So, you’re fed up of your current commute and want to ditch the dreariness for the good life?
You’ve seen the Instagram feeds of your favourite travel bloggers and their perfectly filtered faces are driving you crazy with envy.
You’re like a rabid dog at work, desperate to escape the confines of your cubicle…
Just waiting to hand in your notice and hop on a plane.
But is travelling all the fairy lights and beach fires it’s portrayed to be?
In this article, we’ll consider the psychological benefits of travelling and hopefully prepare you for what’s to come.
But first, a little context…
I was working a nice job and was pretty settled when the travel bug bit, seemingly from nowhere.
Even though work was good, I enjoyed where I lived and had lots of good friends (including a girlfriend), it was a feeling that I just couldn’t shake.
Why? I don’t know.
Perhaps it was the beat generation of novelists I read as a teenager, like Hunter S Thompson and Jack Kerouac, capturing my imagination through their wild road trips.
Or maybe it was simply that I didn’t want my life to follow the predictable path of settling down before I’d embarked on unbridled adventures.
Whatever the reason, it’s extremely hard to ignore the itch once you feel it. You see confirmation everywhere encouraging you to go.
And so starts as a desperate scramble to save enough money to support you while you chase the dream.
So, if you’re in a similar position, what can you expect from travelling?
The Ultimate Benefits of Travelling
1. Gain a New Perspective
We’re often the unwitting products of our environment, and unless you grew up in a cosmopolitan city, you’ve almost certainly become imprinted with the values of your home town.
Without exposure to variety, we naturally absorb the systemic belief systems in our immediate environment.
Travelling allows you to change context and step outside your echo chamber, if only for a short time.
Not only will you encounter people from all walks of life, learning from both fellow travellers and locals, but you can also examine your assumed truths, handed down by your parents and friends.
Maybe you decide that your mindset is too parochial and requires a software update.
By changing your conditions, it’s easy to manipulate your worldview to serve your best interests.
You get to pick and choose different perspectives depending on your situation.
And often the transformation on a long trip can be startling, only apparent when you return home to see old faces.
They might be surprised by your genesis or even be defensive towards your new attitude and values.
Maybe you’ve decided that you want to pursue a different life path and they’re resistant to your new direction.
The fact is, arriving home after travelling can present its own set of challenges, but the tradeoff is certainly worth it.
2. Personal Growth
If you’re young, you still don’t possess an accurate gauge of your capabilities.
You think you can do everything, but rarely have you tested your true limits to see where the boundaries lie.
Travelling is like diving into a cold pond, forcing you into an uncomfortable situation you’d rather avoid.
At home, it’s easy to theorise about how to act in certain scenarios, but when you’re on the road, you can put your problem solving to the test in the real world.
Obviously, it all depends on your surroundings though…
If your version of travelling is a little side trip to a Cancun resort, don’t expect much difficulty.
It’s only really when you get off the beaten track that these opportunities arise.
When I was in South America and on a motorbike trip, I had to cope with gale force winds riding through a desert before being denied entry to Argentina because the border police thought my bike was stolen.
Such experiences taught me invaluable lessons.
And the benefits of these challenges, while intimidating in the moment, is to teach you mental toughness and resilience.
After all, personal growth only really comes from embracing obstacles and emerging stronger on the far side.
3. Develop Respect
When you’re from a prosperous country, it’s easy to become naive to the issues facing the rest of the world, such as economic conditions and access to education or healthcare.
And yet, despite such societal problems, many locals you meet will be exceedingly generous with their resources, time and wisdom.
My own travels have taught me the inherent goodness in strangers, who have always come to my aid in difficult situations.
Whether this was being faced with gun-toting farmers at Bolivian roadblocks or managing the aftermath of a scooter accident in Bali, there were always those willing to go out of their way to help.
And such experiences have certainly imbued my worldview with more openness and curiosity.
It’s a mindset that you also begin to pay forward. Whenever I see a foreigner struggling in the UK struggling, I’ll always make sure to help wherever possible.
One of the core benefits of travelling is that it’s an empathy amplifier.
4. Practice a New Language
For many, travelling is the perfect vehicle to develop their language abilities.
Indeed, this was the main reason I chose South America for my first extended trip. In addition to feeling exotic and remote compared to the well-worn Gringo trail in South-East Asia, the majority of the continent in Spanish-speaking.
Before the trip I worked hard for months on my language skills, only to arrive and realise that I was still crap. But being out of my comfort zone in that environment was transformative.
Forced to speak daily Spanish with locals and friends, in addition to constant TV and radio exposure, my deep immersion in the culture was the perfect crucible for learning the language.
In China, I had friends who had done the same.
What may have started as a passing fascination with the country had culminated in an intense seven-year journey of language exploration and eventual fluency.
Such skills not only redefine you personally but also propel your career prospects, as we’ll explore now.
5. Experiment With Career Options
Many people are worried that they’ll be less employable after travelling and while for some, this may be a legitimate concern, I find the opposite is usually true.
I trained as a physio and, although my job was pretty good, I knew I wanted to consider other options.
After all, when you’ve secured a job straight out of studying, you don’t necessarily know whether you’re on the right path.
From a young age, we’re funnelled through the academic system and promised the security of full-time employment when we emerge – which is often met with disappointment.
When you’re travelling, it gives you time to breathe, away from the rat race.
Exposure to new influences and directions can inform your future choices. Maybe you’ll decide that you don’t like accountancy that much after all (who’d have thought?!)
Plus, there’s also the option to work abroad, which can allow you to gain inspiration and test new ideas.
A personal example is when I took on a few different jobs in Vietnam. I’d always fancied trying my hand at writing, so applied to work at an English language magazine in Ho Chi Minh City, a confidence-building experience that led to freelance writing for a newspaper and other magazines.
Travelling provided the very impetus I needed to experiment with writing, which ultimately, has altered the course of my career, leading to further work in copywriting, blogging and finally, marketing for various companies.
This spark of interest can easily occur when you’re abroad, the chain reaction of influences leading to seismic shifts in your career.
There are plenty of interesting travel jobs out there, so consider investigating options like English teaching or remote work before you leave.
6. Form New Relationships
If you’ve grown up in a small town, you’ll generally be limited to connecting with fellow locals.
In this way, your relationships are largely determined by your environment, which may be narrow in scope.
On the other hand, by travelling, you’re exposed to a new world of possibility, meeting people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
While traditionally you might always have attracted a certain type of person, travelling is a melting pot that’s fascinating to explore.
When you’re away for a while or living in one place indefinitely, it can provide access to a vast network of international connections.
Making friends or meeting that special person abroad is, in some respects, far easier than it would be at home.
In our home environment, people generally have their pre-established social groups which, as an outsider, can be difficult to penetrate.
However, when you’re away, especially when travelling alone, you’ll find fellow explorers consistently welcoming new arrivals.
Whether you’re meeting fellow travellers or expatriates, you share a common bond in being strangers in a strange land.
Deep connections can form quickly, especially when sharing lifelong memories of experiences on the road.
7. Learn to Pay Attention
Often when we’re at home we’re on autopilot, going through the motions, barely aware of our actions.
We’ve been to the same shop to buy groceries a thousand times and we’ve made the identical journey to work repeatedly.
When you’re travelling, however, you soon find that the unfamiliar environment forces you to pay close attention to your surroundings.
Even fairly straightforward activities like popping out for basic provisions can seem like a real challenge, especially when you’re unfamiliar with the customs, language and culture.
This feeling can be quite intoxicating, making you feel awake for the first time in your life.
In this way, travelling can provide an unending source mindfulness and presence.
8. Great Stories
You’re probably already aware of research that suggests we prefer experiential over material purchases.
Travelling is perhaps one of the best examples of this; a significant personal investment that can fundamentally change you as a person.
And while you could always go out and buy a new car that might provide temporary satisfaction, do you really think you’ll be boasting about your purchase in years to come?
Travelling, on the other hand, is a rich source of emotional highs and lows, both of which will undoubtedly make great tales for your future grandchildren.
I distinctly remember being broken down on the side of the road with a motorbike in Asia, using sign language with the local Vietnamese people to organise a lift to the nearest mechanic.
At the time, these were some of the most stressful experiences I’d ever faced, while in retrospect I rate them as some of my fondest memories.
9. Appreciate Home More
Through a process of acclimatisation due to overfamiliarity, it’s easy to take where we grow up for granted.
This may be traced back to our evolutionary wiring and desire for novel experiences.
You see, when we’ve scanned our immediate environments for threats, our brain automatically relaxes, giving free rein to disconnected thought, such as what new Netflix show we want to watch that evening.
After all, the brain craves constant stimulation and new inputs in our environment for the quick hit of dopamine they produce.
When we’ve driven the same route or walked the same path a hundred times, our hometown becomes a weaker source of new material.
Coincidentally, this is where mindfulness can help. Just because we’re accustomed to where we live doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot more we can attend to.
Travelling, however, creates an unparalleled appreciation mechanism, providing situational contrast to allow our brain to gain a new perspective.
Indeed, you may find the daily annoyances and quotidian worries from home take on a form of nostalgia when you’re away.
Or, if you’ve been travelling to find that missing something in your life, you may realise that it’s not to be found externally at all, but rather as an intrinsic manifestation.
The benefits of travel simply can’t be underestimated and indeed, some of my best memories have been created on the road.
Sure, there were sometimes uncomfortable and even scary situations to face, but pushing ourselves to deal with such challenges head-on can yield enormous psychological growth.
So, if you’re overthinking and overplanning, stop.
Simply pull out a map, pick a destination, pack a bag and go.
You won’t regret it.