Monday, August 11, 2014

Does travel change you?

Does travel change you? It's certainly a theme you hear when people discuss the merits of traveling and life abroad. It's said that travel puts you in situations you wouldn't normally face at home, it forces you to live outside of your comfort zone, you meet people you wouldn't come across in your home town and gives you a glimpse into the lives of others. I can agree that all of those things are true as well as many more but has leaving home and being away for three years changed me? I'm a little skeptical but not so oblivious to think that my adventure hasn't had some impact be it conscious or unconsciously.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

The thing about change is that it happens gradually. Just as it takes time to see results after exercising for an extended period, personal growth and development take time. I think the issue I might have is with the word "change". I don't feel like I've "changed" or am considerably different from the Bert who never left North America. That Bert and this Bert still love sports, his circle of family and friends, hanging out and sleeping in. I still love laughing, going out and driving around. I doubt that anyone I'm close with would say a different Bert has returned home. My priorities are a bit different as well as where and what I think I will be doing in 5-10 years but everyone goes through that. Life changes you. Monumental moments change you. I can only imagine what getting married and starting a family would be like. I'm anticipating that to change me for the better. To put other people’s well-being and happiness in front of my own will be a massive change but one that I will welcome. I think people you love dying changes you; it did at least for me when my dad died. That changed me and I'm still not completely sure how but it made me realize this is the only shot we get so we need to decide who and what is important and strive for that. It's also made me want to be an extraordinary father and husband. I'm very excited for that part of my life to eventually start.

 “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
 The thing about change is that it's a very personal thing. An experience that might really hit home with me might not even be worth a second thought to you. Being away exposes you to more opportunities to realize what you like but might not have had access or cared to at home. For example, I had never been on a tropical island before living in Thailand. I wanted to find a secluded beach, sleep in a bungalow for a few dollars a day and sleep my days away. Little did I know that having no one around takes the fun out of it. I learned that even just having a small handful of people around somehow makes the experience better. I also never knew I loved mangos or eating fried chicken with sticky rice for breakfast until that became my reality. I didn't need to move across the world to figure out that I love cashew nut chicken or that I love teaching kids but they were opportunities that I just happened to explore because I was away. If I never would have left I still would love all the new things I love now but I just wouldn't know it. Before leaving I didn't think Asians were that attractive but that changed. Right now I wouldn't put marrying a Mexican woman on the top of my list but I'm sure living there for 4 days would change that.

 "To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
 The thing about travel is that you learn about you. There are tons of things that I've never tried but I would love doing. I've never knitted anyone a sweater or re-enacted the civil war but maybe one day a Nepalese woman will show me the ropes or that older man at the bar with the costume on will invite me along with him one day. Did travel change the fact that I enjoy these new hobbies or was I merely just exposed to these new pass times? I don't think being away fundamentally changes you. I think of it sort of like in the movie "The Mask" where Jim Carrey comes across a mask that brings out was in already deep inside him. The mask accentuates and amplifies what is already inside. When he puts on the mask he becomes more confident, charming and fun. On the other hand, the evil villain who gets hold of the mask becomes more violent and evil. The mask just exposes what's already there. Travel digs a little deeper under the surface. Kind of like an archaeologist which sort of makes me Indiana Jones. Yeah that analogy works.

 "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu
 The one caveat I can think of that I've never experienced is visiting a country or place that has been torn apart by natural disasters, war, famine or drought. I've never visited anywhere I haven't felt safe or worried where my next meal or bottle of water will come from. I can see how having an experience like that would change you and have a profound effect on your future.

While I may have changed in ways I haven't realized yet, there are a few things that I can point to that travel has helped me with. I'd say I'm more confident, happy, open minded and laid back. I'm hopefully more fun, have more stories and I've created new friendships. 
Travel helps you grow, learn and experience. It opens you up to adventure, heartbreak, joy and happiness. I don't think travel has changed me but I do think it has taught me.

 "A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”

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