it comes to being alone
In high school, I would have been mortified at the thought of going to a move alone or eating dinner by myself at a restaurant. These days, however, I don't even think twice.
Gaining confidence, curiosity, and a greater sense of adventure has made me perfectly content with tackling things on my own. Whether it's a whitewater rafting tour in Slovenia or a meal out in Wellington, I'm perfectly fine going it alone if no one else is around to share the experience with.
This relates back to the increased confidence in general, but traveling solo has also just made me better at being alone and enjoying my own company. It's true what they say, you know — being alone does not necessarily equal being lonely.
When it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone
The last item on this list really relates back to all the others. It is practically impossible to change or better yourself if you're unwilling to step out of the comfortable bubble that usually surrounds you in life. It's not easy to force yourself out, but, once you do, the possibilities are endless.
The more I travel, the more willing I am to challenge myself. Some of the challenges (like sleeping in a jungle or trying a new food) are just baby steps, while others (quitting my job or planning a big solo trip) are much more significant. All of them, though, push me outside of my comfort zone and help me grow; help me better myself as a person.
All of those young British men going on their Grand Tours back in the 18th century may have been traveling vastly differently than I travel today. But, at the end of the day, they probably learned many of the same lessons about life as I have. Ultimately, we're all traveling in search of the same things. Change. Clarity. Knowledge.
And, of course, adventure.
Has traveling made YOU more adventurous?