Do you make travel a priority in your life? It’s easy to list off the many reasons not to travel. Expensive, difficult, don’t have the time, can’t get off work etc. But what about the reasons to travel? We have a tendency to think of travel as a luxury or an indulgence. We don’t prioritize making room for it in our lives and that’s a shame.
Travel is an amazing tool to build confidence, foster self improvement, increase our knowledge of the world and develop empathy for the people we share it with.
Allowing yourself to take a break from the grind to seek out a new experience allows you to come back to your life with a fresh perspective. Dealing with challenges on the road makes you adaptable and reinforces your ability to think on your feet and change a plan as needed. You’re pushed out of your comfort zone and forced to meet new people, especially if you happen to be traveling solo.
Travel is a wonderful thing that the average person needs more of. Here are four reasons why you should give yourself permission to get out there and explore.
We’re Overworked and Overstressed
A survey of American workers in 2013 found that 42% of employees did not take any of their available vacation days annually. I think it’s safe to assume the number would be about the same in Canada. Why are we so reluctant to take time off?
I was guilty of it too, it took me three years at my last job before I took my first vacation. I wasn’t the only one either, none of the staff took the vacation time they were entitled too. We could slap ourselves on the back and pretend it was because we were such dedicated workers, but the truth was we were afraid. Afraid of causing stress to the staff members left behind, afraid the boss would look down on us, afraid of things functioning too easily without us and maybe we wouldn’t be seen as quite so valuable.
Ridiculous. Did this make us better workers, make the boss happier or make the place run more smoothly? Nope. We were a bunch of overworked, bitter, irritated employees who spent a lot of time griping about how often the boss was on vacation. “Must be nice…” we’d complain. Yep, probably was.
We consistently undervalue self care in our society, and put so much emphasis on how hard we work. But it is doing us any good? Does it make us better at our jobs to put off our travels until ‘later’ or ‘when I have time?’
Studies consistently show that vacations improve our productivity when we return to work. When we’re refreshed and relaxed we can be more productive and creative. We can approach challenges with a new perspective and we can concentrate better. Some studies even assert that people who travel and vacation regularly enjoy better health and a reduction in the incidence of heart disease.
Develop an Appreciation for our Standard of Living
I’m a Canadian. I am extremely lucky that by accident of birth I live in a free, democratic and safe society. In this country and similar ones we enjoy a standard of living that many people in this world can only dream of. And we have a pretty consistent tendency to not appreciate those basic fundamental gifts.
We can easily get too focused on material possessions, the need to keep up with the Jones’s, the need to work more to buy more to paint a picture of more success. We forget to stop and appreciate just how privileged we are to have things as simple as running water and refrigerators. It’s just too easy to take the basics for granted.
I was deeply moved when I first saw the extensive Townships surrounding Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town itself is a modern city in every respect, affluent, good public transportation, shopping, high quality restaurants etc… but venture just outside the city and you find a level of poverty I had never seen before.
The highway I followed was stacked thick on either side for mile after mile with shacks like I’d only seen in pictures. Simple, tiny structures made of scrap wood and salvaged sheets of corrugated metal. These tiny abodes were obviously not blessed with indoor plumbing if the regularly appearing rows of outhouses were any clue.
What struck me profoundly though was the obvious sense of pride and community that radiated from this place. I saw people carefully tending their chickens and their gardens. I saw women hanging clothes out to dry on the line just so. Everyone was neatly dressed, especially the many people along the sides of the highway seeking rides into the city, people with bills in hand thrust out to passing drivers. Hitchhiking to work in the city is simply a norm here, not something you see in my neck of the woods.
I’m not advocating a voyeuristic approach to peeking at poverty to make ourselves feel better about what we have. But I do believe that it’s important to get outside of your day to day bubble, see and understand that not everyone enjoys the same privileges in this world. And it’s not for lack of intelligence, hard work, effort or dedication, it’s simply that circumstances or fate are sometimes the biggest influences in the type of life we lead and the opportunities we get.
It’s a Tool of Self Development
While the above point is perhaps a little philosophical, traveling gives you many practical benefits as well. Planning and executing any major trip, especially a solo adventure, gives you a way to exercise a broad skill set. Organizational and research skills are tested before you even leave your living room. And no matter how much planning ahead you do, something will surprise you, not go to plan or challenge you forcing you into thinking on your feet.
I’m not good at navigating. I manage to get myself lost and turned around in my own (relatively small) city all the time. So when I was traveling in South Africa I wanted to plan my driving route from Cape Town to Gansbaai carefully. The directions emailed when I booked my cabin didn’t give me enough confidence because they contained things like “drive until the road gets bumpier, then keep your eyes open for the dirt road with no sign. It’s easy to miss but look out for a bigger than average bush just before”. Since I wasn’t yet an expert on the relative vegetation sizes in this part of the world I didn’t think that was a helpful addition.
When neither Google maps or my rental cars GPS had any idea where we were going I was forced to rely on those directions. Despite my reservations, I managed just fine. I got turned around a couple times, missed a couple roads and took longer than I thought but I got there. And I realized that I’m not inherently bad at navigating, I just don’t pay enough attention to my surroundings and am overly dependent on using my GPS. It’s not that I can’t navigate, I’ve just never put any effort into developing the skill.
Traveling can bring you out of your comfort zone, sometimes way out there, but there’s nothing like it to build your confidence in yourself, your skills and your ability to manage a challenge that you might be able to defer at home.
You Realize People Everywhere are the Same
I don’t mean the same as in without uniqueness… I mean it in the way that we have a common human spirit. The basic fundamental things we want in our lives, for our children, our hopes and dreams and emotions… all those things are a common thread that bind our species wherever we are in the world.
I see too much “us vs. them” in the world today and I see a lack of understanding of lifestyles that aren’t the western norm. I think we too easily forget the essential sameness in all of us and as a traveller you quickly appreciate that simple fact.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people’s cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other we may even become friends”
– Maya Angelou
So dear readers, why is travel important to you? Are you better at your job after a break? Have you had an experience on the road that’s changed your perspective? We’d love to hear your stories!