Thursday, June 18, 2009

One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.' - Henry Miller

Traveling gives you life experience and perspective that you can not gain through anything else, it takes your reality and warps it. Traveling makes you realise just how little you know but at the same time shows you a side of yourself you probably never knew was there at all.

My adventures are really only just beginning but these are the valuable lessons I have already learnt -

To be self sufficient

Nothing teaches you to rely on yourself and to solve problems on your own more than an a simple language barrier, theft or injury when you're 10,000 miles from everything and everyone you've ever known.

When I moved to Canada for a study abroad semester I decided that I was going to go check out New York city before starting classes. When I checked the bus timetable I realised I had an hour to pack my stuff and get my ticket before the last bus left. I quickly reserved a bed in a hostel online, packed some things and literally dashed out the door. I hadn't had time to check my reservation and 15hrs later when I arrived into New York city the hostel receptionist told me they didn't get my reservation and they had no rooms left anyway. It was my first real trip alone and I was petrafied, I realised I was alone in New York city with no bed and no where to go. After hours of walking and researching I managed to find another hostel and scored myself a bed for the next few nights. Of course it seems like nothing now and put me in the same situation again and I probably wont flinch at all (unless maybe you add a language barrier in there?).

That year on my return home from my semester abroad I strolled through my studies, I felt completely empowered, I relied solely on myself and confidently stood by my judgements, it was the first time I knew I didn't need my fellow students.

To be more tolerant & understanding

When you travel you always see different customs and traditions and what you think is normal back home is not always normal in another place.

My fiance and I once had yum cha in Hong Kong's oldest tea house, our waiter brought us a pot of tea and some tea cups, we eagerly poured our tea into our cups and just when we were about to drink it the old Chinese couple sitting at our tabled said "no no no!" and stopped us before we could take a sip, some people at other tables looked at us in shock, our waiter came rushing back and swished hot tea all over our tea cups. Apparently the custom there was to sterilise your tea cup in boiling tea before using it. We must have looked like filthy Westerners to the people who noticed. The old Chinese couple on our table smiled and then suggested some good yum cha for us to try.

But beneath all these traditions and customs you see that people still crave the same things as you and everyone else; love, friendship, acceptance, safety etc etc. You learn that deep down most people are good and try to do the right thing, most work hard and love their families just like you. When you travel you begin to understand that everyone reacts differently under different circumstances based on their own past experiences, customs and traditions. When you understand this you will lose your fears and assumptions and become more tolerant and easy going.

That traveling changes your point of view

When you're out seeing how things are done somewhere else it's hard to not change your view.

In Australia it's considered normal to smack your child (that is a light smack that does not strike the face i.e a smack on the hand or on the bum) I never believed a light smack and a stern 'no' was wrong and although I swore I would never use this punishment on my children it didn't bother me when I saw other parents use it. After visiting Norway where smacking your child is just not accepted and seeing how children still behaved in the same way or even better, my tolerance for smacking or yelling at children went straight to zero.

To be patient

Patience is something you learn well when you're stuck at the airport for 7hrs because your flight is delayed or your travel agent couldn't get you an earlier connecting flight. Anyone in this situation has probably realised that fighting it is pointless. After these experiences the 5 minute wait for your train ticket back home becomes nothing and when the stressed out person behind you starts huffing and puffing you can smile because you know it's really not a big deal at all.

That you can do more than you think

When you're traveling you not only surprise yourself with how self sufficient, tolerant and patient you can be but also how you can do things you never believed you could do. I remember parasailing at 600ft in New Zealand, not such a big deal except that I am terrified of heights but before I could remember this fact it was too late, I was strapped in and ready to go (it just looked so exciting from the ground!). I remember turning to my boyfriend at the time and saying in a panic "I'm afraid of heights, I'm afraid of heights!" and he replied "Why the hell are you telling me that now?!".

Traveling makes you take chances, when you're in the arctic you realise that this is one of the few places in the world where you will ever see the inside of a glacier, this makes you get up at 5am, dog sledge through the wilderness all the way up to a hole in the ground where you bite your teeth together and ignore the claustrophobia that screams at you as you crawl into a cave entrance on your belly.

Whether the chances are big or small makes no difference, I once met 2 girls in Byron Bay who were terrified of sky diving but did it anyway to see the beauty of the place from the sky another time I witnessed a traveler warily try chicken feet. These people all challenged themselves and did things they did not think they would ever do.

Traveling for me has been a tool for personal growth. How have you changed or what have you learnt from your travels?


Benjamin said...

7 hours waiting for your flight is impressive. . I guess. . But that's nothing, try 5 hours in the car with my grandma :/

Mats said...

Do you remember when we were stuck at Heathrow for 8 hours after a 12 hr flight with no sleep and wasted 30 pounds on a sandwich? That also thought me a lesson on frustration.

Anita said...

Hi Angela, you have material for 5 or more posts here! Absolutely, I agree with you that traveling makes you change your view of the world. You become more patient, you discover other sides of life, you learn more about people. I got very surprised with people's reactions since I live in the Netherlands. For example, yesterday during a birthday party the "jarig" (a boy of 8 years old) stated how much he disliked his present - smiling! Then his mother said the same and the boy's father too. Everybody found it so natural, to be sincere about the useless of a certain gift - even if it was something expensive. I didn't get shocked anymore for this Dutch behaviour. But of course I tell my children about never reacting this way (about a gift).

Anonymous said...

The most important thing I learned when I was fresh off the plane for the first time in Europe, just 18 years old and with a heavy backpack on my back, sweating under the weight and walking around lost for 2 and a half hours in Vienna:


That's my best pearl of wisdom for ya.

Mary and Sean said...

I love traveling to new places because I love learning about how people around the world view life and living differently. I was lucky to live abroad in Africa for 2 years, and I was amazed how they view time, death, relationships, etc. It made me realize there are so many ways of approaching life and enjoying it.

Anonymous said...

What an excellent post - well said! I love meeting new people, seeing new things, trying new things and all that you learn about your new surroundings, who you are and where you came from