Since 2012, I have visited over forty countries and lived in three. I have spent the majority of my 20s travelling outside of my home country, whereas most of my peers have spent their time at home.
While there’s nothing wrong this, I do feel that my travels have given me a different perspective on life and made me a better person.
Before I went travelling in my 20s, I had a lot of assumptions about the world. One of them was quickly blown away on the flight to Australia when I realised just how the big Earth is. It takes a long time to get to Australia from the UK!
Then, as I hopped on the bus to my hostel on the Gold Coast, a second assumption was shattered when I realised Australia had more common with the United States than the UK.
Over the course of my travels and times living in various countries, I’ve had many more moments like this. I’ve also had some wonderful times with great friends and I’ve had moments that made me ponder deep questions about life.
The best thing about travelling is that it takes you out of your comfort zone and places you into situations you wouldn’t ordinarily find yourself in. It also exposes the biases you may have about the world.
We may be living in a world that is becoming more and more polarised but if you’ve travelled frequently, you’ll know there is more that binds us together than divides us.
In this time of Coronavirus, travelling may not be possible for everyone, but when the world reopens again and the threat of the virus dies down, we should travel to broaden our horizons.
You’ll broaden your horizons
One of the major problems with a lot of societies across the world is that they are insular. They are inward-looking, afraid of what is out there in the world and look down on foreigners.
This is true in my own country, the UK. I went to school with people who held these views at the age of 16. Unfortunately, they have only become more entrenched judging by their posts on Facebook.
I believe the main reason they think this way is because they have not broadened their horizons. They have not stepped out of their comfort zones, ventured to different countries. Instead, they have remained at home and absorbed all the worst stereotypes about the people that inhabit the planet.
The best thing about travelling in your 20s is that causes you to dispel these beliefs quickly. It gives you a fresh perspective on life and makes you realise how insignificant and foolish our fears are.
When you’re exposed to new cultures, different languages and customs you realise that there isn’t one right way of doing things. There isn’t one culture that is superior to any other. Each one has its merits and faults.
The world is a big place, it’s only once you start exploring you realise that the unknown is nothing to be afraid of.
You’ll realise how similar we all are
One of the biggest causes of racism is the belief that ‘those people’ are different from us. Maybe they have a different skin colour, speak a different language or wear unfamiliar clothes.
Whatever the difference, the fact that there is one is enough to cause some people to be wary of others. When you go travelling you realise that a lot of these fears are misplaced.
You quickly realise that far from being strange and alien, most people around the world are just like you and me. They have similar dreams, similar interests and want the best for their family.
Despite all our differences, we have more in common than we realise. When you watch a football match on the other side of the planet in a packed bar, you realise that sport transcends boundaries.
When you find a pool table in a Filipino hotel, you realise that the way we like to unwind is not that different. Those who seek to divide us do so based on crude markers such as religion, colour and language.
What they don’t realise is that there are more similarities in all three than there are differences. We are one people, it’s our differences that make the human race special.
Travelling in your 20s makes you realise how special they are.
You’ll become more flexible
If there is one thing I have learnt from my eight years of travelling it’s that things can and will go wrong. Flights will be cancelled, your plans will change and you’ll need to be flexible.
If you’re expecting things to go smoothly all of the time you’ll be in for a surprise! If you’re used to routine and structure this can be unnerving. The world is chaotic, it’s better to embrace it than fight against it.
The way we react to misfortune and events out of our control says a lot about your character. You either accept that it’s inevitable or refuse to accept it.
I’ve lost count of the number of times things have gone wrong when I’ve been travelling. Last year while road tripping around Europe, our car broke down twice, we had to abandon climbing mountains on a few occasions due to bad weather, and we had to drive through a country without any car insurance at one point!
The point is that things can and will go wrong. We can’t control what happens but we can control how we respond. It’s better to roll with the punches than fight back.
Being flexible is something that will stand you in good stead during your life. Travelling hammers home its value at every turn!
You’ll realise what’s important in life
When I first went to Australia, I worried about what I needed to take with me. Should I take lots of socks? Will I need a load of t-shirts? The questions were endless.
My life was being placed into a 50-litre backpack and a lot of the possessions that were in my room would be left behind. I was worried that I would miss some of the stuff I didn’t take with me. The opposite was true.
Apart from my bike, there wasn’t anything that I missed. I realised that I could survive with a minimum of items. In fact, it was better. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I was no longer concerned with what phone I had, the brand of clothes I was wearing. I was content with what I had in my backpack and excited to explore the world.
You’re always going to need certain items. A quality laptop is important to stay in touch with loved ones or to work, as is a good smartphone. Still, there is a lot you can survive without.
A fancy car, expensive clothes, costly ornaments, all of these are items that you can live without. What you need most in life is your health and the love of your friends and family.
Everything else is either clutter or a bonus.
You’ll become better at meeting people
When I first started travelling I was terrible at meeting people. Even after three years at university I was still hadn’t conquered my shyness.
Moving to the other side of the planet meant I had to get to grips with my shyness or it was going to be a lonely year. Placing myself in this position gave me no choice, I had to become better at meeting people.
Gradually, I realised that I was not alone. Like me, there were many people who were travelling by themselves and eager to meet new people. We all had something in common so it was easy to strike up conversations.
After a few months, my shyness had gone and I no longer dreaded meeting new people. I enjoyed it. The best thing about travelling is that it exposes to so many people from different countries and walks of life that you otherwise would not come into contact with.
Far from being aloof, most people are kind and welcoming. Especially in a hostel where everyone is doing the same thing. Travelling pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to interact with the world around you.
Not only will striking up a rapport with new people be easier, but you’ll also find it enjoyable!
You’ll realise who you are
This is one of the most cliche aspects of travelling in your 20s. That people go on an adventure around the world to find themselves. It’s easy to look down your nose at this but it’s true. You do find yourself when you travel.
The reality is that when you’re going about daily life back home, most of the time, you’re on autopilot. You walk down the same streets, see the same people and do the same things. It’s easy to become bogged down in monotony if you’re not careful.
When you go travelling, suddenly everything is more visceral and exciting. I liken it to your senses being on steroids. You notice everything, every quirk, the way people speak, the sight you see. Everything is clearer and more obvious.
This can be intoxicating. It gives you the self-confidence to go and explore. After a few months of travelling, I realised that I was passionate about environmental issues.
This had always been a concern of mine but after hiking in Australia and seeing plastic scattered around all over the place, it hit home how much this issue affected me. The same was true when I went road tripping in Europe, I realised the benefits of European integration which made me more appreciative of the European Union.
When you travel you are placed in situations that you are not familiar with, often with people that you’ve never met before. Instead of conforming to what is expected of you back home, you have a blank canvas on which to be your true self.
The judgements and assumptions that your friends may have back home are replaced by an inquisitiveness on the part of the people you meet. It’s no surprise that when most people return from travelling they feel different.
The experiences that you’ve had will have altered your perspective and given you a new lease of life. Travelling in your 20s either changes you or reveals who you were all along.