I recently signed up for Spanish lessons. I’ve been meaning to study Spanish for almost 30 years now, but for some reason, it was always one of those things that fell to the bottom of my priority list.
That is, until now. My enrollment in the class was inspired by a trip to Antarctica in March. I traveled to the White Continent by way of Argentina, and it was there—surrounded by Spanish-speaking people—that I was reminded of that long-lost dream to expand my language skills.
I have no plans, at the moment, to travel to any other Spanish-speaking nation. Yet, I still signed up for the lessons. That fact makes me think that travel has a way of affecting our lives—not only while we’re on the trips or when we’re talking about them when we get back—in ways that are far more subtle and long-lasting than we often initially realize.
So, I came up with a list of 11 ways that I think travel can positively affect your life, long after you return home. See if you agree with me, and then let me know what you think I left out of the list:
1) You ignite your passion for learning. In my case, a trip to Antarctica was the impetus I needed to finally sign up for learning another language. You might find that a cruise to the Galapagos motivates you to become more adept at snorkeling or that a paddling trip in Portugal fires a desire to improve your kayaking competence.
2) You become more inventive. One of the best tips I ever learned was from a guide, who showed me that outdoor gear doesn’t have to be expensive to work well. Lining your backpack with a plastic garbage bag keeps your things super dry in the event of a rainstorm. While there’s no doubt that dry sacks are awesome, in a pinch a garbage bag does the trick—and it’s lightweight and cheap, to boot.
3) You expand your palate. Once, on a tour to Greenland, I visited an Inuit community and happily agreed to taste the traditional foods offered, including raw whale blubber, dried cod and simmered seal stew. Although you may not politically agree with my choice to partake, it certainly did give me a taste—literally and figuratively—for Greenland’s native culture.
4) You exercise your imagination. One of the best things about embarking on a travel adventure is that you can shed your familiar skin for a while and pretend to be anything you want to be—before you take a drastic and permanent step. It’s fun to engage in a game of: Who would I be if I lived there?
5) You begin to see people in a multidimensional way. Upon meeting someone new, we usually try to find out two salient facts about the person within the first 30 seconds of being introduced: his or her name and what he or she does for a living. That defines who a person is for most of us. But on a trip to New Zealand a few years ago, I learned that the Maori would ask five questions of the people they newly met. While finding out a person’s name was one of the five, asking an individual what his or her occupation was didn’t even number in the count. After your name, the Maori wanted to know what’s your mountain, what your river is, who is your grandmother and—perhaps most important of all—what is your canoe.
6) You grow your family traditions. By taking us out of our ordinary settings and routines, travel has a way of connecting generations by placing people together on new, neutral grounds. Some travel traditions are born big and grand, such as when a couple goes on an African safari for a honeymoon and then decides to celebrate each wedding anniversary with the same kind of expedition. Other traditions wind up on the smaller side, such as visiting a national park every year.
7) You gain a tolerance for uncertainty. When you travel, things don’t always go as planned. Placing yourself in such situations helps you learn to cope with the uncertainties in life. And we all know there is no shortage of those.
8) You find your philanthropic side. When all you ever experience is your neighborhood or city, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big world out there. Travel opens your eyes to what’s happening in other places and how those events could eventually affect you in your hometown, too. Helping those in need across the planet and saving places never seen takes on urgency and a personal meaning.
9) You get a bigger brain. Travel typically involves walking of some kind, whether it’s through museums or out on the trail. Research has shown that hiking or walking grows brains. Typically, your hippocampus gets smaller once you hit your mid 50s, leading to memory loss. But a group of middle-aged adults that took three, 45-minute walks a week for a year grew their hippocampi, on average, by 2 percent, which could improve their retention for years.
10) You realize nonhuman animals are smarter than you thought. Wildlife travel tours provide many “teaching moments,” but the lessons that seem to stick with us the most are our own observations of the intelligent behavior displayed by beings other than ourselves.
11) You come to believe in the power of song. Sometimes, only the right words set to music can convince a bison to return to its ancestral lands.
And that just might be the most profound travel change of all.
How has a travel experience changed your life? Let me know, below.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,