There’s something about getting out into the world that changes you. It’s hard to hold onto bigotry or ego when you’re experiencing new people and finding yourself just a small speck in the world. I feel like with every trip I learn something new about myself, I grow or shrink, depending on the experience, but in the end, I’m always changed and that change is eventually good. Travel has, without a doubt, made me a better version of myself a thousand times over. And I think this is one of the reasons I love it so much: It’s accidental progress. Travel has forced me to evolve even if I didn’t mean to in a number of ways.
Travel has helped me to understand that I can’t control everything all the time and I just need to learn to be okay with it. I can’t control the weather and my flights might be late. I can’t control that one drunk pilot who just hasn’t shown up to fly the plane, and I can’t control the baby next to me that will not stop launching it’s dinosaur binky onto my laptop every five goddamn minutes. It’s a constant lesson in letting go and reframing the way that I think about things. I could lose my shit entirely, but that’s just miserable for everyone. Or, I can read a book, watch some people, take some notes, and just let things fall into place as they will eventually. The plane will eventually take off, the pilot might sober up, and the baby will fall asleep (possibly after the parents drug it with baby Benadryl). In the same vein, I’ve learned to be vulnerable. I might not know a language or the customs, I might look stupid or make mistakes, but it’s okay. In the end, the adventure is worth the moments I don’t have control over my life.
Being among people of other cultures has enriched my life in so many ways I can’t possibly even name them all. A Spanish friend taught me how to Flamenco dance in my kitchen in Florence during the summer one year, we have a Thai bidet in our bathroom in Salt Lake City, my husband and I celebrate Yalda, Noruz, Befana, and the change in seasons from the Persian and Roman influences in our families. I learned about Nutella on the floor of a tiny apartment in Paris with a French girl and her neighbors who also taught me about community. I’ve learned about what it means to be family in Italy (and how to create boundaries without resentment), how to savor food in the south of France, how to embrace my body on a nude beach in Spain. On every trip I’ve ever taken, I’ve left a piece of myself behind and replaced it with an idea or a lesson or an experience I’ve learned along the way.
I don’t know anything and every place in the world is both terrible and wonderful at the same time. As an American, I was raised with the idea that my country is the absolute best in all the universe. It’s practically pounded into us as children and while there are a million things I love about my homeland, my travels have taught me that every place in the world has its strengths and weaknesses. There’s no such thing as a perfect country (not yet) and you can find beauty everywhere. The more you see in the world, the less sure I am of anything, and the less I feel like I know about the universe.
War is unacceptable. Don’t worry, I’m not going to dive into politics here but for me this is true. The more you travel, the more people you meet in other places, you see that everyone is the same even if we are different. We all love our families, we all love our children, we mourn, we celebrate, and we’re all concerned with health, happiness, bettering our lives, and cherishing our family pets. If you’ve ever talked politics with people in other countries, they’re just as trapped in a system as we are. If our leaders decided to go to war, there’s nothing we could do about it and very few of us are responsible for their decisions. When you step out of your bubble and see that other people are just like you, the idea of war, of fighting, of the dead and the wounded, the widows, the fallen innocent, hurts and horrifies in a way that it didn’t when people were across the globe just nameless and faceless.
I feel like travel has made me more bold, open, and definitely more cultured. I’m also possibly more interesting at dinner parties with stories like, “that one time I drunkenly talked my way onto a French Cruise ship at 3 a.m.” Travel has helped me to become a better version of myself and I wouldn’t trade the experiences travel has given me or life lessons it’s taught me for anything.
So here’s to those with wanderlust, to wearing your adventure panties, to taking the dive into the unknown towards growth.