I'll never forget the conversation I had with my very first roommate in college. She hailed from a predominately upper-class suburb of northern Washington, where she lived her entire life. Moving to Southern California was a big step for her, but her first trip to Mexico was even more so. Her main takeaway? “I couldn't believe it, there were people on the corners and they were begging!”
My roommate's story is actually common among Americans. As of 2012, only about 1/3 of citizens held passports, equalling about 110 million of our total population. That's a shocking number when you consider that that's double the number of issues passports from 15 years ago, and that we are the wealthiest country in the world, affluent enough to afford the expensive hobby of travel. Even more amazing is the fact that more than half of Americans have never traveled outside the country, meaning they know little of the world's diverse countries beyond what they see on TV or read in the news.
So, what's all this fuss about traveling, especially internationally? Americans don't do it that much, and most of those that do are reported to mainly travel to our northern and southern neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
The truth is, traveling outside the United States is more than just living out of a suitcase for a week. It goes beyond hassling with foreign languages, awful taxi drivers and unfamiliar food.
How Travel Makes You a Better Person
It makes you kind.
There is no greater frustration than being a foreign country, not speaking the native language and being lost. Hopefully you are the recipient of a kind person, who selflessly helps you navigate through that French menu, figure out which subway route to take and that you're supposed to leave the hostel keys at the front desk when you leave for the day. Travel forces you to be the receiver of some major kindness, making you much more understanding and willing to dole it out in return.
It makes you feel small.
The world is a big place, a HUGE place. It's easy to feel like you are the center of the universe, especially living in America. There's much more to life than your suburban neighborhood and feeling like you are only a small, tiny piece in the larger world is good for your soul. It makes you aware, less selfish and hopefully responsible for being part of the solution for some big problems that involve our Earth.
It makes you grateful.
There are many things you'll encounter around the globe that you'll be envious of: better food, amazing fashion, great architecture, beautiful languages, just to name a few. But traveling also makes you grateful for just as many things that you have back home. There's nothing like spending a few weeks backpacking and returning home to someone that speaks your own language to make you grateful for your native tongue, familiar food and even something as boring as a well-functioning economy.
It makes you well-rounded.
As my story about my college roommate demonstrated, traveling abroad and experiencing social issues is an important part to being well-rounded adult. There is no power in remaining ignorant to other cultures beliefs and struggles. It's not an excuse to care less about our fellow humans, just because you've never seen it in real life. Seeing it for yourself gives you a greater understanding of the world we live in.
It makes you proud and empowered.
Traveling the world is an amazing experience that doesn't have to be once in a lifetime. Even if it is for you, you should be proud of many things. You should be proud of yourself for spending the money on something so worthwhile. You should be proud of seeing pieces of history in person, tasting that escargot, and navigating through unfamiliar cultures. It takes a strong person to leave their comfort zone, and isn't that you now? There's also nothing like standing before a beautiful piece of art or before something as amazing as the Colosseum to realize how amazing mankind is, and how proud you can be to be a part of it.
What about you? In your travels, what have you gained that made you a better person?
I’m a born and bred Southern California native who will likely never leave our gorgeous weather and beaches. I’m currently the Editor for LifeAsMama.com. I get to share my life with my husband of 10 years and our beautiful, 3-year old daughter. In my free time you’ll catch me cheering for the Dodgers, cooking, baking, reading, crafting and probably watching a little HGTV.