I recently read an article with the title, “Traveling Doesn’t Make You a Better Person.” The first time I skimmed it, I dismissed the idea because I may have misunderstood the author’s intended message. I read it as, “traveling can’t change you and doesn’t ever make you a better person.” And like the author’s reaction to a friend who made a similar comment, I was stunned and perhaps a little put-off by it. However, a proper read-through clarified what I think the author was trying to say. (The title of the article is perhaps a little misleading.) My interpretation of the overall message is that traveling doesn’t automatically make you a better person since it depends on how you travel, and traveling doesn’t make you better than someone who doesn’t travel. I wholeheartedly agree with that on both accounts.
It got me thinking about moments in my own travels so far and I was able to identify a few special experiences that did change me as a person. In general, travel makes me a better version of myself simply because traveling makes me so happy, but there have been a few moments that altered me in a very specific way. And I’m not even talking about my scars from various bug bites or injuries, or the pounds I have inevitably gained enjoying international cuisines.
Ah, my first trip outside of North America. I suspect you’d have a hard time finding someone bitten by the travel bug who wasn’t changed by their first trip overseas. I went to visit my parents who were living in England at the time, and I was mesmerized by the entire country. I’ve always had wanderlust on some level, but this trip introduced me to what it actually feels like to see and photograph far away places. Despite coming down with a horrible cold while I was there, I remember my magical trip to England with a very full heart and my love for travel has grown exponentially since then.
Hawaii, Switzerland, and Italy 2004
Thanks to Chris’s job at the time, I had the opportunity to tag along on a couple of conferences in fantastic locations: Hawaii and Switzerland. While Chris worked during the day on these trips, I set out on my own to explore and had some independent moments that allowed me to grow as a traveler. Oahu felt easy enough to navigate and it was a good starting point for a solo adventure. I rented a car and felt perfectly comfortable driving around the island alone during the day. In Switzerland, I wandered around Lugano by myself, shopping, eating, and navigating public transportation. On an overnight trip to Gimmelwald, I ended up taking the most peaceful, solitary hike where I was dwarfed by the surrounding Alps. And since the Italy border was so close to Lugano, I even hopped over to Milan for a day on my own.
Aside from a few potentially scary moments (getting lost on a mountain, wrestling my camera away from a stranger, etc.), these independent experiences gave me confidence as a traveler. I learned about navigation and safety in ways that will stick with me in my travel tool belt forever. Chris is my dream travel partner and I’m so very thankful to share adventures with him for the rest of our lives, but I’m also glad I had the opportunity to do some solo travel, albeit brief and on a small scale.
Colorado, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania 2012
“Let’s go snowboarding while we’re in Colorado,” he said. “It’ll be fun,” he said. Never have I ever attempted to do something with such a steep learning curve. I heard from plenty of people beforehand that snowboarding is difficult to learn, but I needed to see for myself. I had been skiing once before and picked it up pretty quickly, so how much different could snowboarding be? Answer: completely different. I spent more time on my tailbone than standing up during my half-day lesson in Colorado.
It took four more tries – one trip to Snowshoe, West Virginia and three visits to Whitetail Ski Resort in Pennsylvania – before I got the hang of it. I’m a little stubborn in general (let’s call it persistent), but learning to snowboard really put my perseverance to the test. We can all use a good never-give-up lesson now and then, can’t we? I stuck with it through some really painful injuries. I didn’t give up despite how much it hurt my body and my pride. Then one day things suddenly clicked and I managed to link turns. That was a very proud moment! Now whenever I’m faced with a difficult task, I use snowboarding as the benchmark. Most things are easier to learn than snowboarding, so that helps keep it all in perspective.
Tortola and Virgin Gorda 2013
I realize it might sound a little silly when I say that snorkeling changed me, but it did! And it happened on our trip to Tortola. I had attempted snorkeling a couple of times prior to this trip, and both times I got scared and didn’t last very long in the water. This was the trip where I vowed not to chicken out and I bravely faced my life-long ocean creature fears. Our island-hopping day trip to the Baths of Virgin Gorda was the perfect place for me to realize why other people love snorkeling so much. The water was calm, and the fish were colorful and friendly, and the positive experience enabled me to spend the rest of my time in Tortola happily exploring the beautiful underwater world.
Any time you step outside of your comfort zone and face a fear it’s a life-changing moment for sure, and this one led me to my next big moment…
Last but not least, my scuba diving debut in Belize earlier this year. Conquering one of my biggest fears certainly changed me and I wrote about it here. There’s nothing I was more scared to do (other than say, scuba diving at night or in a cave), so knowing that I was able to go through with it and come out perfectly unscathed makes me feel like I can face just about anything. I will always remember how I felt that day in Belize – the build-up of fear in the hours before we headed to the dive shop, the butterflies in my stomach on the dive boat, and the I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-it feeling once I was submerged and breathing underwater among the fish.
So what about you? What moments in your travels (be it local or long distance) made a life-changing impact? It can even be something as simple as putting your face in the water wearing a mask to gaze upon tropical fish!