So, you’ve just graduated.
If you’re not sure “what you want to do for the rest of your life.”
Or even if you are.
My advice: Go travel.
Spend some time in a foreign country. Spend some time outside the borders of your own town, state and country.
Travel where you can, while you can. Before you have kids, before you have a mortgage and before all of the other responsibilities that make traveling more difficult.
Because traveling can make you a better person. It gives you perspective. It allows you see yourself and the world in a new light.
If there’s one thing a recent graduate needs (other than money to pay off his or her student loans), it’s perspective.
We need to reflect on why we’re doing what we’re doing and on why we want what we want. Because that’s how we ultimately become fulfilled in life.
And there are so many creative and affordable ways to travel. You can get paid to teach abroad. You can become a nanny or a house sitter and live abroad. You can go to a University in Europe and get an excellent education for a fraction of the cost of an American degree.
In my own case, I dropped out of University and moved back home with my parents after my freshman year to save money and travel for two years. And since I returned and graduated, I did the same so I could live and teach English in Spain for a year. I had to work, sweat and swallow my pride for it. But it was worth it. Because after every single trip I’ve taken, I’ve come back a different person. A little more renewed, comfortable in my own skin and clear on my purpose in life.
I don’t just see it in myself, though. I notice it in people who have spent time in other countries.
I was recently at a birthday party for one of my flatmates in Madrid. I started talking to one of his German friends Maximillian. We started comparing and contrasting American and German foreign policy. We had this discussion while I watched him down two liters (that’s two 40 ounces for us Americans) of beer in less than 30 minutes...that was more than I had drank in water the entire day.
“Wow”, I thought. It’s great to talk to someone my age whose not afraid to engage in political discourse.
“How old are you Max? 24, 25?”
He was 19.
And yet here he was, more mature and more open minded than many people my own age.
We continued talking and I learned that he had been living independently in different countries since he was 16.
I pressed Max further on his experiences with traveling:
“As a young teenager [growing up in Germany], I was very narrow minded and also patriotic. I did not want to get out of my comfort zone.”
“[But traveling] helps you become more tolerant. New tolerance lets you establish relationships of trust with foreign people, which somehow increases your ability to love. You never feel dependent or alone and that makes you act more confidently and hence more freely.”
“This takes away all the defense tactics you’ve established to stay in your comfort zone, and gives you the opportunity to be yourself, which normally changes people for the better. Because people who are themselves are more appreciated, trusted and therefore more loved.”
Every time I meet a person like Max, it becomes more and more obvious—spending time in a foreign country does something to you.
It changes the way you look at the world. It expands you. It fosters a resilience and openness in you. It’s one thing to feel confident when everything around you is familiar. It’s one thing to feel comfortable in your own skin when your surroundings mirror back your own worldview.
When you’ve only lived in one place, you grow up with blinders on. You assume, albeit innocently, that where you live is how the world is.
Only once you leave can you realize how limited your perception was.
To stay only in one’s own bubble is to risk never growing. Never growing beyond one’s limited perceptions. Never questioning one’s own deeply held beliefs and convictions.
If there’s a tragedy we can and must avoid it’s this—always remaining the same person. Never changing. Never stretching. Never growing.
Because in truth, we’re not traveling to see the world, we’re traveling to see ourselves.
We’re traveling to explore ourselves — our undiscovered talents, our unpolished facets, our unbridled zest for life.
And when we become a more enriched, mature and fulfilled human being, we get to bring the gift back and share it with the world.
I know what you’re thinking — this is time you could using to bolster your CV or to be gaining relevant work experience. These are important, no one can argue with that.
There’s a prevailing notion that somehow career and traveling are mutually exclusive — as if by opting for one means you cannot take advantage of the other — but that’s just black and white thinking.
Think about it this way: becoming a better, more well-rounded and fulfilled person is guaranteed to make you better at your profession.
Of course, there will be a time to put down roots like renting an apartment, owning a house and starting a family. But all in due time.
Growing up we always hear the regrets of the generations that came before us. However in my twenty five years, I have never heard one person say “I regret traveling and exploring the world.”
Because in the end, it’s so much more than the incredible Instagram pictures you get to post.
It’s so much more than the fleeting pleasure of inducing envy from all of your friends while you list off all the places you’ve traveled.
These things are great, but they never last.
What lasts is the person you become.
What lasts is the person you evolve into.
What lasts is the connections you make with the myriad of amazing, diverse and interesting people that inhabit this world.
What lasts is the confidence you’ve gained.
The fearlessness. The openness. The compassion.
That’s what makes you a better employee.
That’s what makes you a better human being.
And that’s what stays with you forever.
—And that is why you should travel.