Lessons I Learned from International Travel

July 17, 2023 | 
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My first real experience with international travel happened when I was twenty years old. I was invited to hop on an ex-boyfriend’s college graduation trip to France with his parents. Up to this point I had never given international travel any thought. Vacations, while growing up, typically consisted of road trips to western National Parks, visiting relatives out of state and camping along the way. Never was there any discussion about getting on a plane or going somewhere where I couldn’t speak the language. Saying YES to this travel opportunity gave me a “Forever” travel bug and completely changed my life.
There are millions of ways international travel has affected me but the biggest one is how it constantly forces me to get out of my box, causing me to learn about the world and learn about myself. As a result, I feel I have become more open, flexible, accepting and curious about most things life brings. I am my best self while traveling. My smile couldn’t get bigger, I embrace challenges, am entirely in the moment, observing and experiencing.

Getting out of my box for me means feeling fear and doing it anyway. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Having sweaty palms and a nervous stomach. Hoping I can meet the challenge. Questioning if I will have a good time. Often physically challenging myself. Letting go of expectations. Being okay with feeling stupid. Admitting I don’t know. Being open to different perspectives. Talking to strangers. Asking questions. Eating new foods. Finding my way around in a foreign world. Trying to speak a new language, or not. Being flexible. Releasing control. Taking chances on the unknown and being okay with the result, no matter what it is.

7 more things traveling Internationally has taught me.
• Become more adventurous! It’s so easy to find new things to try in a foreign land that you could never experience at home. My most unforgettable and life changing experiences come about this way. I can’t even explain the inner joy I felt while awkwardly rocking back and forth past the Great Pyramids of Giza while trying not to fall off my six-and half-foot adorable camel. The constant chalky taste of Egyptian desert sand being launched into the air couldn’t even wipe the smile off my face. While visiting England a few years back I had an opportunity to hold and feed some burrow owls at the Hawk Conservancy Trust, https://www.hawk-conservancy.org/. They were so cute! My husband still asks me if I snuck one in my suitcase. Being adventurous elsewhere leads me to being more adventurous at home.

• Try new foods! Is there a better place to try haggis than from the patio of a local restaurant on the Royal Mile in Scotland? Or getting a ticket from a vending machine for udon noodles from a tiny shop at the train station in Japan? Why just stick to traditional foods though? Try something with a native twist. Sweet curry pizza delivered to your hotel room by a guy on a moped in Japan is surprisingly great! Another fun thing to do is seek out your favourite cuisine and see how different it is in the country you are in. Mexican food in Scotland and Australia taste completely different than in San Diego. When I tried to order a cheese enchilada in Scotland, the waitress said, “Who would make an enchilada out of cheese?” The only downside to some of this awesome food is that you can’t get it at home. The food was so incredible in Egypt that I would LOVE to figure out how to make it. Of course, I could leave the haggis. But I’m glad I tried it!

• Let go of expectations, open your mind and be flexible! While traveling you realize that things often do not go as planned. I find that if I drop any expectations and just go with the flow, I have less stress, enjoy the experience more, I also learn about my ability to change and more about the people and places around me. This is especially true when you don’t know the rules of the country. Dining in Italy for example, it took 45 minutes to realize we needed to call the waiter over before we could get our order taken. My last trip to Paris taught me that you don’t need elbow room to dine. They cram people in so tight that you must move the table just to get in or out! If I didn’t roll with this one, I would have been upset every night. The better course is to just accept and consider it as part of the experience that you will share with people once you get home.
• Be Respectful! I have a much better experience while traveling if I am respectful of the customs and practices of the country that I am in. If you don’t know what they are, do a little research or ask. In my recent trip to Egypt I learned about many customs that made for a better trip, such as how to dress (both men and women needed to have their knees and shoulders covered), to have nice crisp $1 bills for tips (for the bathroom attendant or someone taking a photo of you or who you want to take a photo of), or how to get through the crazy market without being bombarded by every vendor as they love putting goods for sale in your hands (no eye contact, don’t say a word and keep walking!). Respecting others usually means you earn respect in return, surely making things more pleasant.

• Start traveling now! I have heard so many people say they will travel when they retire, or they are waiting to make a certain amount of money. I have also heard some of those same people say that their spouse died, and all their travel plans died with them. Or they have a health issue that makes travel unrealistic or impossible. Or they never make enough money, resulting in never getting to that dream destination. I learned early on, if opportunity arises, take it! The invaluable get-out-of-my-box growth experience is worth it!
• Stay mobile! Mobility plays a huge role in how much one can see and do. To get to the Kings Chamber inside the Great Pyramid of Giza we had to climb about 100 steps, hunching over in a restricted passageway the entire time. Boy was it cool though! Not all things require this level of activity. Just the act of walking! Everywhere! At home I have a difficult time getting in 10,000 steps a day. On vacation, I often easily get in close to 20,000! When you are not mobile, you lose out on a lot of experiences.
• Appreciate what you have. International travel has taught me to really appreciate the little things when I arrive home. My pillow feels better, my wine taste better, my favourite Mexican jaunt feels like home, the plants off the freeway look greener, the city looks more beautiful, on and on. I appreciate not living out of a suitcase, not having to catch a flight, or not having to pay a $1 to use the bathroom! Although, I almost prefer to pay $1 than ask for a bathroom code every time I need to go! We can save that topic for another time. Going to another country certainly helps me appreciate what I have at home.
The lessons I’ve learned while traveling internationally carry over in my daily life. I do get comfortable being uncomfortable, creating a new level of comfort. Even if I’m nervous I am more inclined to move forward. Going with my gut on what’s right, I move forward with no expectation. Although I prefer a pleasant experience, any result is one that brings worthy lessons. The more I learn while traveling, the more I realise what I don’t know, and that learning is a lifelong experience. I take more chances, allowing me to experience more, learn more and appreciate more. I now often find myself seeking out new experiences everywhere I go.

Written by Annette Crutchfield

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