It’s both funny and sad to think about how different I used to be five years ago. In the 18 months I spent navigating the separation and subsequent divorce of my first marriage, I found myself terrified of mostly everything. As someone who has long suffered from anxiety and panic attacks but who also has spent a considerable amount of time in therapy, I knew that one of the best ways to overcome my fears was to confront them head on.
It started relatively small, I guess, with trips for marathons around the United States. Although I usually met up with people in the cities I was visiting or knew someone at the race, I didn’t always. Piece by piece, as I worked my way through running each state, I gained more confidence. Eventually, I set off on my first international trip as an adult with AJ by my side – and we headed to Ireland.
Ireland is pretty spectacular. So is AJ.
Since October 2013, I’ve visited 16 countries (for a total of 19, as of this writing) and haven’t looked back. While I wouldn’t quite say I’ve become a totally different person as a result (I’m still afraid of birds, still can’t stand loud noises, and am still brutally honest most of the time), it has changed me in more ways than I ever could have imagined.
- I’ve become more compassionate. There’s a quote that says something to the effect of “You can’t hate someone once you know their story.” Basically, it’s easy to stereotype or generalize people that you don’t know, but much harder to make those claims about people you do I had a lot of assumptions in my younger years about what it took to build a life for yourself, become financially solvent, etc., but looking back, I now realize that the only thing I knew (and still know!) is what it takes for me to build a life for myself based on my circumstances. Not everyone in the United States or the world has the same opportunities. I’ve become far more compassionate and understanding about why people’s lives are what they are, for “better” or “worse,” and quelled a lot of judgement. Instead, I find myself asking “How can I help?” The athletes at Rhodes Hall High School tried to teach me how to throw the discus, so I started a drive to help them get running gear. Thanks to you, it was a huge success!
- I’ve gotten better with money. While this might seem counter-intuitive, traveling has helped me get a handle on my finances and become more responsible. Of course, that hasn’t always been the case, but I’m proud to say that today I am able to successfully budget for all my trips and not rack up any debt. I’ve learned to prioritize travel and work hard to make it happen. In my younger years, I would have said, “Screw it, I’ll just book the ticket and pay for it later.” Now, I work 3 jobs to make my travel a reality and one that I can actually afford. It all comes down to prioritization and discipline, and I have both in spades thanks to my wanderlust and the very unfortunate lesson learned of paying off a lot of credit card debt on more than one occasion. Never again! It doesn’t hurt that my flight to one of the most beautiful places in the world was only $400 round trip!
- I’ve become more spontaneous. I am a person who loves a plan. I like to know what is going to happen and when. I like to have my itinerary mapped out before I’m going somewhere, and I like to scour every single website I can find for information as much as possible before I leave. The idea of just arriving in a city and just “walking around” and “seeing what happens” was absolutely insane to me when I first started traveling, especially internationally. While I do still love a good plan from time to time, I’ve embraced spontaneity, too. I headed to the Azores and Lisbon with literally zero plans whatsoever and just figured it out when I got there, and while that was occasionally much more challenging than it needed to be, it was also a lot more fun. By contrast, my trip for Nepal is planned down to basically the hour since we are doing a trek, so that will be much more regimented. As for me and AJ’s trip to Central Europe this winter? No plan, baby. Just go. Sometimes, when you have no plan, you end up in Lisbon.
- I’ve become more trusting. In many aspects of my personality, I take after my dad. That means I was/am paranoid as hell about everything. I was not raised to be a trusting person in any sense of the word, and I have always believed in looking out for myself because I was brought up to believe that no one else would. While I think that is true in plenty of situations (buying a car, for example), I’ve also experienced so much pure, kind hearted goodness on my travels that I can’t help but place my faith in people a lot of times. Sure, I follow my gut, and I use a lot of common sense, but I’ve found that people are mostly good. There was that time in Antigua when a group of locals took me hiking, and the time in Japan when a local took pity on us and helped us find the penguin bar (exactly what it sounds like, by the way). There was the time in the Azores when a German couple let me hitchhike in their car even though I was completely soaked and covered in mud because I had no way back to my hotel. While there are plenty of people in the world who do want to hurt you and take advantage of you, it’s not most people. Not even close. And living like everyone is out to get you is exhausting, so I don’t do that anymore. Sometimes, you go hiking with strangers and they give you a t-shirt and an embroidered oven mitt!
- I’ve gained perspective. There was a point in my life where the worst thing that could possibly have happened to me was I would get pickpocketed overseas or have my camera stolen or something else equally catastrophic. Now, I take all that stuff with a grain of salt. While I’d rather not lose my fairly expensive camera, it is something I am equipped to handle. While being pickpocketed wouldn’t be ideal, I won’t be the first person it happens to or the last. And if I happen to pay the “tourist price” at a market in a poor country to a vendor who is trying to feed his family, it’s not a big deal if I’m losing out on a couple dollars. It’s just not. I’m privileged enough and fortunate enough to be able to afford these things in the first place. There are worse things that could happen than losing them. Our guide in Ecuador was worried about taking us to this market because he didn’t want our cameras to get stolen. We made it out with our cameras and this puppy.
- I’ve started caring more. A long-held cornerstone of my personality, for better or for worse, is my ability and willingness to easily detach myself from most people and things. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, it just is what it is. For most of my life, I have not been particularly emotional or compassionate – I am just good at reading social situations and determining what response they require. Traveling both domestically and internationally has helped me connect to people, places, and things in a totally different way than I ever would have before. I am substantially more emotional than I’ve ever been before. The way I’ve mourned Nicaragua? That would have been unheard of five years ago. I’ve also found that the more I care about things, the more I want to care about them. I want to feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives and in the world. I have come to enjoy the emotional roller coaster that comes with being connected, engaged, and responsive to your surroundings. This is what living is all about – really feeling and experiencing things for the first time. Travel has contributed greatly to my ability to do so. Still missing this kid and his tickle face like crazy
- I’ve become more sensitive. There was a time in my life when I prided myself on being “impossible to offend.” Any off-color joke was fine by me, and I could find humor in them all. While I do think there is something to be said for that in certain circumstances, it is not how I am anymore. I’ve become much more sensitive to bigotry, sexism, stereotyping, etc because of how many different types of people I know now. There’s a good chance that I actually know some of the people you’re telling that racist joke about, and it’s hard for me to find it funny anymore. When you love and care about people, you don’t want to hear bad things said about them, whether it’s “just a joke” or not. A lot of that stuff just hurts my heart now. Get to know people. Let them surprise you!
- I’m much more aware of my mortality. While I’ve always had a somewhat odd fixation on death and mortality, it has come into perspective even more as I have begun to travel more. I think that is because with each new place I visit, I realize how much more there is to see, and now that I have begun traveling, I know what it will take in terms of finances, time, and other factors for me to get there in the first place. Life suddenly seems even more impossibly short, and like there is no way I can possibly do or see everything I want. While I sometimes crave the relative simplicity and calmness that must come with no desire to travel, that ship has long since sailed for me. I bend over backwards to grab onto every opportunity I can find to travel because I never know when it will be my last trip or last chance. I want to make sure it’s a good one! Thanks to travel, I can now die knowing that I met Dave Matthews in a mosque in Abu Dhabi. What more do I need?
- I’m more confident. With the amount of anxiety I have, I have historically held little faith in my ability to do…well…anything Travel has helped me to realize that I am far more capable than I think. Whether it’s planning an awesome trip that my travel buddy loves, or working myself out of a sticky situation overseas, I’ve learned that I can handle myself and my own life. Panicking gets me nowhere, and while I don’t always remember that, it comes to the front of my mind a lot more often than it used to. I feel more capable of taking on tough tasks at work, challenging DIY projects at home, and of course, traveling alone than I ever felt before. My trip to the Azores might have started out awful, but it ended better than I could have imagined.
- I’m much happier. Over the past couple of years, I have started to feel like I am really, finally living my dreams and doing many of the things I want to do. While my life isn’t perfect by any means (and I struggle a lot with what I should be doing with it), I have always had the itch to travel. To know that I am really finally doing it – and doing it a lot! – is an incredible feeling. It’s impossible to be unhappy at the top of Machu Picchu, no matter how rainy it is!I count myself incredibly lucky to have learned all these lessons over the past few years, and I can’t wait to see what else travel teaches me!“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” – David Mitchell
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