We learn from life at every age, all throughout our lives. These lessons come from the world around us, and they come from within. Traveling abroad is fun, exciting, and interesting at any point in life, and it is a great idea when you are young. You may feel that you should put off traveling until you are older, more stable and more secure, but I say, start young! Most young people have more flexibility, fewer responsibilities (mortgage, kids, career), and some level of support from family, from financial (perhaps) to emotional. The experiences you have, the people you meet, and the lessons you learn will benefit you for the rest of your life.
Traveling abroad - Here are five great reasons - travel now and travel often.
1. Build Confidence
When I was twenty-four, I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived for six weeks. I lived in a funky, artsy part of the city, and the place I studied was in one of the fanciest parts of town. It was also the farthest away from my neighborhood and required several bus lines and changes to travel there every day. When I arrived for my first day of class, I was very proud of myself. The subway system, however, remained completely daunting. After a couple weeks, I finally, timidly, approached the underground network of trains. When I successfully navigated the subway alone—read the maps, figured out where I was going, and which train to get on, I felt like an absolute genius. (And I still do.)
When we travel, we do, see, hear and experience many new and different things. Sometimes these things will feel like obstacles, but the more obstacles we confront, the more confident we feel when faced with new things, bigger obstacles. You may not even feel like you are lacking confidence, but every time you find your way around a new city, barter for unfamiliar goods in a busy market, order a food you’ve never heard of, or conquer a new subway system, you will feel that much more confident. And when you see obstacles in your path, you will think, “I got this.”
Traveling to new countries, learning new customs, and navigating different cultures requires us to adapt, to ask questions and to receive help. The more situations we adapt to, the more we grow, the more confident we feel in our capacity to handle new and maybe challenging experience.
2. Learn Languages when traveling abroad
There are so many advantages to learning another language, more than just being able to order the food you like in a restaurant when you travel. There is a lot of research out there about our brains and some of it focuses on how we process language. Learning a second language can develop new areas of your brain and strengthen your brain’s ability to focus. People who speak two or more languages show more capacity to tune out distractions and focus, as well as having better memory function.
Learning new languages also increases gray matter in the brain. The brain is made up of cells called neurons. Each neuron has a cell body and branches that connect them to other neurons, called dendrites. Gray matter refers to how many cell bodies and dendrites there are, so anything that makes gray matter denser, like learning languages and meditation, is actually making more cells, more connecting branches, and ultimately, a healthier brain.
Traveling is the best way to begin learning a new language or hone a language skill you’ve already started. Whether you incorporate formal language classes into your trips or not, you will be exposed to the brain building process of acquiring new vocabulary and a new way of describing and understanding the world around you.
3. Get out of your comfort zone
How big is your comfort zone? Is this something we can measure? Imagine a small fish in a very small fish bowl. The fish only grows as big as it can comfortably move around inside the bowl. Move the fish to a large tank and it grows larger. Release the fish to the ocean, and it will flourish.
When we move through our lives in the same routines, doing the same things and having the same kinds of conversations, we don’t have to think about much. We don’t have to grow. Getting outside of your comfort zone requires that you get comfortable in other places, thus widening your comfort zone. This process of widening is where the growth happens. It’s where our most vivid memories reside.
Time to get out there and take on the ocean.
4. Learn cultural sensitivity and awareness when traveling abroad
Our world, full of diverse cultures as it is, is becoming increasingly interconnected. Smartphones, social media, and hi-speed connectivity have enabled us to connect with each other in ways and speeds we have not done before. Along with this comes responsibility. We owe it to ourselves to deepen our empathetic capacity and at least try to understand other individuals and the cultures they represent.
Broadened cultural awareness and sensitivity are critical to our development as humans in a globalized world. Is it possible to fully understand all the cultures in the world? Probably not. So how do we become culturally sensitive? The best way is to heighten our own self-awareness, understand what cultural norms we hold and not expect others to live by the same norms.
This sensitivity helps us see in what ways people act differently, and then we can more clearly see in what ways we are all the same.
5. Create a sense of connection
Travel is not just an adventure, and it’s more than the beautiful landscapes you’ll snap pictures of. Traveling helps us recognize that as different as our cultures may be, humans all over the world are more similar than we are different. We may not speak the same language or practice the same religions, but we love, laugh, smile, feel joy and pain, appreciate beauty, dance and sing, make art, enjoy food, and share with each other.
Traveling abroad has instilled in me a deeper sense of optimism. I have traveled in many parts of the world and my observation is that people are generally kind, curious, generous, and helpful. If we travel mindfully, respect the people and places we visit, learn from other individuals and their cultures, then we have no choice but to grow and expand, to see ourselves as connected to all the people and places we meet.
In case these aren’t enough reasons for traveling abroad, here are some extra travel bonuses: tasting amazing new foods (think exotic fruits, fresh spices, and delicious flavor combinations), all the new friends you’ll make that you can visit and host, a passport filled with stamps, exciting adventures and stories to tell afterwards, and a wider network and greater marketability in the job market (employers like adaptability and cultural awareness!)