Traveling is one of the best things you can do with your time and money; few things have the potential to affect your life for the better.
Not all of us see it this way though – I know I didn’t when I was growing up. For a number of reasons, I didn’t travel when I was growing up and I just didn’t see the importance in it. As a consequence, I passed up years of opportunities to travel and therefore all of the benefits travel provides, too.
I’d hate for someone else to miss out like I did! So, this article is mainly for those of you who still don’t see traveling as essential, or as a thing you’ll get around to someday.
Let’s give you what I consider the top reasons to travel so that the wishful “someday” becomes a definitive day that’s marked on your calendar.
Experiences > Material Possessions
Life should be more about the collection of experiences than the collection of things. Concentrate on spending your hard-earned cash on experience and you’ll end up happier in the long-run. More on this later.
As a tech-obsessed nerd, I’m someone who’s purchased gadget after gadget only to find that the shine wears off rather quickly and I start second-guessing my purchases within a week of buying them. The “newness happiness” lingers for a while – and then it’s gone.
When the end of the year comes around, you look back to see what you’re thankful for that year, what truly made you happy and appreciative and stood out. And, I’ll be damned if one of the first things that came to mind was ever: “One of the best days of this year – or my life, even – is the day I opened the box of…” In my experience, that's most likely lame memory.
Instead, you look back and remember the parrot that took an extended crap on you in Cancun as the photographer yelled, “Cheese!” That’s a great memory. It not only made me happy then (you know, all things considered), but it brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it.
Collect experiences, they're worth more in the long run.
There are few personal qualities in life that help as much as empathy does. From business to relationships to day-to-day communication, being able to sense and understand someone else’s perspective can really transform your life for the better. While those around you might be caught in their own thoughts and viewpoints amidst a discussion or argument, you can be the one to employ genuine empathy, actually listen, and resolve things faster. Plus, traveling can help even on an unconscious level, giving you tons of first-hand experiences with other cultures (and its people) so that you don’t have to resort to widely-held assumptions about them or that thing your friend Pete told you.
So, how can you increase your empathy to superhuman levels?
By doing, repeatedly. By radically changing your own surroundings and kicking yourself out of your comfort zone, wherever that may be.
Meet new people, share stories with them, and live among them for a period of time. See what they see, hear what they hear, and feel what they go through. The more you travel, the more chances you have to personally experience the human condition in drastically different ways.
Explore. Find a way to put yourself in front of the majestic waterfalls, pristine beaches and busy foreign cities you tend to only see on the most popular of Instagram pages, or on articles your friend (obviously not Pete) shared with you - “You have to see this…”
Explore. Discover. Find the best gelato in Italy, the best view of Manhattan, or the best bar in Spain to meet locals – go. Explore and find yourself experiencing things that go beyond words and photographs: new smells, sights, and sounds.
While it is pretty awesome to be able to see almost any thing or place on the tiny screen in your pocket, I think we all intuitively know, even before traveling extensively, that there is nothing quite like being there. And the amazing byproduct of traveling is that because you’re in a new place, your fears and inhibitions start to disappear and you naturally begin to explore new relationships, areas and ideas. A more natural and happier version of you emerges.
So… Go on then, get lost. Explore. The world is waiting for you to find it.
Have Happiness to Spare
Even outside of travel, I think life is about optimizing for long-term happiness as much as possible. It's important to concentrate on how happy something can make you over the next few months or years than in the next few minutes or hours.
This is why I believe that experiences are better than possessions (memories last a lifetime - especially if you photograph them!), empathy is so important (fewer arguments and assumptions), and exploring is necessary (new friends!). Plus, traveling isn’t only amazing in the moment and after the fact, but even anticipating a trip brings more happiness than that of a material purchase. By traveling, you create a web of laughs and smiles that envelops you from start to finish, staying with you long after the trip to share with friends and family.
From that perspective, it’s hard to argue that even the smallest trip isn’t worth it in the end.
I want you to think about that place you’ve always wanted to see, the place you’ve dreamt of visiting. Or, even just the one that you’re curious about, that you thought would be cool to see in person. (You know the one I’m talking about.) Mark the days on your calendar this year when you want to visit it and start planning. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did.