The first time I moved away from home to live abroad for an extended period of time, I was an internal mess. I had been trudging through five years of dead-end jobs, supporting myself throughout, and was attending a university that didn’t feel right for me. I had chosen Spanish as a path of study out of desperation to graduate on time. I had no clue what my “plan” was. I only knew that languages were the one thing I didn’t mind having to learn.
Just when I was about to change my major to something more mainstream; something I could more easily, “make a successful career out of,” I discovered studying abroad in Spain for one whole semester was a requirement for the degree… When I had never felt so lost, suddenly I felt a push from within to embrace this opportunity. I wasn’t sure if it was the right direction to take, but for once it was a direction that excited me.
So I submitted an application, and before I knew it, I was in Granada, Spain, living with a Spanish host family who didn’t speak any English. I was thrown into a completely new culture and way of life, and probably experienced a year’s worth of travel in four short months, having visited 20+ cities around Spain and parts of Portugal.
The effect the experience had on me was comparable to when you flip your bag upside down and shake it out, allowing all of the clutter to spill on the ground in front of you. I took a good hard look at that mess and found things I was surprised to see. I was left to decide what was no longer serving me, and what to put back in the bag. Over time, it became much lighter.
It would be easy to make this a story about how that trip changed my life (it did). Instead, I would rather discuss how every trip I’ve ever taken has changed my life, and that I believe this to be true for all travelers. Among many things traveling does for us, like turning us into more open-minded, global citizens, respectful of the cultures and customs of our fellow brothers and sisters of the world, perhaps the most crucial thing it does – the first thing; the base; where all other effects and benefits stem, is that it pushes us to grow while simultaneously cultivating self-love.
If this is even true, why is it important?
Over the years, I’ve noticed a theory start to unfold in my mind – that any kind of personal growth or development can start with one thing, and one thing only – self-love. I sincerely believe this to be true, because in order to start changing anything, in any area of our lives – whether it be our health, wealth, love, or happiness, it has to come from a place of love, which means we have to first believe that we deserve better than what we currently have. We have to believe that we are worth a damn.
We have to get comfortable with ourselves – our true, bare-to-the-bone natures, and we have to develop a curiosity with that truth. If you don’t believe that you are worth working on, you will not take any steps towards improvement. More than anything, you have to believe change is possible for you, that you can indeed improve.
So how can traveling do all of this for us, and why is this crucial to understand in a society that expects us to travel for only one or two weeks out of the year for a vacation from our “reality”?
It requires a basic understanding of our minds. When we’re facing any sort of challenge, obstacle, or anything unknown, our instinct is to reject it. Our minds are wired to tell us, “we just can’t,” and, “ it’s way too hard.” We start coming up with every excuse in the book to put it off… forever.
And that’s ok, our minds are just doing their jobs to protect us. Like I said, they are wired this way. But those limiting self-beliefs can be super inhibiting, and extra annoying to those of us who are consciously trying to get somewhere. Because if we want to be successful or improve in any area of our lives, we’re going to have to face and overcome challenges, obstacles and things that are scary and unknown to us!
Traveling, in my opinion, is a cure for this. Traveling can help us take our limiting self-beliefs and shove them in a bin where they belong.
While traveling, you are constantly forced to do things you’ve never done. Every time you’re in a foreign country and you figure something out – even something as simple as where the bus stop is, or taking the correct line that actually brings you to your desired destination, or you try all new foods, and the meal ends up being the best in your life, or the worst, or you speak to someone in a foreign language, and the result is making a connection you never thought possible… what is happening to us on the inside?
Something extremely important – vital, I would even argue, for our personal development, and our overall mental and emotional health.
This is magnified, of course, when things go wrong. We miss a train, or get on the wrong one. We get lost, or worse, our luggage does. The bus we thought ran every hour runs only once a day, and suddenly we have to find somewhere to sleep, with limited cash in the country’s currency. We may let ourselves fall into a panic at first, but eventually when we come out the other side alive and breathing, lesson learned, we begin to think, if I can overcome that, what else am I capable of overcoming?
Discovering that we are so much more capable than we previously thought is key. Whether it be capable of adapting, persevering, or even finding joy in something new, it all has an effect – It boosts our self-esteem, and in turn triggers a little dose of self-love. It gives us a reason to respect ourselves a little more, which gives us a reason to really show up for life – and embrace it head on.
As we keep doing this, we develop a new relationship with someone we never knew was there – our inner strength.
She was always in there, but never given a reason to show herself. She is not necessarily strength in the sense of brute force. She is patience, adaptability, willpower, empathy, curiosity, love (for thyself and others), and awe.
When we are constantly seeing and experiencing new things, and doing things we’ve never done DESPITE the discomfort, we are exercising this “inner strength muscle.” The more experiences we have, the more this muscle grows, developing our character as a result. And yes, sometimes it is definitely uncomfortable.
If you take traveling a step further, and seek to connect with locals, this “muscle” grows even faster. When you are immersed into a whole new world, surrounded by a new group of people who think differently, who live their lives in a way you’ve never seen before, you are stripped down. You begin questioning everything you thought you once knew. If you are the “outsider,” you’re left with nothing to comfort you but your own force of will to adapt, communicate somehow, connect, and learn.
Take a person who is well-traveled and put them in a room full of people who have never traveled, or who have only vacationed at resorts. Who has the advantage? Who is naturally able to handle more? Who is the best solution-finder and problem-solver? Who is the most respectful; the most patient; the most understanding? Who knows themselves best, and is more connected, in-tune and down-to-earth, as a result? Who has more to offer and contribute?
This is why we all deserve to travel. We all deserve to meet that inner strength and develop ourselves in ways that honestly, I believe only traveling can. Maybe if we all better understood the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of traveling, it would become more of a priority.
The problem is that we live in a society that expects the direct opposite from us – it deems travel as a luxury, not a priority. We are expected to exhaust ourselves working long hours for most of the year, and then go on a one or two week vacation to recover and “unwind.” At this point, we are not truly traveling. We are vacationing because we desperately need to relax.
If you work 40, 50, or 60 hours a week, maybe at a job that doesn’t fulfill you anymore, and you are given one or two weeks to escape from that, what would you do? I know what I would do – get myself somewhere warm and tropical, crash on the beach, and soak up as much vitamin D as possible while trying to forget my problems. (Sometimes we all need these vacations anyway. But I don’t believe this is the only type of traveling we should do.)
In these circumstances, not only do we NOT experience true travel, we aren’t developing ourselves and cultivating that special kind of self-love that traveling allows. (In a way, of course, we are taking care of ourselves by relaxing, but I consider these “beach crash” vacations to aid in a recovery, instead of exercising that “inner strength muscle.”)
For those whose circumstances are different, and have the flexibility to take off much more time, they still run into the obstacle of “not enough money.” If this is you, can I be real with your for a second? You do have the money. That’s not the issue. The issue is that travel is nowhere near the top of your priority list.
It could be a result of living in our materialistic society, which tells us we need to buy things in order to find happiness. Even if you’re busting your ass to pay the rent and all of your bills, take a good look at your expenses. Write them all down. Is there anything that you could cut down on, or eliminate completely? What could you do, to make traveling a priority?
If nothing, then another way to make travel more within reach is to seek an alternative source of income and become location independent by working remotely. There are plenty of ways to do this. For me personally, working online through internet marketing has been the best choice I’ve ever made to make more of my travel dreams come true, because it literally does not matter where I am, and I work for myself. In fact, for dedicated travelers, or people who have always wanted to travel more, this is definitely worth considering.
Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone. But something I do know to be the same for all of us is this: we are meant for more. We are meant to be able to travel and see the world, to get lost and face obstacles we’ve never faced in places we’ve never been. We are meant to figure out more about ourselves, to find joy in new things, and to open that curious dialogue – If I can hike to the apex of this mountain, what else can I do? If I can ask for directions in this language I don’t even speak, what else can I do?
We are meant to develop ourselves and work on ourselves, in continuation. There is no final result or destination to arrive at. It is all about the journey.
I also believe we are meant to have the time to travel slow – to take in and experience the local language and customs, to really spend time in a place, and build relationships. If nothing else, we are meant to be silent observers, quietly noticing and reflecting on the differences, opening our minds and gently questioning our own beliefs as we pass through.
Traveling can feed hungry souls and heal broken ones. It can be a cure for our limiting self-beliefs. It can give us boosts of self-esteem, which in turn cultivates self-love, which makes us a bigger and stronger version of ourselves – the truest version. When we travel, we start becoming the person we were always meant to be.
Do whatever it takes to make travel a priority in your life, because you deserve to meet that person. The world deserves to meet that person. You deserve to be her and live the life she creates for you.
About Kelsey Pietropaolo:
A study abroad trip to Granada, Spain at 20 years old was the spark that ignited Kelsey’s forever growing passions for travel, photography, writing, and cultural exchange. Amazed at the effect the trip had on her, Kelsey has since been exploring with an open heart, seeking to learn as much as possible and teach others the importance of traveling versus simply vacationing. She hopes to inspire others to do the same type of traveling, called “seek-traveling,” a term she coined in 2016. Her strong belief in the importance of travel for personal growth became her main drive to begin teaching people how to work remotely online to create their own location freedom. She is currently working on her first manuscript and is excited to participate in any collaborations.
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