I was in Shimla, Northern India, about five years ago. Sipping a warm Chai tea at a curb-side café and enjoying a glorious sunset over the mountains, I patted myself on the back for completing such an epic journey. It had taken me three weeks to get there from the UK, slowly meandering my way and stopping to see everything that presented itself. I was alone, as I was convinced that I only needed my own company after many trips before with friends and various organizations.
As the sun fully set, and the last dregs of my chai were cooling at the bottom of the cup, I realised that I had nothing to do. All the bustle and excitement of crazy Tuk-Tuk drivers, the double-crossing travel agents, the cramped train carriages – they were all done. Now, I merely had time to sit and relax, and ponder. Is this what I wanted? I didn’t want to admit it, but I was already missing the craziness of my journey. Arriving there, knowing the journey was over, it made me feel… sad? Sad at the end of a journey that was terribly fun. Sad at the end of an experience I hadn’t realised I could have.
After a few more drinks I got chatting to a man, let’s called him Jez, about what it means to travel. He was a well travelled man, a Ramblin’ Man, who’d seen more of the world than most, though he remembered little. He had recently crossed into India from Bangladesh, having spent several months moving around the rural parts of the country. After chatting for a while, I felt my frustrations bubble to the surface, and I admitted to him my feeling of unease at arriving. He just smiled at me and said:
“It’s empowering, isn’t it? Seeing who you really are, when nobody is around to remind you what you’re supposed to be. Why would anyone ever stop moving?”
From then on I realised one thing about myself; I was destined to wander on, possibly forever. Our history is riddled with idioms and tales that have shown us this is the truth. I wanted to be the rolling stone gathering no moss, the leaf on the stream.
I have been very privileged to travel widely in my relatively short life, and I have many places yet to see. The reasons? Why, they’re myriad!
So here’s your Itchy Quill breakdown of some justifications for why you should travel solo at least once in your life!
1. The challenge
There is no greater feeling than accomplishing something (well, nothing safe for work anyway), and the opportunities to accomplish while travelling are endless. It could be anything from finding an address in the Souks of Marrakesh to ordering food in rural Mongolia. Whenever new challenges present themselves, you will amaze yourself at how you adapt and survive. It can be hard, frustrating, and sometimes lonely, but it’s not forever. The person you come back as will be far superior to the person who left. Things you never thought you could achieve become commonplace, you just need to show yourself you can do it!
2. You will appreciate what you have
It’s easy to focus only on first world problems, and forget how good your life actually is. Returning from work, you open the freezer door and see that your house mate has finished the chilli pizza bites. You cry out “why lord, why have you punished me so?!” Equally, running for the bus you see the no. 888 pulling away and cry up to the heavens “my life is ruined!” as you accept you will be ten minutes late for work. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating, or maybe I’m not. Either way, after spending a few weeks travelling around a backwater of Peru, you’ll quickly forget about deodorant and shaving, and picky food habits you might have had will soon vanish when you become aware the only thing the tribe you are staying with eat is goose guts and chicken feet.
3. It gives you perspective
Every country teaches it’s children about history from that country’s viewpoint, and the media comments on the present using words sourced locally. This is why travelling is crucial in giving you a better understanding of the world by simply showing you that the way you see things isn’t necessarily how the rest of the world does. Cultural, traditional, economical and historical factors all play a part in shaping national identity, and consequently local worldview. Challenge your idea of the world!
4. You can see a new culture from the inside
Speaking of within, as clandestine as it sounds, you get to be ‘behind enemy lines’ and discover from the inside what a country or culture is really like. As ridiculous as it sounds, you will often be surprised at how redundant stereotypes can be, and how wrong your perceptions of the world are. Peel back the surface, scratch underneath and dive right in. Look back on your culture from the outside while people show you theirs from within.
5. Your ability to communicate will change
While not speaking any other language than English will not always completely stop you, it can sometimes make things take longer than they would if you were a native speaker of the country you are in’s language. You will pick up local words, often colloquial language that you wouldn’t be taught in schools, plus your ability to read people and understand gesture and intent will sharpen. Your ability to express your feelings and desires will greatly improve too.
6. You’ll have tons of story-topping tales
Nobody likes a story-topper, and yet everyone does it. And while nobody likes people who return from travelling and boast about how amazing their time was, you can be safe in the knowledge that your stories are probably better! Regardless of that, travelling is becoming more and more of a great icebreaker as more and more young people look to faraway lands as the places to spend periods of their early twenties. Join the conversation!
7. It teaches you… a lot
The merits of education cannot be taken for granted, but let us not forget that any form of schooling is no replacement for experience. Truth be told, there is a strong argument that the closer you get to education, the further you are from wisdom. I won’t comment, but I will say that some of the skills you will learn from travelling can seldom be learned easier elsewhere. Some learn how to be humble, some learn patience. I learnt how to play Mah Jong and how to spot fake diamonds. The point is, there is a world of knowledge out there. The onus is on you to go and find it.
8. You’ll grow
Now, I’m not talking about the ‘my, haven’t you grown’ kind of growth only grandmothers seem to notice. I’m talking about the undeniable personal growth you will undergo from broadening your horizons. Your mentality will widen, your worldview will expand, and your appreciation of the other will advance. The strength of character and confidence you will gain from surviving on your own will become a backbone to future conquests, and you will have travelling to thank for it all!
9. You might find yourself
And this, I guess, is the clincher. It sounds so horribly tacky to say it with a straight face, but it is so true; sometimes you’ve got to get lost to find yourself. I spent my late teens and early twenties wandering the globe in search of god knows what, and I couldn’t find it on the beaches, in the fields or at the end of the camera lenses where I was looking. What I did discover was many things about myself I would probably never have learnt by shaking cocktails or typing in an office.
I am not saying life sucks, and I am certainly not looking down on those who haven’t travelled. We all have our own path, and we are all our own mysteries. I just know that for me, travelling made the difference in my life. And as it did, and continues to do, exactly that, I just want to share it. So what’s stopping you? Book a flight, pack a bag, and see where you end up. It will be the best decision you ever make.
This list is by no means definitive, and I am sure there are other advantages to think of. What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. What would you add/subtract?
Special thanks to PhoTrablogger for reminding me why I love (and dearly miss) India.
Special thanks to africa, graur razvan ionut, khunaspix, taoty, naypong, num_skyman and varaorn @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015