I’m 21. I’m two exams away from completing my Bachelor degree (yes, it’s in Arts; it’s still a degree!!). I’m about to embark on my fifth overseas adventure in the space of five years. I’m at a place in my life where many friends are graduating, getting their dream jobs, or getting into their Honours or Masters courses to get their dream jobs. I decided a long time ago that this was not for me. I often get asked, “Why do you want to travel?”. So, rather than giving my stock “Why not travel?” answer, I sat down and listed all the benefits that travelling has given me, and the reasons you should pack your bags and travel too!
You gain independence
I used to think of myself as a pretty independent person. I was wrong. Travelling will reveal some harsh realities about yourself, perhaps the most confronting one being that you’re not nearly as self-sufficient as you’d like to believe. Not yet, anyway. A prime example came about while sharing an apartment with a group of university students in Italy. The time came when we had to wash our clothes by ourselves, for what I’m ashamed to say was the first time in my life. Apparently mixing colours and whites on a 90-degree cycle is a bad idea. Long story short, I looked like a multi-coloured tie-dyed hippie for the duration of my stay. I’m pleased to report that this was a few years ago now, and I’ve since learned how to operate a washing machine. Although this is a really trivial example, it is one of a long list of things you will learn to accomplish on your own – from trying to order food in a foreign language, to lugging a 30-kilo suitcase up the subway stairs (I’m a notorious art book collector), to navigating an unfamiliar city in search of your tiny and seemingly nonexistent hotel. Having successfully overcome all these challenges by myself, I now consider myself a fairly independent and self-sufficient 21-year-old.
(I’m embarrassed to admit that, having just spotted a gigantic spider on my bedroom wall, I’ve had to call my mum to come and kill it for me. Some things will never change.)
You are forced out of your comfort zone
Travelling is messy, unpredictable, and scary. But it’s also exciting, rewarding, and freeing. Unpredictability used to scare me. Four years ago, I would have dreaded the thought of not knowing how I was getting from A to B, or not even knowing where B was going to be. I’ve always been adventurous, but more in the form of planned adventure – I loved exploring, but I wanted to know what I was exploring and where I was going to end up. This just doesn’t happen when you travel. And it’s been the greatest gift to me. Now I love the idea of wandering city streets, getting lost in the maze of unfamiliar creativity. I love the idea of hopping on a train and riding it to the end of the line. Of climbing a mountain to its peak and taking in the view, not worrying about how I will get back down to earth. Travel has forced me out of my comfort zone, and taught me how to embrace the unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s a much more fulfilling way to live. Life doesn’t alter to fit your plans. Let go and enjoy the journey.
You grow up
I realise that I’m only 21 and that I’ve still got a hell of a lot of maturing to do, but in all honesty, I feel like a bit of an old soul. Travelling, and especially solo travel, has forced me to grow up at a faster rate than I think I otherwise would have. When I look back on the person I was a few years ago, she is an entirely different person to who I am now. And I’m sure that when I’m 30 and looking back on who I am now, I’ll be a completely different person again. Evolution is important – experiences and decisions will change you, and this is a good thing! How boring life would be if we remained the same forever. I think travelling has accelerated this process for me. This is not to say that I’ll reach my ‘peak’ maturity by the time I’m 25 – far from it. I don’t think there is such a thing as an end to growth – it’s a constant and fluctuating process. But the things I’ve seen, learned, and experienced because of travel have changed me, and will continue to do so. When you broaden your horizons, and open yourself up to new ideas and experiences, growth and evolution is inevitable.
You become a world citizen
I’ve been travelling for my whole life – my mum travelled all the time for work, and my dad is European, so I was always jetting off to exciting places throughout my childhood and teenage years. I’ve seen five continents (all but Africa, where I am dying to go and I’m 100% positive that I will one day in the not-too-distant future!). Being exposed to so many cultures and so much diversity has made me appreciate that the world is much bigger than some people realise. In Australia, we are so incredibly sheltered and removed from everything. Sure, we have the internet, and we have the news, and we’re actually an extremely multi-cultural and diverse nation, but we really are isolated from the rest of the world. And I think that this leads some people to believe that Australia is the world. And nothing could be farther from the truth. I’ve seen so many things that I would never have been exposed to at home: from extreme poverty in India and South America, to the extremely long and rich history of Europe. The world is so much bigger than my world, and the problems we face in Australia seem so trivial compared to children dying of starvation in an Indian slum. But the more places I travel, and the more diversity I encounter, the more I realise that we are all the same. People are people, and our similarities far outweigh our differences.