Travelling can and will teach you a lot of things…more than even you know. From the moment you step off a plane in a foreign country, your senses are bombarded by stimuli that are different from what you are accustomed to. A mere glance at the landscape with all its accompanying sounds and smells will give you an inherent feeling of the place that you would not gain from reading an encyclopedia on your destination. Often, the feeling I get from people entering Bangkok is a “…Oh.” Not many people expect a sprawling metropolis, massive skyscrapers in every direction, giant billboards and honking, state of the art Toyota (oh, aren’t they all) cabs. No, Thais do not live in mud huts. Yes, they have running water. Computers do exist in Thailand. These are the kinds of things that you take in nearly instantaneously without even realizing it, and they are invaluable in assessing the cultural norms and how they compare to your own back home.
Then there are the kinds of things you can actively learn from travelling – cultural displays like dance, eating habits or various historical monuments and museums – all of which offer you insight into what makes a different culture tick. I enjoyed this quote from a book I was just reading about the Vietnam War – a perfect example of how a cultural difference meant all the world. “To Asians steeped in Confucian concepts, time is an endless river flowing from an infinitely regenerative source. Time to Westerners is always precious; to the Oriental it can be spent with generosity.” It even goes so far as to compare calendars in the West with calendars in the East: ours are linear, with pages that begin and end…a year is a long time. In Eastern calendars, time is a wheel with no beginning or end. It goes on to say, “Quick victory is a Western concept. All the Vietnamese had to do was not lose.” They were patient, and it worked. But I digress.
For those out there who have travelled far and wide, it is all too easy to follow the rote tourist route, see what you came to see, and climb up on that high horse and say you’ve done it all. And maybe you’re right. But what is even more important about travelling is what you learn. Even if you go off the beaten path and do it your own way – if you aren’t applying the things you learn to improve yourself or the world around you, there is another opportunity missed.
Travelling for the sake of travelling is just like any other hobby. What makes it unique is there are often more opportunities to take what you see around you and use it to better yourself. Look around you, at the things other people do through their unique personalities or through their different cultural perspective. Take those things you like and make them a part of yourself. Remove those habits that you hold on to that you dislike. Create your own culture and cultivate your personality to be how you want it to be. No one else has as much power to do that as you!
Whether it be exercising your body or your mind, testing your ideas against someone else’s, helping someone in need, or contemplating your purpose in the world to better clarify your goals, make every day count. We only gots so many of em. And travelling is one of my favourite ways to find new ways of improvement!
The name of the game is self-improvement, and if a day goes by where you haven’t learned something new or gained a new perspective or changed your life or someone else’s in any way, was that day well spent?