This post was most recently updated on October 20th, 2015
Recently I’ve heard a lot of nonsense that I really haven’t been able to get my mind off of. Living in the college environment, where innovation, education, and improvements to the rest of society are common topics of conversation, I’ve heard some of the most ignorant comments ever made. “Traveling is a waste of time.” “I have everything that I need around me.” “No place is as good as the United States anyway.” “Why would I spend so much money to fly to a place I don’t know?” These are some of the things that people have said in group conversation or to me personally. I honestly don’t even know where to start in addressing these outrageous statements because there are so many benefits to traveling.
First off, travel is one of the greatest investments that you can make in yourself as a person. The education and experience that you encounter while abroad are priceless, because they can’t be recreated and they cannot be any more authentic. When I talk about traveling, I don’t mean visiting destinations to sightsee; I don’t travel to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, London for Big Ben, or China for the Great Wall. Yes, seeing these extraordinary monuments is important, but you also need to know why they’re important; you need to understand everything that surrounds that monument to take away some meaningful notion from it. If you travel to these great, historical places and don’t know the significance of what you’re seeing or the place that you’re visiting, then you may as well have just stayed home. I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who understand the importance of exposing their children to foreign places, and for that I am forever indebted to them. They aren’t the only ones that lit this fire to travel within me, because a great man once told me that not traveling is like staying in your house on a gorgeous day, in the sense that you are cheating yourself of something great.
Education is the most important part when it comes to traveling, in my opinion. The entire time you are abroad, you are learning; whether it is learning what currency a country uses, what customs they have, what the social structure is, or what the population eats, it’s all a learning experience. I can tell you first-hand that learning about something in a book is a great beginning to an education, but to truly understand its significance, you have to witness the place for yourself. You need to see the sights, talk with the people, smell the smells, and do whatever the natives do there. There is absolutely nothing like sitting next to the shoes of Jews that were executed on the Danube River in Budapest, entering the Vatican and seeing over two thousand years of history with your own eyes, or standing in the very places that my ancestors, the ancient Aztec civilization, inhabited hundreds of years ago. These have been some of the most eye opening and humbling experiences of my life, and I know for a fact that without visiting these places and experiencing the roller coaster of emotions that I did, I would not be the same person sitting here, writing this.
An underrated aspect of travel, overlooked by many, is the spectrum of lives that you encounter. I think that trying to see and understand the way that other people live is what I have taken away the most from traveling. Coming from Orange County, California, I have lived a privileged life and I have never taken this for granted; however, I couldn’t truly appreciate it until I saw the realities of this world. I can remember the first time that I realized that not everywhere is the same. When I was 9 years old, I visited the Dominican Republic with my family, and my world was changed forever. We stayed at a nice villa on a private property, but outside of the property was a different world. While we made our way in a van through Santo Domingo, I saw an infinite amount of kids running around as happy as could be, but wearing rags, no shoes, and playing baseball with a stick and the cap of a water bottle. At that moment, I was crushed. I felt so guilty for having more than what I needed. I wanted to play with them, but would have been too ashamed to actually join in. That night, I had a nightmare about it, and remember waking up in tears because I dreamed of the way that they lived their every day lives. Traveling has helped me gain a different perspective and respect for the people that struggle on a daily basis. Travel has also given me a sense of obligation to help improve conditions for others. One of my life goals now is to bring education to every corner of the world, and without experiencing the Dominican Republic and other similar situations for myself, I probably would have heard of the lack of schooling across the world, but I might not have thought much more of it. Travel drives me not only to simply hope for change, but also to try and be a part of it.
Walking down the street in Los Angeles is not the same as walking down the street in Paris; eating Italian food in New York is not the same as eating Italian food in Florence; swimming in the Pacific Ocean is not the same as swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Experiences are unique and cannot be recreated. Inspiration is another massive benefit that can be taken away from visiting a new destination. Every single professional field travels to different places in order to gain a new perspective, whether they are businessmen, chefs, marketers, or artists. Plus, countless other fields all use travel as a tool to improve. As society increasingly becomes a global matter, rather than national or regional, it is an extremely pressing issue to understand new cultures and way of life, so that we can connect as one human race. International business, athletics, and social media are just some of the few matters that are making the world more interconnected than ever before. To further this, traveling and encountering a variety of cultures allows people to be ahead of the curve.
If I ever hear someone insist that traveling is not an important and necessary life experience again, then you better expect that I will convince him or her to have a change of heart. All in all, do yourself the biggest favor in your lifetime and invest in yourself in traveling far and wide. See all you can, eat great food, meet extraordinary people, understand new cultures, and explore the past!