I am not the same person as I was before I started travelling.
I am still awkward, a bit shy, pretty quiet before you get to know me. But before I went backpacking for the first time, I was scared of ringing up the hairdressers to book an appointment. I was constantly worried about looking daft, dorky or uncool. I would put stuff off endlessly because I had to work up the courage to talk on the phone, or go and speak to someone I didn’t know.
I’m not saying it was an overnight process of transformation. I didn’t just get off my first flight and immediately start chatting away to every stranger in sight. But I can still definitely trace my ever-growing confidence and my ever-increasing embarrassment threshold back to the moment I first shouldered my trusty backpack.
Now, five years on and twenty something countries later, I have achieved things my past self would have been terrified of. I also do lot of things my past self would have definitely cringed (or cried) at, on a regular basis.
Past self: Wait what, you’re going to go up to someone and just ASK them if you can join their table? Are you INSANE? They’ll probably think you’re a half-crazed lunatic, you’ll never be able to walk into this common room ever again, you –
Repeat ad infinitum.
That’s my story. But I think it’s probably actually everyone’s story.
Travel has this effect of putting everything into perspective. You adapt and change, and you no longer sweat the small stuff. And when you get home, things will seem different. Less intimidating. And your newfound skills and experiences will quickly be put to good use.
Here are eight ways that travel, with its towering highs, difficult lows, and all the in-betweens, can translate into making your everyday life seem like a piece of cake.
1. You’ll have endless material for job interviews
I have used my travel experiences to endless advantage when faced with questions from interviewers. Especially those tricky, “Tell me about a time when…” ones.
A time when you’ve worked in a team.
A time when you’ve had to be flexible.
A time when you’ve showed leadership.
A time when you’ve handled a crisis.
Well, how do you know you’re good in a crisis if you’ve never been in one? I’ve crashed a car into a kangaroo in Western Australia, I’ve showed up to a bus station in Bolivia only to realise there was no bus until the next day, I’ve been stranded in airports for 12 hours when flights have been cancelled.
This kind of stuff is job interview gold. Use it.
2. You will be able to talk to (and work with) anyone
When you’re backpacking around, living in hostels, scraping by on meals of 50 cent noodles and pesto pasta, everyone is in it together. There is an unbelievable camaraderie that comes with travel, and with this comes an openness that you will find nowhere else. Everybody chats to everybody. You’re all in it together. Travel is the great leveller.
And for this reason, you will find yourself chatting to the most weird and wonderful people. Everyone from old hippies who have been on the road since before you were born, to overexcited 18-year-olds who want nothing but an excuse to drink beers on the beach all day.
And that’s just your fellow travellers.
You’ll meet the most fascinating locals. You’ll meet locals who find you fascinating (for no other reason than that you look different from them). You’ll have weird in-depth conversations about what your father does for a living, and conversations where you just sit there trying to look interested because you haven’t got a clue what they’re on about.
You’ll have to use sign language, nods and smiles, and muddle your way through.
Altogether, it’s a baptism of fire for office life. Chatting to strangers? Piece of cake. Working with all kinds of different people? Not a problem.
3. Doing things that scare you becomes second nature
Remember my past self? That was a girl who was afraid of the perfectly reasonable task of picking up the phone and talking to another human.
Then I went to South America on my own and almost everything I did was a footstep into the dark. It was scary, but it was fantastic. If you are literally doing something that makes you afraid every single day, then gradually the number of things that make you feel afraid will decline. And along with that, you will realise that doing scary things is actually kind of fun.
And I’m not just talking adventure sports here. Those activities might scare you, sure, but realistically you know that the adrenaline rush will make the jump worth it.
I’m talking the mundane, every day, plucking up the courage to talk to strangers kind of fun.
The biggest mountain to overcome is that initial boundary. That step you take towards another person, after which you have to keep going or else you will look weird. And then you will almost unquestionably have an interesting conversation, learn something, or at the very least have a way of passing the time.
Developing this knowledge easily translates into the career world. Why not try for that job? Why not pitch that idea? Why not quit, and pursue that other path?
If the answer is ‘Because it’s scary’ – well, you’ve proven to yourself that fear does not have to be a barrier.
All it takes is a first step.
4. Responsibility? No problem
Travel requires you to take responsibility for yourself. You have to figure out a plan – for how to get from A to B, for where to go and when, for purchasing insurance and exchanging currency. Of course these are things that you might (eventually) have to face in real life too, but travel accelerates and intensifies the process. With travel, it all happens at once.
Especially if you’re still young, and you haven’t spent much time outside of education, travel is the fast-forward switch towards becoming a fully competent adult. If you can do all of these things in a foreign country, with a different culture, where a different language is spoken, you can easily bring these skills back home.
5. You will be able to cope with discomfort
The seedier side of travel is that it’s not always a picnic. Bed bugs and terrible temperature control and relentless communality characterise a lot of travel at the low-budget end (my favourite end).
This is unbelievably useful in real life.
Interminable queuing, having to deal with broken heating at home or at work, losing your possessions: all of these are real life situations that won’t even have you worried. You’ve dealt with this before under much more stressful circumstances.
Just think back to the times when you had mice skittering around food in the kitchen, or cockroaches scuttling around the bathroom. When you mooched around airports during hours-long delays, or sat in road traffic while monsoon water damage was cleared.
After you’ve gone through that stuff, then minor hiccups won’t seem so bad, after all.
6. Satisfaction comes much easier when you appreciate the basic things
This is pretty much a no-brainer. I guarantee that you will never appreciate these things more than when you have spent a month or more on the road:
- A decent bed
- Your own room (a bedroom without seven other farting, snoring humans! What joy!)
- Drinkable tap water
- A consistent, reliable, and non-restricted internet connection
And that’s not to mention your favourite food/tea/meal home-cooked by your Nan.
The point is that you will get used to making do. And then your expectations will lower, and your threshold for excitement and happiness will too. When you travel, you will learn to appreciate the small stuff. Like a cold drink (despite having waited for a train for four hours on a cramped sweaty platform), or the sanctity and familiarity of a McDonald’s (though you are lost in a mass of crowds and can’t quite remember how to get back to your hostel).
7. Having that new pair of jeans just won’t matter that much anymore
Anybody who has lived out of a backpack for a few weeks will soon come to realise that they have way more stuff than they actually need back home. Admittedly they will also come to hate that rotation of six t-shirts, two pairs of shorts and that pair of jeans after a few weeks of wearing them on repeat, but nonetheless. Materialism quickly starts to wane when your material possessions have to fit into a space of 30x80cm.
Want to know why I’m not going to buy that new pair of heeled boots (glorious though they may be)?
Because I don’t fancy carrying them around on my back for three months.
8. You will be comfortable with disconnecting
While I have made a joke in the past of the backpacker’s constant quest for WiFi when abroad, there is something to be said for a lack of continued connection. It can actually be pretty wonderful just using your phone for nothing more than taking pictures, instead of scrolling mindlessly through Facebook.
Queuing for coffee, waiting for food, taking public transport: these are times when you might usually be chained to a screen. But when you travel, you are forced to look up, and look around. You will actually have to gaze out the window at the scenery, or people watch. You will find amusement in places other than the comment section of the status update of that mildly unhinged girl you knew from secondary school.
It is eye opening to have this disconnect forced upon you. Keeping up to date with Instagram will no longer be important. You will be able to concentrate better on the tasks at hand. You will read more. Your mind will be free of all the crud that the Internet fills it with. There is so much to learn from having a break from being online. The power of disconnect, of avoiding distraction, will be beyond useful in any career, especially in an age of ever-multiplying apps and devices designed to eat up our time and brainpower.
The long and short of it is that travelling forces you to confront things you would not otherwise have to. And this is the only way that you are able to change. It makes you stronger. And it sure as hell makes you more interesting.
(As long as you don’t bring it up in every conversation you have).
Scary things get less scary. Discomfort becomes familiar. Challenges can be more easily faced.
Travel makes real life a whole lot easier.