Next month I’ll be hurtling across the Pacific Ocean in a metal tube with wings toward Southeast Asian adventures that I won’t even be able to contemplate until I get there. I’m possibly underprepared but also very excited.
In the last year, I’ve traveled to eleven countries. I also explored a number of cities here in America that I had never been to.
This is my lifestyle now. Travel, music, and maximum possible freedom.
It’s important for me to have some gratitude for what I’ve been able to do, but (in classic Jake fashion) I do far too much thinking about why I want the particular things that I want. Why is travel so important to me? Here’s an over-thought overview.
I’m the type of person who craves new experiences. I’ve changed jobs a lot, basically every year through my twenties. I used to think there was something wrong with that. The conventional wisdom is to pick a career and specialize. That’s how our system of business and higher education has been geared for decades, but that sounds boring to me. It always has.
My perceived indecisiveness and instability seems like a failing in the eyes of many. It’s taken some real effort, but I’m starting to recognize that craving for new experiences as an advantage. I’m never content to stop learning about my world, and I never will be. When I move on from a job or a situation of my own volition, it doesn’t mean I hated it or that I regret it. It just means I got what I wanted out of it and I’m ready to move on.
What travel does for me in that sense is that it condenses the experience. Every new city, every meal, every time I have to figure out public transportation is an opportunity to flex those learning muscles. I have to solve the puzzle.
And operating in a way congruent with a culture different from my own is even more of a puzzle. Navigating social situations with people who have different customs and different ways of expressing emotions is an adventure every time.
Along those lines of new experiences is interacting with new people. I’m a social creature and I love meeting new people!
A friend and mentor once told me that the only way you can define yourself is in relation to the people around you. I can’t tell you if it’s 100% true, but I see the wisdom in it.
In a small hometown, it’s easy for a person’s self-definition to become set. The relationships to your community don’t change very often. You know your friends, your family, your favorite baristas or bartenders, and those relationships rarely sway from the way they sort out at the beginning.
When you’re out on the road, there are new people all the time, and therefore you get to change your own self-definition in relation to them as often as you like. If you want to walk confidently into a room and let everyone know you’re here to get the party started, you can do that. If you want to be quiet and chill for a while, you can be the loner with a book in the corner and it’s ok. If you want to walk straight up and introduce yourself to that pretty girl or handsome guy, what’s to stop you?
The consequences aren’t nearly as high as if you were stuck in a small hometown. You can be whatever version of yourself that you want to be. It’s incredibly liberating.
The Destruction of Personal Comfort Zones
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might know how much I hate personal comfort zones. In my own life, there have been times where fear of change and fear of uncertainty have caused major problems for me.
If you’re afraid of change, you’ll never be able to chase what you really want. If you’re afraid of being vulnerable, you’ll never get the relationships you want.
Travel is boot camp for getting out of your comfort zone. You have to do it at least fifty times a day. Everything from ordering food at a restaurant where you don’t share a language with the cashier, to buying a train ticket to an unfamiliar place, to asking directions from a local. Every moment is an exercise. Every exercise makes you stronger.
If you can learn to become really comfortable with being uncomfortable, well, that’s a rare way to practice courage. It’ll help you in a myriad of unexpected ways.
(I should specify. Sometimes when I talk about why staying in your comfort zone is bad, people misconstrue and think that I’m also advocating getting into other people’s comfort zones. That is NOT what I mean. Breaking through someone else’s comfort zone doesn’t help that person learn how to push themselves. It’s got to be a personal choice.)
Opening Up Blind Spots
I think that to a certain extent, everyone sees the world through the lens of the place they grew up. Being in the middle of the 2016 election season in the USA really drives home the fact that many Americans have trouble seeing the world from a non-American perspective.
Getting out to places in the world that are different from your own gives you a more empathetic way of seeing things, and meeting people with different customs holds a mirror up to the way you live your own life.
More and more, I don’t consider myself as much of an American as I do a citizen of Earth who happens to have been born in America. I credit that perspective to my travel experiences. I think it’s so, so, so important– especially for Americans– to talk to people and see how countries impact each other in terms of global politics and culture.
For example, the experience I had working in a refugee camp last year and talking to families who were fleeing the Syrian civil war made me think deeply about America’s involvement. I really believe that a large percentage of Americans would think differently about our country’s involvement if they had seen what I’ve seen.
But that’s just one example. The truth is that travel, if you’re doing it right, will open your eyes to what life is like outside your own community. I think we’d all be better off if more people had access to it.
So yeah, I’ve thought a lot about why I do what I do. It’s probably better than the alternative.
What about you? What motivation compels you to travel? Leave a comment, or send me an email.
Happy travels. ❤