“We are driven into wild rage by our luxurious lives, so that whatever does not answer our whims, arouses our anger.” –Seneca
You’re cold and tired.
Hours of walking with a heavy bag has left your back hurting and your feet aching.
You drank the last of your water hours ago, and now your throat is parched.
The cold is making it hard to think, and it will be at least another two miles until you’re back to your campsite.
You’re in a foreign land, and you barely speak enough of the language to get by.
On top of it all, you’re still jet lagged.
Anger is creeping up your spine. Every word from your traveling companion irritates you.
There, at what feels like the edge of your mental and physical limits, is where things get interesting. It’s where you’ll come face to face with who you are in the absence of comfort. It’s where travels will become a powerful teacher. Here are twelve lessons they’re eager to teach.
1. Travels will either deepen or reveal your friendships and relationships
Travels allow you to take a break from your existing friends and social circles. That break is crucial to help you see if you really miss those you left behind. When you return, you’ll either reconnect and pick up where you left off, or you may discover the friendship seems hollow. Traveling away from (and sometimes with) those you care about is vital. It will either deepen those relationships, or reveal that they were only based on something trivial like locational convenience.
2. Travels teach you what it’s like to be the minority
I just came from a dinner in a massive dining hall where my wife and I were the only white Americans. Empathy is tough, and situations where you’re the minority can help build it.
3. Travels force you to the edge of chaos
“I realized that many of the most important changes in my life had come about because of my travel experiences.” –Michael Crichton
Learning to become comfortable in situations that make others uncertain, full of worry, anxious, or crack is a skill that will help you achieve whatever you want. When travels push you to the edge of chaos, you’ll either learn to endure it, or you’ll crumble.
4. Travels animate the history of the world
You can read about the history of art, Rome, the Catholic Church, or the Vatican, but when you see them firsthand, they gain new meaning.
Staring up at the Sistine Chapel will never be the same as looking at it in a book or (sorry) viewing it through a video or VR headset. History becomes animate when you travel.
5. Travels allow you to take off the overcoat of culture
“Culture is a plot against the expansion of human consciousness.” –Terence McKenna
It is next to impossible to get any time alone in our hyper-connected world.
I stumbled onto a rare chance to travel for almost two consecutive years, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. If you put some thought into your travels, you can strategically isolate yourself and detox from culture. How poisonous is culture? You won’t know until you detox and spend some time far outside its clutches.
6. Travels offer an information technology detox
Some people say they’re unplugging more, but I’m not so sure they actually do it. Travels force you to experience limited internet connectivity. It also becomes a pain to take all of your devices with you, so you have to fast temporarily from them.
Or… sometimes a giant wave might tear you off a pier, along with your smartphone. Either way, travels will help rip digital technologies away from you, and teach you to sit still and look at the world without technology telling you what to think about it.
7. Travels conjure MUSHIN
Mushin is a Zen expression that translates to, “the mind without mind.” This is a place where the most effective and effortless actions flow naturally.
“Mushin is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego during combat or everyday life. There is an absence of discursive thought and judgment, so the person is totally free to act and react towards an opponent without hesitation and without disturbance from such thoughts.” –Wikipedia
If you get lost traveling, moving, and immersed in another culture, you might find yourself entering states of mushin without effort.
8. Travels free your mind to consider new possibilities (like moving across the country)
I mean this literally and figuratively. Traveling exposes the idea that you’re never actually “stuck” anywhere. You don’t have to stay in the same house, job, relationship, or spatial area forever. The more you travel, the more you discover that you’re free to move your “permanent residence” (a great term from our good ole’ friend, culture) as much or as little as you see fit.
9. Travels will help you explore “time”
“Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.” –Joseph Campbell
Travels aren’t fun if you spend the whole trip looking forward to the next thing. They force you into the present moment like few things can. When a trip is so good you don’t want it to end, you’re free to revel in the present moment.
10. Travels heighten your senses
When you have to watch your back, or are in a strange country, senses come online that you didn’t know you had.
Hyper vigilance becomes a reality. Your imagination will begin warning you of possible scenarios and flood your mind with ideas to protect yourself.
You’ll be able to think in stages, and rapidly cycle through hypothetical scenarios of, “if this happened, I’d do that.” Traveling will teach you how to imagine in a way that most professors of game theory can only dream of.
11. Travels build your character
When you travel outside of comfort, you’ll be forced into situations where you don’t have immediate stimulation and gratification.
You can only see how you’ll react in those situations if you’re courageous enough to explore them. When you’re far outside your comfort zones and routines, you’ll find out what you’re really like.
12. Travels offer a real opportunity to connect with your traveling companion
The first trip my girlfriend and I went on took us to a remote corner of the world. When we arrived, the local guide we hired to meet us at the docks never showed up. We eventually found a ride to our, “eco hotel.”
“Too steep,” the driver yelled, as he pulled over on the side of the cliff road and began unloading our luggage. At the foot of a mountain, we looked up the huge gravel hill and began hiking with luggage the rest of the way. It was muggy and humid, and by the time we made it made to our small room (hut on stilts with netting for walls), we were both frustrated. We couldn’t believe that our guide had completely blown us off. We settled into the bed in our room. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we noticed that the ceiling beams looked like they were moving. I flicked on the lantern. Geckos of all different sizes were crawling along the beams. I thought this might be the end of our relationship.
“They’re adorable!” she laughed. “Look at their little feet!”
I sighed with relief and smiled.
“This is the best trip I’ve ever been on,” she said, and she turned off the lantern. She’s now my wife.
The best stuff happens when you leave the familiar, and adventure out into the unknown.
Good teachers are hard to find, but travels are always ready to teach.
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