This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.
‘Tis the season to reflect on what we’re thankful for, and there are few things in my life that I’m more grateful for than travel. Over the past few years, I have reaped numerous benefits from my adventures around the world, so here’s why travel makes me grateful.
1. I Am Grateful to Get Out of My Comfort Zone
Travel isn’t for everyone. If you like things to always go your way, to always feel at ease, please stay home. Years ago, I didn’t understand that travel wasn’t supposed to be comfortable. It was supposed to challenge me, push me beyond my borders, and ultimately put me back together as someone who had a little better understanding of the world. I’ve freaked out on the top of mountains in Italy’s Dolomites and on top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve had meltdowns in the streets of Amsterdam.
But when I let go of my need to control a situation (impossible in any aspect of life, but particularly when you’re in another country!), I started to enjoy the discomfort. I mean, how often are you somewhere where speaking English is the exception rather than the rule? Or you’re an ethnic minority rather than majority? How often do you feel out of your element culturally?
Sure, these experiences put us on edge, but they’re exactly why people like me travel.
2. I Am Grateful to Learn (Even a Little of) a New Language
I adore languages. I’m fluent in French, quasi-fluent in Italian, and so-so in Spanish. I also can greet you, thank you, and order a beer in Polish, Croatian, and Greek. Whenever I start planning a trip, I get excited to start studying a least a little of the local language. Doing so helps me better understand that culture and when I’m there, it inevitably gets me smiles and open hearts that make my trip more personable because I get to step behind the curtain that separates locals from tourists.
3. I Am Grateful to Have Friends Around the Globe
Cordula in Germany. Eva-Maria in Spain. Yannis and Argy in Santorini. Lorella and Gianni in Sardinia. I can’t seem to visit a country without making friends, and trust me: for the solo traveler, this is gold. I find that if you travel with a friend or family member, you tend to be more closed off to meeting others, or at least they perceive it as so. But if you’re alone, you are more vulnerable and approachable. People are curious about you, particularly if you don’t look like a local. They’ll strike up a conversation with you.
I used to be shy as a child, but I’ve overcome it as an adult. Nowhere is this tested more than when I travel. Sometimes it feels easier to hole up in my room with takeaway (and believe me, I do that plenty) but I force myself to eat alone so that I’ll have those opportunities to speak to others. I use my unofficial badge as a travel blogger to introduce myself to people and ask them what they like to do or eat in the area. I am always, always glad I did.
4. I Am Grateful for the Meals I Have Had
Another way travel makes me grateful is that I’ve had the opportunity to have dishes I’d never be exposed to at home. The dumplings in paprika mushroom sauce I had in Vienna? Sublime. My one-and-only experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence? Unforgettable.
I savor the memories of these meals as much as I savored the flavor when I ate them. The only regret is that I can’t have those dishes again unless I return!
5. I Am Grateful for How Travel Has Changed Me
You hear people talk about being bitten by the travel bug. It’s a thing. Once you start traveling, you don’t want to stop because the world is just. so. big. There are so many more places to explore! I absolutely can see that who I am today has been shaped by my travels. I am more tolerant of people (maybe the lady who’s annoying me by talking loudly on her phone in the next room is just homesick). I’m more curious about things. And I’m constantly learning more about how to be a better person. Travel helped do that.
This holiday season, even if you’re not leaving home, I encourage you to be thankful for the opportunities you’ve had to travel. I know I am.