If you could travel to anywhere in the world right now, where would you decide to go?
Would you choose a romantic getaway in Paris? An exotic beach vacation in The Bahamas? Or how about a historic tour of Florence?
Chances are, if you’re American, you’ve probably fantasized about traveling to one of these (or other) new and exciting places. After all, the grass is always greener, no matter where you live.
Personally, I wish travel was emphasized more at a younger age as part of our standard education. The few times I’ve been abroad, I’ve learned more than I ever could in a classroom.
However, travel isn’t always a life-changing opportunity. Like most experiences in life, it is what you make it.
If your goal is to get away, unplug, and lie on a beach for a week, then that’s fine. However, if you truly do want to make the most of travel, there is one thing to keep in mind:
Meeting people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences is the quickest way to expand your worldview.
That’s right. It’s all about the people.
Do you enjoy socializing with others over a beer? Then by all means, fly into a new city, unload your stuff, and head to the nearest bar or pub.
Are you more of a night owl? Your best bet may be to meet others while grinding and sweating on each other in a club.
If you’re like me, then your deepest connections come while collaborating with others, which isn’t always easy to do. It takes a little more digging to find opportunities that allow you to do more than just eat or drink with new friends.
Three years ago, I had one of the most amazing opportunities to travel in my life. I flew to Nice, France to participate in the European Innovation Academy.
This trip changed me or a few reasons:
- I traveled alone. Yes, I know. This isn’t the safest thing to do in this day and age, especially after seeing all three Taken films. As questionable as this sounds, it forced me to become more self-reliant. There were moments when I had to rely on myself and my extremely limited French vocabulary simply to order food for myself and others.
- I didn’t know the language. Once again, not the smartest move. I downloaded Duolingo and did my best to learn basic phrases that would allow me to start conversations with others. There was something initially jarring about walking down the street and not immediately hearing English.
- I worked with others from all over the world. This was, by far, the biggest benefit from my trip. In this specific case, I had the opportunity to work with people from Estonia, Portugal, Norway, and countless other countries. I constantly found myself mediating many conversations between my teammates.
- I continued growing friendships after I left. It’s easy to let friendships fade, especially once you return home. After my trip, I made it a point to invest in the friendships that meant the most to me. I even had the opportunity to work in San Francisco for almost a month thanks to one of these friendships.
I could go on and on and dissect every moment of this trip, considering it played an instrumental part in the person I am today. If part of growing up is expanding your worldview outside of your own, this experience helped me mature a few years only after three weeks.
You might be thinking, “That’s great for you, but what if my worldview is fine just the way it is?”
Like most things I’m passionate about, I’m fairly stubborn on this. If you are, in fact, fine just the way you are, then I suggest you ask yourself one simple question:
What do I believe to be true?
If you’re honest with yourself, the answer might surprise you.
Whenever I ask myself this question, I tend to land on a few universal truths such as we will all eventually die and we’ll have to pay taxes until that time comes. These morbid thoughts aside, another universal truth within my overall worldview is my belief that the only way to reach realize your full potential is through connecting with others, and the quickest way to accomplish this is through the continual use of empathy.
What better way to develop empathy than to learn from others who aren’t like you? Why would you want to limit your knowledge and experience to the geographical area where you live?
This is exactly why traveling can give you so much more than just a few great stories. It can introduce you to people who can ultimately help you take one step closer to becoming the person you want to be.
Next time you’re fantasizing about traveling, start grounding those fantasies in reality by looking for opportunities to work with others. Whether it’s collaborating on a personal project or working abroad for a few years, I guarantee you won’t regret it.
After all, you’ll have plenty of time to grab drinks with your newfound friends.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!