I’ve done a decent bit of travel and have lived outside the U.S. for more than three years. Even so, I have a confession to make: I’ve never really loved traveling.
Part of this has to do with the fact that many people make a distinction between vacation and travel. Vacation is the white sandy beach, a drink with an umbrella, and letting your skin take on the color and texture of a grape fruit-roll-up. It’s a passive thing. Traveling, on the other hand, is going somewhere to see and do. It’s active. Along with this usually comes $7 hostel beds and lots of adventures that happen while getting lost and figuring things out.
People talk about traveling like it’s the only way to learn about the world and your innermost self. Listen, traveling isn’t when you do your deep soul searching. Although I suppose you have lots of time to think about what’s important when you’re curled in a sweaty ball, praying for an end to your food poisoning. And I agree that travel has big benefits—it does broaden your worldview and teach you a lot about yourself. But C’mon, it’s not the only way to do that.
Still, I’m married to a traveler and have always been happy to go away. I’ve just never loved it like he does. Until now.
These past few months have been spent close to home so we could care for our sick dog as she was getting close to passing away. For some reason (probably to avoid all those yucky feels), I began reading travel blogs and listicles of the top destinations for 2017. I looked at plane tickets and sent wistful messages to my surprised husband. Interesting. I was getting that twitchy feeling of being in the same place for too long.
We’re planning a trip as we speak and the way I’m chomping at the bit is surprising me. I’ve been thinking about what’s changed because I haven’t had any big epiphanies. However, when I look back at the past few years there have been big shifts in how I think.
First off, I’ve realized that there’s no one-way to travel. Backpacking never appealed to me and I will never be the cool girl who flies by the seat of her pants. In fact, I’m the type of person who’s anxiety increases as I watch my stack of clean undies dwindle away. In the past, I thought I wasn’t getting a “real experience” if I didn’t do the hardcore backpacker style trips. But your experience isn’t based on how much you’re roughing it. Rather, it comes from exploring, curiosity, and having an open mind.
I have also come to understand that my favorite parts of traveling sometimes happen before and after a trip. Because in the middle of it all, there always comes a point when I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed again or wear clothes I haven’t washed in a sink. Before I go, I totally savor the planning—reading books about a destination, learning the cultural dos and don’ts, and fitting plans together like a puzzle. It may be dorky, but science says I’m not the only one. And when you get home? All those wrong turns that were so frustrating in the moment suddenly morph into great stories.
My biggest barrier, though, was how the control-freak part of me didn’t like consistently being outside of my comfort zone. This isn’t an issue for extroverts or people who love new experiences all the time. I, however, schedule alone time after a social weekend. My time spent in my comfort zone drastically changed when I became an expat. Living outside my home culture meant living outside my comfort zone every day. This feeling became second nature and since living abroad, visiting new places hasn’t seemed so exhausting.
There’s much less pressure when you’re not so worried about doing something according to someone else’s expectations, whether it’s what kind of accommodations you like or what part of the process is your favorite.
And while I think I’ve changed (or at least relaxed a bit), I still don’t think it’s necessary to travel the world to be a good global citizen or have an open mind. Most of the world doesn’t travel and it’s full of well rounded, happy people. At the least, I firmly believe that travel (or the expat life) is not a one-way ticket to happiness. That’s different for each of us.
Do you work just long enough to buy an around-the-world ticket or are you happiest close to home? I would love to hear your thoughts, so drop me a line in the comments below!