Travel: The Ultimate Personal Development Tool

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With the explosion of websites, podcasts, and conferences teaching you how to improve your life (this one being no exception), it’s clear many of us want to become a better version of ourselves. We all want to be the person we imagine we could be if given just the right circumstances.

We want to learn more languages.

We want to be less awkward in social situations.

We want to eat better.

We want to read more.

We want to work out more.

We want to travel more.

We want to be more active.

We want to be more independent.

The list goes on and on!!

So often we go through life without really thinking about where we are heading. One day turns into the next and all those things we desire to do and become seem to pile up while we look for the perfect day to start.

Over the last year, I’ve had my ups and downs and have been working hard to make changes to my life. It takes a lot of work to change. Even one or two changes to change your life requires concentrated effort and persistence. But to make a hundred changes? That is biting off more than you can chew. No one has the mental energy or time to do that.

That’s why most new year’s resolutions fail. We create a long list of things to accomplish in the new year but, in the end, most of us give up, overwhelmed by all we want to do.

So when people tell me all the ways they want to improve their lives, my advice to them is to travel for one simple reason:

Travel solves a plethora of self-improvement goals in one fell swoop.

Picture this: You’ve booked a flight to Kiev. You don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian. And, to top it off, you’re going alone. You land in Kiev. Now, you have to navigate signs in a different language, ask people who probably don’t speak your language well for directions (maybe pantomime and point at maps indicating where you want to go), get to your hostel, make friends in the dorm (no one wants to be alone), and get around and sightsee the city during your stay.

By the time you leave, you’ve learned how to communicate even when you don’t speak the language, figured out how to navigate an unknown place, learned to turn strangers into friends, learned how to be independent, and solved a slew of problems that came up as you made your way around a foreign country.

During one trip, you got better at communication, problem solving, languages, social situations, and improved your confidence in your ability to do new things and handle unexpected situations.

Why? Because you had to. You had no other choice.

And you didn’t even know you were doing it.

People always ask me about the moment I realized I “changed.” While there are moments in your life that ripple through the years, for me, there was no single instance that I can point to that turned me from a shy introvert who never traveled to someone able to plop down in any city, find my way, and turn strangers into friends. It was a process that happened slowly over time.

Before I set out on my first trip around the world, I had never really lived outside my state, hadn’t traveled much, had a small group of friends, and had only been in one relationship.

I was a nerdy introvert. While the old parts of me are still there (I’ll still gravitate towards my friends at a party rather than talk to someone I don’t know), it’s become a lot easier for me to talk to new people when there’s no one familiar around. While I still run through all the “what ifs” when I get on a plane to a new destination, when I land I hit the ground running (and wonder why I was ever worried in the first place).

Traveling forced me out of my routine. It helped me become independent, take more risks, be ok with change, get better with people, learn more, and be more versatile.

Travel is not some panacea. The baggage you have comes with you on the road. There is no place far enough away to escape your problems. But what travel does is give you the space to be someone else and improve your life. It allows you to say “What would the new me do?” and then do it – without worrying that someone you know might notice. It puts you into situations that force you to better yourself. It won’t instantly solve your problems — only you can do that — but at least, on the road, you have a clean slate to try.

As the new year approaches and you create your list of resolutions, cross them all off, and just write one down: to travel alone more.

It is the ultimate way to become a better, more confident you.

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