By Liz Domeck of Elon University
Traveling is so much more than just checking off countries and cities on a list; it is about discovering and learning and growing as a person.
In the summer of 2015, I was able to spend my time abroad studying in Brighton, England. It was the most amazing opportunity and I couldn't have imagined a better way for me to spend my first summer out of college. I was also lucky enough to go with two of my close friends from school.
I got to experience SO much that summer. And along the way, I learned a lot about myself and the world. I was only there for one summer, but in that time I feel as though I grew so much as a person.
1. I learned how to be a minimalist. - I have always tried to pack light for trips, but when you are given the luxury of packing a big suitcase PLUS a carry-on, why wouldn't you take advantage of that?! Spending time in Europe meant quick weekend trips and backpacking through various countries. I didn't have that luxury of taking my whole suitcase with me on budget airlines so I learned how to pack light. I spent two weeks living out of my backpack. I'll be honest and tell you that more than once I really wish I had more of my clothing with me but I was on an adventure! I actually enjoyed living as a minimalist; I wasn't so focused on my appearance and I was better able to appreciate the experiences I was having.
2. I stayed in hostels for the first time. - I have always stayed in relatively nice places with my parents when I have traveled. Staying in a hostel is completely different. I shared a room with 8-12 people whom I didn't know. You have a bed, an outlet, and a small little cubby that is yours. Everything else, bathroom included, you share with your roommates. You meet some cool people but you learn how to live in such small living situations.
3. I grew in my confidence. - Spending the summer with no parents meant I had to do everything myself. I had to navigate the tube, buses, multiple airports, and cities alone. I used actual physical maps to navigate myself when Wifi or cell data failed. I booked my own flights and hostels. I used my best judgment to ensure I was safe and to ensure I stayed within a reasonable budget. I did so much on my own that when I look back at that summer, I am so proud of myself. I am proud of everything I did all on my own, and my confidence has greatly increased from it.
4. I can handle problems on my own. - Within the first two weeks, my camera had water damage. A few weeks later and we missed a flight from London to Amsterdam due to traffic issues. I fixed my camera on my own. We got a new flight for the next day. These are two problems travelers encounter frequently. They weren't the best things that happened to me, but they taught me how to handle unexpected issues.
5. I learned to handle my money properly. - I learned so much about responsibility with money this summer. England is expensive to visit. I had to be aware of how much I was spending. I needed to think about each purchase and whether or not it was a smart move. Sometimes the best option is to put down that adorable top or skip that ice cream three days in a row. Spending money on experiences, and not things (or excessive food..) is the best way to ensure that your hard-earned money is invested in the most rewarding way.
6. My passions grew even more intense. - I knew what I liked and what I didn't like before but this trip made me realize just how much I love what I love. I have always been passionate about music and travel. Spending my time abroad and studying a part of the music industry made me realize how much I need to incorporate those passions into my life. I realized that I don't want to be stuck doing something I am not completely 110% into. I realized it is possible to be passionate about your career and I am determined to make that happen in my future.
7. I have biases. - The more I travel, the more I step outside of my safe bubble. I never realized the biases I had, until I was forced to confront them. When I saw different places and met new people, I saw biases in myself. Biases are natural to develop; everyone has some bias. It's when you don't recognize them that they are damaging. Travel is a good way to become aware of personal biases.
8. I learned a lot about where I came from. - It's funny how I had to go far to learn about where I came from. Going out in the world makes you appreciate home. Being away from home (Cleveland for me) for so long, I found myself saying or thinking things like "I miss at home when we..." or "In Cleveland we..". I didn't realize how special home is until I left it. I didn't fully realize the little things that make it unique until I went far away. The differences I saw from other places in the world taught me more about what makes my Cleveland, Cleveland.
9. My guilt increased. - Everywhere I went most people spoke English, even if it wasn't their first language. I felt guilty going to another place and not knowing their language yet they knew mine. It made me realize while yes we are fortunate that many people now speak English (in especially touristy areas), that sometimes isn't enough. We need to step off our pedestal and realize there are so many other languages and we should show places we visit some respect by learning (or at least attempting) their language.
10. It increased my perception of the world's differences. - I feel like every time you go somewhere, your mindset expands about the world. You learn a new culture, language, and people. You meet and talk with people you normally don't talk to. You are introduced to new ideas and new values. I'd say it is impossible to travel and not grow in your worldview. I was able to travel through some amazing countries and I realized how different they are from my home in the US. While there are of course some basic similarities, there are also huge differences. These differences could be cultural differences, religious ones, economical differences, or even something just as simple as what word they use for "bathroom".