Throw yourself into the world and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what it throws back. – Matthew Sterne, Travel Writer
There is nothing like the feeling of tingly anticipation when you are flying to a new destination and the pilot announces that you’ll be landing shortly. A peek out the window is your first glance at the new world before you. Unknown lights twinkle below and as the plane descends the dark earth approaches. The exhaustion gives way to excitement. The ache of long hours spent airborne eases to a welcomed restlessness. You have arrived and whatever happens now will be an adventure.
Why we travel is a personal reflection on the individual. We travel for work, for a much-needed holiday, to visit faraway loved ones, to find ourselves, to lose ourselves.
There is no shortage of travel inspiration out there, but we wanted to know more about travel and its influence, from those that really know what they’re talking about. We’ve had the privilege to hear from some of today’s top travel bloggers and writers. These people don’t just know travel, they quite literally make it their business. So when they shared with us their life-changing travel experiences and the countries that have impacted their world vision the most, we took notes. A lot of notes.
We’ll be hearing from:
Why is travel at the forefront of many life-changing, horizon-broadening experiences? That excitement we experience upon arrival in a foreign land is just the beginning. As Henry Miller famously put it, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Numerous studies have shown that travel is a major trigger for personal growth. An article published last March in the Atlantic details the impact of travel on a person’s creativity, among other effects. As Adam Galinsky, a Columbia Business School Professor has found, “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.” When we are exposed to an unfamiliar environment, we are automatically and intrinsically rewiring our brain with the wash of new sounds, smells, sights and other sensations we experience through travel.
Which destination impacted your vision of the world the most?
Many of our contributors agree, the more unfamiliar you are with a place and its culture, the more likely you will experience a deeper understanding of the world, and perhaps of yourself.
Abby Roule told us how Spain changed her:
Sonja Holverson shared a similar story. As a 19-year old university student from the United States, Holverson fell in love with Hawaii’s cultural diversity during a weeklong holiday. She ended up living there for seven years:
Growing up in any Western society instills a certain ‘box set’ of beliefs. While these vary slightly from country to country, a few themes remain consistent whether you hail from Canada, Germany or the U.K. The freedom of expression, the emphasis on the individual and a high quality of life are all familiar Western concepts. These ideas, among many others are challenged when travellers experience a completely foreign culture. The majority of our contributors agree, if you desire a horizon-broadening travel experience, head east where the culture is radically different from back home.
During his time travelling through India, Matt Sterne, a South African realised:
India’s exotic mystique coupled with its cultural depth and variety have attracted conscious-minded travellers for centuries. From Kipling to Elizabeth Gilbert, India remains one of the world’s most impactful countries. In Lonely Planet’s survey of over one thousand travellers, India topped the charts, closely followed by Southeast Asia. In countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, travellers are exposed to a very different set of cultural norms. In these cultures, many travellers learn how the emphasis is on the greater community rather than the individual, and how the majority of people live without many of the conveniences we might take for granted.
Melvin Böcher, who is originally from Cologne, Germany, recalls how his trip through Indochina helped him appreciate the more important things in life:
If you’re looking for a cultural shift, it’s not always heading East where you’ll get your fix. Emily discovered Columbia in the West, with the main discovery being the huge difference between past preconceptions and reality:
Rather than cultural shifts, sometimes it’s past events that can shape the energy of a destination, as Mrs O discovered during her visit to New York City:
It’s one thing to read that 783 million people do not have access to clean water but quite another to witness it. When you see women and children queuing at the community well to pump their daily ration of water, the cold fact becomes a part of our personal narrative. Experience is life’s greatest teacher and travel exposes the traveller to unparalleled experience. When we travel we are not only experiencing a place, we are experiencing its people, and its the people who tend to have the most profound impact on us.
Perhaps travelling through Malawi or visiting Indonesia won’t change the course of your life, but it will change you in some way. You might not feel the change, it might take weeks or even years for the affects of your travels to be felt or recognised.
Travelling bravely into the unknown and embracing unfamiliar cultures and customs are important steps for broadening your world vision, but what else?
How to get the most out of travelling?
Many of our contributors’ life-changing travel experiences shared similarities. While they referred to many different destinations around the globe, in the end it didn’t matter where they went. What did matter was that their experiences shared a few essential qualities that led to personal growth and a richer understanding of the world.
Almost all of the travel bloggers and professionals touched on one vital component of life-changing travel: going at it solo. Travelling alone seemed to be more than just an occupational habit, it was recognised as a contributing factor of life-changing travel:
If the thought of travelling by yourself leaves you feeling vulnerable that’s alright, it’s a normal reaction. And it’s true you will be more vulnerable to whatever travel throws your way. Without a companion to lean on you will be forced to not step, but leap outside of your comfort zone.
Lisa Eldridge hit the nail on the head:
Asking for directions, eating a meal, exploring a city, and taking an overnight train on your own will push you to meet new people, ask for help when you need it, and understand what matters to you the most. Do you like spending more time in museums or do you prefer exploring a bustling market? Can you deal with overcrowded public transport or will you pay more money for a private cab? Do you seek out conversations with other tourists or are you drawn to the stories of locals?
Through her years of travelling for both business and pleasure Mrs. O has learned this about herself:
But what if we weren’t born with the ‘wanderlust gene’? If trekking across Mongolia or spending six months on the road in South America doesn’t sound like your cup of travel tea, no worries. Many of us are more than happy with our all-inclusive resorts and postcard worthy holidays. When asked the difference between a tourist and a traveller, none of our contributors ranked one above the other. Instead they related the inherent differences.
Is there a difference between a tourist and a traveller?
“Some want to wake up at 6am everyday – others just about make it to breakfast before it finishes. And the fact that we have so many choices makes the world so different. And interesting.” – Mrs. O
“The word “tourist” is often said with scorn, especially among those who consider themselves (ourselves) travelers. That’s elitism, and I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of it. I’m trying to get better. To me, tourists are visitors with limitations, most notably, financial, time, and personal obligations. Travelers, on the other hand, are visitors with flexibility.” – Evo
“A traveller is also a tourist, but a tourist is not a traveller. A traveller is more the individual traveller, who also likes to only book a flight without any accommodation or maybe the first few nights. They like to explore things themselves or in small groups. A typical tourist likes the comfort package tour, all arranged, inclusive tours, transfers, meals. Both can be found in the luxury and budget segment. But that’s only my two cents and in the end it does not really matter. The most important is, that people do travel and explore different destinations and cultures.” – Melvin Böcher
I’m not actually a fan of the tourist/traveller debate because it tends (on the traveller side) to be quite elitist, with many people seeming to look down on anyone they say isn’t travelling the “right” way. Plus, far too many people utter the phrase “I’m a traveller, not a tourist” whilst sitting in a backpacker bar eating a burger… which is pretty much my definition of a tourist! – Emily Luxton
“For me, a tourist is someone who is looking to visit the major monuments, tick the boxes for the “must-see” sights, and generally doesn’t venture much off the beaten path. Of course, I think this is all changing. People are more and more interested in travel blogs and “authentic” places to visit when they go to a new city. A traveller, for me is someone who enjoys finding the local spots, getting the most authentic experience, and putting themselves out there as they learn more about the destination and themselves. I’m also pretty sure that we are both tourists and travellers. How could you visit New York without visiting the Empire State Building? Or Madrid without stepping on Kilometro 0 with a wish to return one day? But at the same time, I want to go to the tapas bar where the locals eat and find the best little coffee shop in Queens. We can choose which hat to wear and enjoy them both equally.” – Abby Roule
“I don’t believe in travel identity, and I don’t think there is a certain travel “hierarchy” that distinguishes someone as a tourist versus a traveler. We are all on a journey as travelers, so whether we take a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower or choose to couchsurf and only eat where the locals do, it doesn’t make one person better at traveling than another. Travel should be able learning about the world, satisfying wanderlust, experiencing and respecting local culture and having life-changing experiences.” – Kiersten Rich
“A tourist is rich in money and the traveller is rich in time and they are both jealous of each for both. So the tourist has this mad dash for three weeks and has an incredible time whereas the traveller takes his or her time and slowly wanders the streets and chats to the locals and learns about where he or she is. This is my point – a tourist wants a holiday and a traveller wants an education. As Paul Fussell once said, “travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and the formation of the judgment. The traveller was a student of what he sought.” – Matthew Sterne
Experience teaches that it’s less important where we go but how we return; and if that is enlightened after spending time in India that’s great. And if it’s feeling refreshed after charging your batteries in an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, that’s great too. Whether you are travelling to Bhutan or Benidorm the point is to keep travelling because chances are, you will come home with your horizons broadened. How much depends on you.
Travel has the power to teach. It has the power to tear down prior belief systems and rebuild them with the tools that travel gives us; understanding, fortitude and gratitude.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchet, A Hat Full of Sky
For the full list of life-changing countries from our contributors click on their names below for full answers.
Credit and Thanks
Matthew Sterne // Blogs
…and to our very own Sarah Toth for pulling this together!