This is a guest post by my good friend Matthew Spriegel
After traveling to many difference countries around the world, I began wondering what it was exactly I was learning about. Yes, I am learning about different cultures and how they intertwine and indeed my former ethno-centric view of the world was beginning to crumble as I painted a larger world picture, but if someone was to ask me what have you learned about, how would I respond without rambling on and on about each specific place and culture. It was one afternoon hanging out with two of my best friends Josh and Russell, when I realized what it was I was learning while traveling. Josh asked, “Matt, I don’t understand why you love to travel so much. I mean what do you actually learn about?” It was then, Russell responded, “Josh, I can tell you. You learn about L-I-F-E, life.” It was a brilliant moment because Russel had done very little traveling outside of America and came up with the words I had been trying to find after seven months of traveling. I was speechless and so happy about Russell’s words of wisdom.
That same afternoon, I spent some more time breaking down the response from my friend. Hmmm I thought again… teaches you about life? These were the simple words that helped me uncover all the wonderful benefits of traveling. I realized some of the essentials to an enjoyable and happy life can be discovered through traveling. My main personal developments were in flexibility, independence, ability to adapt, communication and of course the creation of a stronger identity.
When I arrived home, I realized I didn’t complain or get short-tempered as easily because I had dealt with things much worse when I was overseas by myself. Having a wallet stolen in a foreign country or waiting in a four hour line to buy a train ticket is a lot more uncomfortable than a flat tire or a traffic jam. Eating by myself at times may sound lonely, but it trained me to be less self-conscious and more aware of the food in front of me. Encountering hundreds of strangers abroad helped me communicate more fluidly with friends and family back home. Of course it was also easier to strike up a conversation with a neighbor on a train or airplane. Pushing loads of new thresholds and taking in many new experiences brought me to a much closer understanding of my genuine desires in life.
I finally realized that traveling can help an individual discover some of the most important things in life. Prior to traveling I thought I knew myself well in topics ranging from taste in food to taste in people. Whether it be trying that odd intestine dish or meeting someone from a country I had never heard of, taking on new experiences in another country has helped me fully realize, or at least approach a full realization of what I want out of my life. I cannot emphasize this enough. For many years I was convinced that I wanted to be a stock broker, that I wanted to get married and that my favorite food was barbecue chicken, but after only a few months of traveling, my perspective took a dramatic shift. I learned that my true passion was to work in a field that combines both economics and the environment; I decided I did not want to get married, at least not any time soon; and lastly I knew after the first few weeks that I no longer had a favorite food because favorite foods became like comparing apples and oranges (simply too many delicious dishes to make a judgment). While every person learns entirely different things abroad, whether it be internal or external, I am convinced traveling is the most effective life teacher for any one person.