The first time I traveled, I drank too much wine one night, met a lot of strangers, and slept in all sorts of unusual places. At least that’s what my parents tell me. I was six months old, so I don’t remember.
It seems that experience somehow wired my mind to love traveling because ever since then, the second I step off a plane, train, or bus into somewhere new, something deep inside my brain tells me, “It’s go time!”
I have no idea how much money I’ve spent traveling. However much it’s been, it’s less than you think, and it was worth it. I also don’t know how many countries I’ve visited. Counting countries is counterproductive. What matters most is how my travels have contributed to the story of my life. Travel has:
- Complicated my (mis-)understanding of the world.
- Filled my day-to-day with Easter eggs.
- Taught me what money’s best for.
- Made my life a page-turner.
- And a lot more.
In no particular order, here are all the reasons I love travel.
Travel Enhances My Enjoyment of Life Back Home
When I travel long enough, I return home extra grateful for what I have. And I bring back memories that scatter Easter eggs throughout my day-to-day.
For instance, traveling increases the chances that I see places on movies o TV that I’ve been to.
Have you ever watched a TV show or movie that was filmed in a place you’ve been to?
My first such experience was a traumatic one: watching the original IT as an eight-year-old. Unbeknownst to my dad, who let me watch it, some of the horror movie’s scenes were filmed at my elementary school and the community center down the street. It took my overactive imagination years to recover.
That’s because seeing familiar settings on TV and in movies amps up the experience. You can more easily transport yourself into the scene and it brings back flashbacks—most having nothing to do with cannibalistic clowns—of your experiences there.
These benefits are confined to my couch, though. When I walk down the street and hear someone speaking Spanish with a Mexican or Colombian accent, I recall my travels in those countries. Then if I see a gorilla on someone’s shirt, I remember the day I saw the real deal on Mount Bisoke in Rwanda. And when I buy cashews from the grocery store, I remember the time I walked into a cashew plant in Kenya and got a tour of how they’re processed.
Travel Stresses Relationships
If you’ve watched The Amazing Race, you know what I mean—or even The White Lotus.
Even though TV is contrived for drama, you’d have to be extremely unlucky or boring to avoid your own dramatic scenes when traveling. While miserably stressful on relationships at the time, they become the stories that bring you back together to reminisce about over beers.
I wouldn’t be having beers with some people if not for travel. I wouldn’t even be married to Kim because our relationship began with me inviting myself to join her on a road trip up and down Jordan.
At the same time, there are people I don’t need to see again after having traveled with them because the stress revealed our true colors, which clashed like yellow and green.
Travel Complicates Things
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” we’re all taught. But if all you’ve seen is the cover, what else are you supposed to think?
So I don’t blame anyone for superficially thinking:
- Africa’s a country full of skinny kids with flies on their faces.
- Most Arab people are hostile to Western ways.
- Racial tension in South Africa is tight as my pregnant wife’s belly button.
- America is overflowing with ignorant, self-righteous, obese, gun-toting, loudmouthed freedom fighters.
But when I’ve traveled to such places, I’ve learned that the real story is more complicated and, almost always, less negative. These experiences contributed to me mostly giving up on following the news. And they’ve made me more critical of all “common knowledge”—good or bad. Before I believe it, I rather see for myself.
When I do, I’m always reminded what storytelling expert Brian McDonald calls The Golden Theme, the universal message in all stories: We are all the same.
Travel Creates Chapters and Interludes
Look at going through life like reading a book. If it’s one long chapter, you can’t help but start zoning out and wondering when it’s ever going to end. But if it’s broken into many James Patterson-esque mini-chapters, it can be endlessly engaging.
That’s why I make sure to always have a trip to look forward to. At the very least, that trip will break the inertia of my regular life. Ideally, it will add a new, exciting, and transformative chapter. And, according to a New York Times article I read years ago, the anticipation brings more happiness than the trip itself.
Travel Teaches You What Money’s Best For
If you were to give me hundreds of millions of dollars, I’d first say thank you very much. Then I’d take off traveling.
I might spend some of my riches on a seven-star hotel or three-Michelin-starred restaurant to see what the fuss is about. But then I’d revert to traveling like I learned how as a bummy 20-year-old: with minimal stuff, minimal plans, and minimal expectations. I’d eat at places that might make me sick, hang out with people who are a million times “poorer” than me, and take uncomfortable routes I could afford to helicopter over.
That’s because travel has taught me not to maximize for comfort, happiness, or wealth but for growth. Such growth comes from unexpected experiences, authentic connections, and uncomfortable challenges. Well-spent money puts me in more such situations and protects me from anything having the opposite effect.
Travel Shifts the Polls
The farther I get away from home, the farther I get from all my identities that go with that life.
I can even change my name! When I traveled around Southeast Asia in 2008 with my cousin and brother, we became the Power brothers: Max, Super, and Austin. We let loose—identity-wise and otherwise. And we had a lot of fun with others who’d done the same.
What I didn’t realize until later was, “What happens in Southeast Asia doesn’t stay in Southeast Asia.” At least not everything. Because “every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”1James Clear, Atomic Habits So while some of my travel stories will remain secret, I couldn’t help but come back slightly changed because of those experiences—less inhibited, more open-minded, curious, adventurous, and fun-loving.
Travel Factory Resets You
When I “pretired” from my corporate career and traveled for months with a 32-liter backpack and no plan, all of the open programs hogging bandwidth in my brain eventually shut down. By the time I settled back into Canada to turn “real life” back on, I felt nearly good as new.
I don’t think you have to quit your job and travel for months to reset, though. Every trip where I intentionally disconnect does so to some extent. This is especially the case on camping trips into deep nature, where the “3-Day Effect” has been shown to untangle your brain. And adept meditators can apparently Ctrl+Alt+Del everything on command without going anywhere. All are different forms of travel.
Travel Is Positive Climate Change
To me, good weather is like sex: Unless I’m terribly spoiled with it already, as I was during the years I lived in Panama, I’d rather not give up the chance to get some by traveling from one unsexy cold, dark place to another. I love that travel lets me go where I can take my clothes off and get a bit sweaty.
Travel Is Fun
- Blind taste testing aguardiente, cheese, and beer in Colombia.
- Playing multi-generational beach baseball in Nicaragua.
- Getting wobbly on thousands of types of sake in Japan.
- Spotting gorillas in the mist in Rwanda.
- Eating 24 foods in 24 hours in Taiwan.
- Butterfly and donkey racing in Kenya.
- Foraging mushrooms in Canada.
While there’s plenty of fun to be had at home, too, it’s hard to beat these experiences.
I Love Travel Like I Love My Wife
Travel’s superficial beauty is a big part of what attracted me in the first place, but as I’ve spent more time with it, I’ve grown to love the less physically obvious things it brings to the table:
- Helping me forge new and exciting relationships.
- Challenging me in ways I couldn’t on my own.
- Keeping me curious.
- Filling my life with extraordinary stories.
Sure it takes commitment, can sometimes ruin my day, and costs money. But I wouldn’t want to live without it.
No two loves are the same, so your relationship with travel will differ from mine. I just hope you find something as endlessly life-improving as I have.