Travel Team | Aug 1, 2023
Why do you travel?
This is a simple question with many complex answers. It’s like asking why you get dressed in the morning. We travel for different reasons, much like some people get dressed to go to work while others put on gym clothes for a workout.
We talked to some of the most experienced travelers we know about the benefits of traveling and why they heed the call of the road. Here’s what they said.
This isn’t about running away from your problems. It’s about taking the time to examine your life as it is now and figuring out what changes you can make to turn it into something greater. It’s also about taking the time to make that dream a reality.
Gap years for adults have become increasingly popular in recent years, in part thanks to COVID. Many of us used this unusual time to re-examine our priorities, pursue career changes, and more. And instead of diving straight into something new, it can work to our advantage to take some time to transition. What better way to spend that transition than with travel?
A gap year is also great if you aren’t sure what your next step is. Hit the road and explore new interests. Take a step away from the ordinary to examine possibilities from a new perspective. Learn new skills.
Traveler Mike Dalager shared what he loves most about traveling: “One main reason that I travel as much as I do is to learn. It’s true what they say, experience is the best teacher. Trying to know or understand different cultures and their art, music, language, the landscape of a region, and every activity in life would require a lot of books to read or lectures to attend,” he said.
“But to experience these things by traveling goes far beyond the justice a book can do. You can read all day or sit in your house and think you actually know what the world has to offer, but in reality, if you take one step outside the door and go experience life, you will come to the realization that there's always something more to learn. The best way to learn is by getting out and doing it!”
Not all fresh starts are about trying something different. Some, like Julia Sunshine, travel as a path to healing. One trauma after another — the end of a long-term relationship, the sudden death of a roommate, a rollerblading accident resulting in prolonged chronic pain — left her searching.
“I was out on the streets of Montreal, with a cane, doctor-prescribed morphine in my blood, and a flask of red wine. I asked myself, ‘Is this life? What’s keeping me in such an impossible existence?’ Deep in my heart, I knew this wasn’t it," she recalled. “I dreamed of healing and connection, and I wasn’t finding that in Montreal.
“So, I went. I saved for eight months and bought a backpack, a tent, and prepared myself to go for the first time on a solo journey to Costa Rica. After healing my body these past three years, I have confidence there is true transformation to be found on the road. I believe in my power and acquired knowledge and deepened my talents to now help others grow, heal, and evolve. For me, it’s my hero’s journey. This is why I travel.”
Travel teaches us things about ourselves we might otherwise never have realized if we never ventured into the unknown.
Former Seven Corners writer Luke Armstrong is a seasoned solo traveler, although it wasn’t always easy for him to walk into a new place. Through his explorations, he’s uncovered as much about himself as he has about the destinations he’s visited.
“I remember a decade ago when I planned my first big trip traveling from Chile to Guatemala, one of my biggest concerns about traveling alone was this self-conscious image I had of myself eating alone in a restaurant,” he said. “Back then I saw myself more through other peoples' eyes. It seems absurd to think back and realize I even gave this a second thought.
“I guess it just goes to show how much travel has changed me for the better. Travel has led me to feel very comfortable in my skin. It's allowed me to shed a lot of layers that ultimately weren't serving me.”
Travel puts us in a position to be honest with ourselves. It can reveal what we want in life when all the everyday responsibilities and obligations are stripped away. It can show us our creative side as we solve problems that inevitably arise during the course of a trip. We might discover for the first time what we’re really good at.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz got the idea for his franchise from a trip to Italy — the company he founded is now worth more than $100 billion.
Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder of Red Bull, got the idea for his $17 billion company on a trip to Thailand when he noticed all the tuc-tuc taxi drivers were drinking a beverage to stay awake.
The late Steve Jobs credited a seven-month pilgrimage he took to India in his early 20s as creating an architecture of creativity within him that opened his mind to the possibilities. Those possibilities later became Apple and Pixar.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, wrote his business plan on napkins while on a 3,000-mile road trip across America.
The list of entrepreneurs could go on. Clearly, travel gives us experiences that unleash our creativity and opens possibilities we might not otherwise have considered. A change of scenery can change the way your mind works, and that can lead to some truly inspiring ideas.
If you feel like you’re in a rut — personally, professionally, socially — then get back out there. Try an adult gap year or a wellness retreat to learn something new and broaden your experiences. Go solo and meet new and interesting people along the way. Step outside of your comfort zone and see what happens.
It’s no secret that many of us in the U.S. have trouble setting the away message on our work emails. Although it was reported by several surveys that more Americans took a vacation in 2022 than previously, they also found that those so-called vacationers weren’t actually disconnecting from work. They continued to read email, check in with the office, and take phone calls.
Their reasons for not disconnecting — the belief that work won’t get done right without them, fear of layoffs, anxiety about falling behind on deadlines — are understandable. However, taking a vacation is important for our mental health.
Burnout is one of the worst occupational hazards worldwide now. When we take time to rest and reset, we often return to our work and personal lives rejuvenated and more productive.
Travel provides that rest. It doesn’t have to be a two-week trip to Europe or a round-the-world expedition. Go camping over a long weekend. Take a microcation with your best friend. The key is to go … and to leave work at the office when you do.
Why do other people’s homes smell but your own doesn’t? Because we’re nose blind to our own odors. Yes, your home has a scent, but you’ve grown so accustomed to it, you no longer notice.
The same is true of everyday life. The same old routine can cause us to stop noticing what’s happening around us. We’re just going through the motions. Shake up that routine, however, and suddenly, everything feels newer and fresher.
The different sites, sounds, flavors, and yes, scents of travel set the stage for us to be more mindful of our surroundings. We actually see the sunset. We look up at the night sky to contemplate the stars. We linger a bit longer to taste the wine.
To be more mindful on vacation, leave devices, even camera phones, behind. We know you want pictures of your trip, but taking them can pull you out of the present. After all, when you say, “I want a picture of that,” you’re more focused on remembering something for the future rather than enjoying it in the moment.
Be curious about what you experience on your trip. If you’re exploring a market, don’t just look at the brightly colored fruits. Ask the vendor if you can feel them; is the fruit smooth and waxy, or rough and spiky? Soft or covered in a hard rind? Ask what they taste like, how to eat them, what dishes they’re used in.
When you cultivate the habits of mindfulness and curiosity during a trip, you’re more likely to bring them back to your everyday life. And that can only make it richer.
There's a lot of things that happen on the road that push our buttons. A bus not running on schedule, inexplicable overcharges, missed flights, getting lost, and more all mess with our itineraries.
It can be easy to break down over these things, but does that solve them? Getting upset at the person at the ticket window probably won’t instantly save your vacation. Learning to relax and roll with the punches, however, could.
Seven Corners writer Becky Hart had a related realization in a New York subway several years ago.
“A friend and I took didn’t notice we’d taken the wrong route until it was too late. My friend was freaking out because there wasn’t another subway at that location to take us back to where we wanted to go, and she was convinced we were lost.
“I realized that having a Chicken Little ‘the sky is falling’ moment wasn’t going to get us un-lost. We couldn’t go back in time to before our mistake. The only thing to do was to ask someone for help and backtrack the best we could. And to do it calmly. Once I focused on finding an alternative route instead of all the things that had gone wrong in the past, it was a lot less stressful.”
While identifying what is and isn’t in her control is an ongoing journey, Becky tries to recall those travel moments in everyday life when situations start to feel crazy. You can get upset when travel mishaps happen or you can move past them, and the same mindset applies at home.
Traveling to different countries and cultures helps us see the great variety this world has to offer. Experiencing that diversity firsthand makes us more tolerant and accepting of others.
“There are over 7 billion ways to live a life. Over 7 billion people I could meet,” said adventurer Christina Gomes when we asked her why she travels. “I feel like I was meant to explore the depths of humanity. I only know my human existence, but I'm curious about how others live, what they eat, how they spend their days. The best way to do that is to get out of the bubble of my immediate surroundings and put myself in the shoes of others.”
One of the best ways to develop empathy is to “do as Romans do.” Visit locally owned businesses instead of huge chains. Attend cultural festivals and events. Take a class to learn about the food or music. If possible, do a homestay to see what family life is like. Simply talk to people. Striking up a conversation with a stranger can give you insights into another place you’d be hard-pressed to find any other way.
“Sharing meals with strangers in a city half a world away has taught me many things: the courage to go somewhere unfamiliar, humility to ask for directions when I'm lost, and empathy for people who seemingly have little in common with me except our humanity,” said Annie Erling Gofus, founder of travel consulting agency Wunderbird. “Travel opens your eyes in unexpected ways!”
Traveling solo can be a great way to develop empathy. A single person can be less intimidating than a group if you’re trying to start a conversation with someone, for example. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to strike out on your own to enjoy this benefit of travel.
Becky, for example, has traveled several times with a tour company that organizes international trips for people from all over the world. As an American, she’s not just experiencing the culture of her host country on these trips. Because her companions hail from multiple continents, she’s also learning through their experiences.
“It was so interesting to chat with these people, who were also experiencing a new culture, over dinner and see how our perspectives differed. Something that I found super interesting didn’t even register for them. Or sometimes we all found the same thing fascinating but for totally different reasons. It really added a new dimension to connecting with and relating to other people.”
Frank Sinatra famously sang about New York, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” The same can be said for many places, though.
As you travel and figure out how to “make it” at your destination — where to eat and sleep, how to get around, how to stay safe, what to do for fun — your confidence grows. You find out what you’re capable of. You figure out how to navigate new and challenging situations. You find new talents you never knew you had.
And it’s all because a new place forced you outside your comfort zone and into bigger and better things.
Iulia Sirbu found her confidence while traveling. What she thought would be a three- or four-month trip turned into two years of learning a new way of living. It wasn’t until she returned home that she fully realized what positive changes travel had brought about in her life.
"Home hasn't really changed, but I have,” she said. “Friends and family made me realize that I've become a lot more independent without feeling like I'm a lonely cat. I just do things without depending on anyone, whether it's going out to see a show, getting groceries, moving out, making decisions, or anything. In the past I really needed support in order for things to be done. Now I'm more independent and confident."
What if your next trip wasn’t about checking the Eiffel Tower off your bucket list but about being more confident in your own skin to have a croissant and a coffee on your own at a Parisian café? Instead of staying at the all-inclusive resort you always go to, what if you explored someplace new and ate at local dives full of authentic flavor and personalities?
Wherever — and for whatever reason — you travel, take travel insurance with you. Like we said, there are some things you simply can’t control, and sometimes you might need a little assistance. Travel insurance can help protect the money you spent for your trip and medical expenses if you get hurt or sick when you’re away from home.