Updated: May 29, 2020
For the purposes of this article, I'd like to make a quick distinction between
travelling and vacationing. Traveling is the process of venturing to another city or
country with the purpose of engaging in a cross-cultural experience. Vacationing is
the idea of spending time in another city or country with the purpose of relaxing,
touring, and partying. The lines can get blurred but essentially, if you’re staying
at a five-star resort 50 km away from the locals, if you’re uninterested in the culture or mores of the local people, if you’re ordering fries at a spot known for baklava, you’re likely vacationing. Both are amazing, and I've had the privilege
of experiencing them both, with family, friends, and solo.
In this piece, I reflect on the everlasting impact travel has had on me. I write this with utmost respect to all the countries and indigenous people I have encountered. While travel has unequivocally deepened my sense of self (creativity, joie de vivre), I implore you to take a deep look at the two positive affects travel has had on my wellness and allow yourself to be inspired to embark on your own journey(s).
"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving."
―Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Imagine me. In the heat of summer, whilst in Switzerland. What do you do when you
don’t speak great French or Dutch, you’ve gotten on the wrong train, you’re
carrying 30 pounds of luggage on your back? Do you panic? Quit? Cry? None of the
above. You problem solve in real time. My sense of creativity when solving problems
expanded tremendously when I began to travel. I found my brain working in delightful ways. I didn’t know I could think this quickly, pick up a language, connect with another, sit still, switch tasks with such ease. I learned how to appreciate a well-
designed metro system. I learned how to read a map in 20 seconds because the last
train was leaving. I learned how to use my body to speak, my eyes to listen. In
retrospect, it was a review and elegant implementation of emotional intelligence.
These are skills that go untrained in formalized settings like schools, language
exchanges, programs. Getting out, becoming part of the thick of the crowd, smelling
all the smells, tinkering with the unknown is exactly how a person refines their
ability to pay attention to detail. It is a sublime opportunity to challenge yourself
by engaging the part of your brain that sits on its ass when you're eddying in the
A recent Academy of Management Journal study found that people who worked overseas were more inspired and imaginative than those who didn’t.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports those who experience living abroad were 20% more likely to successfully solve a task than those who didn’t travel.
Reasoning? Simply seeing another culture for an extended period opens your mind to countless world perspectives. In turn, this helps maximize divergent thinking because you realize that one thing can have multiple meanings and therefore you can access different ways to solve a problem
Upon return, to my homeland, I saw the world differently because I was different. I
had been touched. Once you experience your brain acting brilliantly, it’s hard to
shrink back to old ways of thinking and being. I started imagining all the juicy,
creative ways I could make my life work and encourage the same type of brilliance in others. And for the purposes of monetizing this skill, travel has indubitably
enhanced my natural proclivity towards design thinking.
Additionally, a common misconception is that women who are committed to travel are wishy washy, unable to plan, or lost. Al contraire! While most of us thrive on
flexibility, it takes a substantial amount of foresight to plan and strategize your
travels. I have had friends and family jokingly share comments that I’m not a good
planner or too carefree. And a whopping 0% of those people have ever planned or
traveled with me. Seasoned travelers know that it takes skill, patience, and
creativity to build an itinerary that veers off the beaten path, is respectful to the
site, and honors one’s sense of adventure. I am no longer bothered by the opinion of folks whose fear outpaces their courage, but it can still be an irritating myth to
encounter. Press on anyway, my daring darling.
"Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere."
― Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
Joie de Vivre
The most simplistic translation of this French phrase in English is exultation of
spirit. I was able to have this exact feeling fill me to the brim while in Thailand. I remember trekking through overcrowded airports, squeezing into buses, and walking for miles through foreign land all to end up at the most breathtaking sight
of beauty. I remember the kind faces of the Thai women in the villages who smiled
with humility. shared their unbelievable stories of peril, laughed with me from the
belly. I remember looking to the sky while riding on the back of a motorcycle (sorry
Dad, no helmet). The breeze caressed my face the way breezes do, sweetly. We whizzed through the sleepy town in silence, sticky with the sand from yesterday, and I
shivered. With humidity at 90% because I knew deep down, this was joy. No one else knew exactly where I was, who I was, or have been and it didn’t matter. I’d never experience that much breathing room. It completely altered my relationship with time.
Being fully immersed in that moment taught me aspects of mindfulness, I learned but never applied in my weekly yoga/meditation classes. I began to unravel the deep, intimate joy of being here now. These are fruits that cannot be quantified nor
taken away because the sole beneficiary of these experience was my spirit.
Travel robs us of refuge. Far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks, we are completely on the surface of ourselves. But also, soul-sick, we restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing without a thought in her head, a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. When we are aware of every gift, the contradictory intoxications we can enjoy (including that of lucidity) are indescribable.
―Albert Camus, A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning