I’ve been blessed with a number of amazing travel buddies in my life. But after I graduated from college, I decided it was time to do something all on my own. So I took off for New Zealand the next month.
I was so excited until the night before, when the nerves kicked in. “What am I doing? I don’t know anyone in New Zealand. What if the people hiring me are actually murderers?” etc. etc… Rational questions.
But as it turns out, it was one of the best experiences of my life. These are the three most important things I learned while I was gone:
1. Confidence & open-mindedness.
Moving to a foreign land is SCARY. Especially if you’re alone. I had a lot of lonely nights, missing my family and friends. I had no one there to encourage me, and sometimes I was worried that meant I wouldn’t get anywhere.
But there was also an amazing feeling of freedom – I could do whatever I wanted. I could explore my way, do and see the things I wanted to do. I actually pushed myself harder than I would normally. After chickening out on a few things as a kid (and always regretting it), I’m much better now at pushing myself to explore new possibilities. Now I feel like I can take on the world.
I remember sitting with my dad before I left for NZ, researching everything the country had to offer. One popular activity was a 19 kilometer (12 mile) hike – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I joked to Dad that it was only 12 times longer than a hike he and I did in Bali… “Yeah right I could never do that,” I laughed.
Well, I did it.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (I ended up with blisters so big they looked like extra toes), but it was so rewarding to check it off my list.
I can now say I’ve climbed Mount Doom, gone skydiving, bungee jumping, and cliff jumping, and even expanded my palette food-wise. When I’m abroad, it’s like I’m a totally different person.
2. Planning, Prioritizing, Budgeting.
Technically, I couldn’t afford to move abroad. I was a broke college grad with student loan payments. But it’s something I wanted more than anything, so I made it happen. I sold a lot of my stuff, found a job before leaving to guarantee I would have income, and learned to prioritize.
I wasn’t fiscally responsible at all while I was there – I’d get paid on a Thursday, and use up almost all of it that weekend. It made me anxious, but I just wanted to get the most out of each trip. Sleep in my car and go on a kayak tour, or make up my own tour and sleep in a real bed? I usually opted for sleeping in my car… to each his own… (I got some pretty good stories out of that, too.)
When you’re living on a couple dollars in your account, you become very aware of everything you spend money on. Now that I’m home, even though I’ve built up my savings account again, my head is still in the empty bank account mode, which helps me save quickly for even more trips.
3. People, and the World, are mostly good.
All we ever see on the news is violence, terrorism, war. The media paints a pretty scary picture of our world. But after traveling to 20 countries and counting in my 23 years, I’ve found that most people are genuinely good.
From the random people at the bar who saw me sitting alone and invited me to join their game, to the many people on the street who offered me directions when I got lost (a lot), there is much more heart in the world than what is shown on TV. This is the most important lesson I learned, and this is what more people need to realize. This is why more people need to travel. We all need reminders that despite differences in culture, religion, etc., we are all human.
After the bombings in Brussels, the Editor in Chief of Travel & Leisure wrote a beautifully written piece about why travel is more important than ever. Click here to read it.