Sunlight glistened on the water, as I journeyed down the Ganges River in a rowboat. Pilgrims dressed in colorful saris prayed along the banks, spicy scents filled my nose and the sounds of cremation ceremonies echoed on the breeze. India’s surprising contradictions overwhelmed my senses and my mind expanded at every splash of the oar.
A mix of excitement, astonishment and curiosity made me ridiculously happy, as all world travel does. However, to stop at the word ‘happy’ is a gross understatement. Travel is rich. Rich like a dark chocolate mud cake filled with layers of cream and icing.
Though actually eating it gives you the feeling of happiness, the ‘richness’ comes from the depth of variety and flavor. When you travel the world, you become happier because the experiences add layers of richness to your life – without the calories of a mud cake.
You Test Your Comfort Zone
It’s easy to think that happiness means comfort and familiarity, but travel teaches that the very opposite is, in fact, true. Most avid travelers will tell you that once the travel bug bites, there’s no turning back because you’re addicted for life. The challenges, adventures and lessons rip you quickly out of your comfort zone and show you how much more there is to discover.
You could climb Mount Everest or simply step into the world of budget travel at a hostel. Either way, you’re always learning valuable skills because you’re doing something entirely new, like meeting travel buddies, delving into strange cultures, overcoming language barriers and looking after yourself in a foreign environment.
I’ve never stepped off a plane without feeling the anticipation of stretching my comfort zone. Each time I do, I become more confident, intelligent, courageous and capable. There’s nothing scarier than the unknown, but the unknown is often just a few steps past your own comfort zone – and travel helps you cross to the other side of fear.
You Learn How to be Present
Escaping the everyday routines of work, duties and worries opens up a whole new perspective on life. When you’re traveling, you become completely immersed in experiences and start to take notice of all the tiny details. You actually do stop to smell the roses, because the roses appear different.
Every time I first glimpse a world wonder, like the Taj Mahal or the Great Barrier Reef, time stands totally still. It disappears with my sense of awe and I become completely present in the moment. No matter where or how you’re traveling, the sense of being present and mindful increases with each moment.
When this happens, you realize how much precious time is wasted worrying about the future, rushing around and trying to grasp something that’s always just that little bit out of reach. You understand that everything is right under your own nose, just waiting to be noticed and appreciated. Learning how to be present is a lifelong skill that leads to a happier, richer life.
You Start to Embrace Change
There’s nothing like travel when it comes to dealing with the unexpected. I’ve missed flights, been caught in a tropical monsoon while on a tiny fishing boat, boarded a bus to Bruges and ended up in Poland and gotten lost more times than I can remember. Each and every time an unexpected situation crops up, you have to call on strength, skill and a sense of humor that knows most things end up being funny in some way, some day.
Really, when you’re out on the road you have no choice but to embrace change and you don’t even notice what you’re learning along the way. When you return home though, you carry more than souvenirs crammed into a suitcase. You bring extra self-confidence and knowledge to top up your ‘experience bank’ and increase the richness of your life.
You Make a Global Family
Friends make us happy and there’s no easier way to make them, than while traveling. There’s a united feeling among travelers, which leads to new adventures and lifelong friendships. If you’re on the backpacking circuit, for example, you could take a leap into a journey you’d never even imagined, just because you sparked up a conversation while washing your dishes in the communal kitchen.
Apart from fellow travelers, meeting locals offers insight into cultures you can’t get from reading a book. Plus, your new friends show you all the best places to go, introduce you to foods you might not otherwise try and give you a backstage pass into the fascinating differences of ‘normal’ life across the globe.
You begin to understand that nothing’s black or white and that fixed opinions really are just a matter of perception. What’s ordinary to you will seem extraordinary to another culture and vice versa. Letting go of pre-conceived notions of how life should be, allows you to expand and grow into a well-rounded, interesting person, with less need to judge others for being different.
You’re Exposed to a Different Education
When you travel the world, you’re on a non-stop learning binge. From figuring out how to navigate transport systems at airports to trying to understand the basics of another language, traveling is actually taking a journey through the school of life. The thing is, it tends to be a lot more fun, because you’re making up the rules as you go along.
Apart from the everyday lessons of travel, each country you visit brings opportunities to learn something relevant to a different culture. Learn how to cook like an Italian in the Tuscan hills, take tango lessons in Buenos Aires or go on safari with the Maasai in Kenya, to understand nature.
Learning in this way not only adds to your knowledge base, but it increases your entire outlook on life in general. Education isn’t all about being able to recite a text book so you can pass a test. It’s about branching out far and wide, on a never-ending search for expansion.
You Appreciate Home More
When we’re at home, it’s so easy to take everything and everyone for granted. We see family and friends regularly so don’t really appreciate them, get bored at our jobs, yell in traffic jams or hate the fact that it rains too much in the middle of a cold winter.
Travelling gives you a whole new perspective on your own life, often, because you truly see how lucky you are. For example, most jobs don’t seem so boring when you’ve witnessed true poverty. Even the simple things you might miss while on the road, like your favorite restaurant or beach, become all the more special when you return.
As for family and friends, though it’s wonderful to make new ones, it’s always beautiful to return to those who love and know you best. It reminds you not to take anything, or anyone, for granted.
Travel is about fun and adventure. About discovering the beauty of the world and tasting the exotic, which does lead to happiness. But, the best part is, the more you do it, the wealthier you get as you deposit experiences into your memory bank, which ultimately form part of a fulfilling, and very rich, life.