The world is a mighty big place and you’re missing a lot if you stay in one little corner of it. Saint Augustine said it much more poetically: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
There are plenty of good reasons to get out there and travel, but one of the biggest ones is to experience things you could not find in your own city, town, or even country and maybe learn a little something to bring back home with you. And there are a few things that the community of globertrotters—no matt where you’ve been, or where you call home—can agree on.
Here are a few of the many thing you only know if you have traveled abroad:
There’s a Lot of Good Food Out There
The easiest way to “eat local” may be to travel abroad. Not only are you forced to very literally dine where the locals dine (and it’s a great thing), but it’s a good chance to leave your usual favorites at home. Traveling gives you a window into the kitchens and daily routines of local residents.
That’s why it’s important when you travel, not to just eat what you know (yes, even if there’s a KFC in Spain), but try something new. While you may not have the stomach to sample from the mounds of crickets they sell in Oaxaca’s markets, try a squash blossom quesadilla or a brilliant green salsa. Just remember that American menu staples like hummus, tacos, and even pizza used to be considered exotic food until travelers, visitors, and immigrants brought them to the States.
Currency Can Be Art
While a stack of greenbacks can make your eyes light up, money in the U.S. is pretty boring. Much to the consternation of visitors to the States, U.S. dollars are all the same color and size, the only difference being the denomination and the guy featured on the front. On the other hand, currency around the world is vibrantly colored with varied sizes, fascinating portraiture, and tiny history lessons. If it wasn’t so much fun to spend, it would be worth framing.
Language Doesn’t Have to Be a Barrier
The United States is a very large country with one national language—English. While there are cities, neighborhoods, and homes that speak many other languages across the U.S., you can still drive for 3,000 miles and expect everyone to speak English. That’s not the case in most of the world, though. Three-thousand miles in Europe could take you from Portugal to the Czech Republic with a dozen languages in between. There are even stories of men from opposite sides of the same mountain in Switzerland who didn’t speak the same language. Despite these differences, though, as you travel, you’ll realize that the language barrier isn’t much of a barrier at all. Hand gestures, maps, Google Translate, and a friendly smile can take you far wherever you are in the world.
You Can Make Friends Anywhere
If you’re bold enough to make the first move and strike up a conversation, people are usually more than happy to chat. Whether you’re grabbing a Guinness at a pub in Galway (one of the friendliest cities in the world), sipping a Caipirinha on a rooftop bar in Rio, watching a show at a street festival in Venice (California or Italy), or watching your kids play on a playground in Seattle, friendly people will happily smile, joke, and laugh, regardless of common language.
American History Is Just the Beginning
The United States is a young country. Before the States were a glint in George Washington’s eye, Angkor Wat had been built, the Sistine Chapel had been painted, and Turkey’s Haggia Sophia had switched hands a few time. Traveling the world gives American travelers the chance to experience history—walking in the footsteps of kings and conquerors in England, Israel, Mexico, and Morocco—bringing the past to life in a way that’s impossible to feel in the States.
Mistakes Are Not the End of the World
Every globetrotter has a story about missing a turn on a map and finding something far better—a restaurant off the beaten path or a secret beach they had all to themselves. Mistakes happen to everyone whether you’re sitting in your own living room or in a campground in Slovenia. However, these errors tend to have more interesting returns when you’re somewhere new, have an open mind, no real agenda, and a flexible schedule. If you can learn to view mistakes as opportunities and not just annoyances, they can lead somewhere pretty interesting.
You Don’t Need Much to Get By
When you travel, your life is stripped down to whatever you can cram into your suitcase. While packing the perfect suitcase is an art form, once you’ve mastered it (or approximated mastery) you soon realize you simply don’t need that much clothing, shoes, or even toiletries. If you don’t believe this, just wait until you go backpacking and have to carry all your own belongings—or until the airline loses your luggage. Soon enough you’ll realize five pairs of trousers was simply overkill (and remember to throw at least one change of clothing in your carry-on bag).
Your Normal Schedule Should Be Questioned (It’s Healthy)
We’ve all had friends who have returned from a vacation and can’t stop talking about how, say, 4 o’clock tea time is civilized, a three-hour lunch break just makes sense, or that a 10pm dinner hour is quite reasonable. While those cultural differences can be simply fun factoids to share over meals, they can also make you question why we eat lunch at our cubicle desks at work, when much of the world would be horrified at the behavior—and they might be right. Exposure to new cultures and new ways of doing things can make you question the status quo in your own routine and maybe make improvements, like eating lunch at the park instead of your desk.
The Unknown Isn’t That Scary (But Booking the Flight Takes Courage)
While purchasing a ticket to a new country can be intimidating, when you step off a plane in Reykjavik, Santiago, or Sydney, it’s easy to see that different countries aren’t all that different. Airports across the world are filled with people looking for taxis, trying to navigate local public transit, and ogling the airport coffee shops. It’s a big world out there, but wherever you roam, people are doing the same things: raising families, working their jobs, or simply looking for a good cup of coffee. Once you realize how similar we all are, the unknown becomes much less of an obstacle.