15 Ways Traveling Long-Term Has Changed Me For the Better
Part of the reason I initially wanted to travel so badly was that I was looking for answers. I didn’t know who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do with my life, so I thought that I would get lost, shake things up a little, and find myself.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Traveling opened up a whole new can of worms and inevitably led to more questions and fewer answers but it did lead to an undeniable curiosity to keep seeking.
Despite my lack of life guidance, there are several ways that traveling long-term did change me for the better. Being on the road allowed me to learn a lot about myself. Both the things I liked, and the things I didn’t like so much. Whether it was intentional or not, some things have changed and I can’t help but reflect and acknowledge the changes I’ve observed over time.
I am a reformed shopaholic. Back in the days of my big runway dreams keeping up with the trends and wearing new outfits as often as possible was very important to me. It’s very common in the fashion community and one of the (many) reasons I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with it.
I don’t particularly love shopping anymore, I mostly see it as a way of wasting what little money I have. These days I prefer to do most of my necessity shopping online, unless it involves checking out unique/artisan/vintage shops where I do more looking than actual buying. The high street has lost its hold on me once and for all, and don’t get me started on malls.
Although I’m still broke, I look at money differently. It’s not even really about how I manage my money but about how I prioritize it. Before I make any purchase I always analyze a) can I afford this? and b) do I need this?. The answer needs to be YES to both, not just one or the other. It’s important for me to use what money I do have on things that I feel good about, and that usually involves travel more than that tiny wheel of over-priced smelly cheese. Cheese is very expensive in Vancouver.
When I do spend my money, I purchase items for their value rather than price. I’d much prefer to buy big-ticket items I will keep with me and use in the long run than many cheap-o items I discard or don’t appreciate. Good quality wool sweater I wear often and love = good purchase. Cute floral sweater than costs less but pills uncontrollably after its first wash = bad purchase. See, I’ve learned the difference and it’s especially helpful when choosing which gear I will invest in for my travels.
I no longer hoard things excessively. I used to never throw things away because at some point I knew it would come in handy. Those jeans I wore in 2004? They were flared, the zipper was about an inch long and they remained in my closet for far too many years after they no longer fit me or were acceptable to wear in public – along with a million other things I was never going to wear/use.
These days I hardly keep anything. If I don’t see an immediate use for it, it’s gone. Sometimes to my detriment, I threw out this floral duvet cover because it was old and Rory hated it only to realize a week later that it would have made the perfect beach blanket. Oh well! You win some, you lose some – and that duvet cover was taking up valued closet real estate.
I pack less – not THAT much less, but less nonetheless. I’m your typical serial over-packer but I’ve learned from discarding more items on the road than I care to admit that living light and simple is actually quite joyful. You learn to live with what you have and re-packing every couple of days is less annoying when you have fewer things. It’s not about your possessions, it’s about your experiences and it all goes back to having your few valued possessions rather than many discardable items.
Park bench, soaking wet tent, noisy hostel with a joint bar, public bus, third class Thai train, airport floor – you name it, I can sleep just about anywhere! Let’s just say I love my shut-eye, and I WILL get it with or without a plush pillow-top mattress underneath me – although it is definitely preferred. Being able to sleep means I’m less cranky and can enjoy my day-to-day life regardless of my accommodations.
I read world news. I’ve never been much of a news reader but since traveling I’ve gained an interest in what’s happening around the globe and in my own country (especially when I’m away). It helps diversify my knowledge and be less ignorant to the ever-changing world.
I have a deeper appreciation for other cultures. I find myself increasingly more interested in how people live, and why they live that way. I’m an observational and analytical person so I find that learning about other cultures helps me appreciate and empathize with foreign folk. It’s important to reserve judgement until I can properly understand the depth of why or how people do the things they do and traveling immerses me in their world. It’s a great learning experience so I try to embrace it as best I can.
I can live off beans and rice. That’s right, Starbucks is NOT necessary for survival, although I do love a good cup o’ jo. You don’t really need that much food for proper nourishment and sometimes it’s nice to remind myself that a lot of people out there have limited access to food. Discarding luxuries every now and then makes me appreciate how blessed and fortunate I really am.
I have a new-found appreciation for street food. I grew up deep in suburbia, we don’t have street food except the odd chip truck. When I first got to Asia I was bewildered by all the street food, it just looks SO unsanitary. I went a long time without trying any of it, even opting to dine in the Americanized restaurants, but when I did try some street chow my world changed. Holy moly that sh*t is good! My advice for starting out would be to go where there are lots of people eating, they’re eating there for a reason. Also, I started out going to the ones that had pictures, that way I could choose what looked appealing.
I try all the foreign restaurants. Within a ten minute walk from my apartment in Vancouver I have Japanese, Korean,Vietnamese, Thai, Mongolian, Chinese, Indian, African, Persian, Ukrainian, Italian, Irish, Spanish, Greek, Mexican, Portuguese, and probably even more restaurants that I’m missing – and guess what! I’ve tried them all.
It used to be more in my nature to frequent the chain restaurants offering up over-priced mediocre grub, but now I love going to these restaurants and eating something that I’ve never tried before. It makes me feel like I’m traveling again and it makes me a better cook. Whenever I try something I love, I like to look up a recipe for it at home and try to recreate it.
I enjoy hiking expeditions. Despite being quite the sporty child and being dragged on the occasional hike, I never did the whole wilderness camping thing. It wasn’t until I hiked to Waimanu Valley that I experienced what it’s really like to challenge and push yourself and be rewarded so graciously by nature. I’d still say I’m a novice hiker, but I do try to get a good long trek in on all my journeys these days because Mother Nature is a beautiful thing.
Whether I’m at home or on the road, I actively try to do new things. It’s very easy when you’re living somewhere to get stuck in the same old routine. When I let this happen I go stir crazy and become depressed. I have a need to be exploring and experiencing new places, it’s just what makes me happy, so I take a bike ride somewhere I’ve never been in the city, or take the bus as far out of the city as I can get or even just gander down streets in my neighbourhood that I don’t normally take. It makes a world of difference to wander aimlessly meanwhile satisfying that travel bug itch.
Despite my desire for this to be true, I no longer think I’m a mermaid. For the longest time I thought that I belonged in the water, that it was my calling and I would someday sprout fins and become one with the sea creatures. Until one day Rory urged me to try scuba diving and I thought I was going to drown, it felt so suffocating and unnatural to be underwater and still be able to breathe. My throat got dry and my goggles kept filling with water, stinging my eyes. I think I’m too claustrophobic for the underwater life. Not to say I wouldn’t try it again someday, maybe, I’m all about giving things a second chance. Except for snake soup. That was a one time only thing.
My shyness has always been detrimental to me, but since traveling I am more outgoing. I’ve come to terms with my introverted qualities, it’s part of what makes me who I am. That being said, it’s a very lonely path if you isolate yourself on the road. Part of the joys of being new places is meeting new people so I’ve had to kick myself a few times, but overall I’m less afraid to put myself out there and allow myself to be vulnerable. I am no longer intimidated to strike up conversation with someone at a bus stop or elsewhere, sometimes it can be very rewarding.
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On November 20, 2010 – two and a half months after I first left home – I started writing a travel journal. On that day I wrote,
“Lying on the beach, I can feel the warmth of the sun hitting my back and pulsing through my veins. I’m not sure where I stand in this world, or if I am even present. I’m still not sure what I want from this life, I’m not even sure if the picture is getting clearer in my head. Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? WHY? What is going to come from all of this? I am no longer seeking answers but simply asking and thinking.”
The most important thing I’ve learned is that I’m not going to find myself through travel. Travel and I get along well for the most part, but the answers I seek are within and there’s no place in the world that will be able to grant me such complex, personal revelations.
I’m part of the way there. I’ve certainly changed a lot, and overall think I’ve become a better person but there are always questions and now I know where to look for the answers.
In what ways have you changed since traveling?