Sometimes you have to depend on others – for rides, for advice, for a local perspective, for job connections, for a bike. I still struggle with this one. I don’t like being that person who always needs a ride. Back home my car brought with it independence, and I didn’t think twice about it. The upside to being carless, though, is that the rides you share bring you more time with friends while you still have the opportunity to. Moreover, it shows you who your true friends are, because they won’t mind going you a lift (again and again), even if you can’t give them anything in return.
Who you are away from your comfort zone. You find yourself apart from your regular set of friends and family, and you figure out what that means for you. This builds sympathy with anyone else who has ever been in a minority. See Nos. 2 and 3 in my post on reasons to study abroad.
To put yourself out there. Likewise, when you don’t have your regular set of friends, you have to go out and make some. This can be draining for a natural introvert like me. I don’t like having to be “on” all the time. But the end result is meeting heaps of new friends and travel buddies, which is ultimately more rewarding than the far easier option of holing yourself up in your room.
To not just make travel plans – to actually travel. When the date of your flight home is looming, you make travel plans happen. Again and again, I’ve met Kiwis who have said I’ve seen more of New Zealand than they have, or else they haven’t been to the South Island in 20 years (some perspective for my American readers: both islands make up about the size of Colorado). And to be fair, this argument could be made about my travels in America: I’ve been to more countries than states. Because wherever you live, you just assume you’ll see the nearby sites one day – but then when you have a vacation, you go somewhere far away. It’s not until you have out-of-town visitors that you wonder, “Hmm, what IS there to do around here, anyway?” – even if you’ve lived in your town for years.
It’s sort of the travel equivalent of the person who says, “We should totally meet up for coffee sometime!” and then never gets back to you. Don’t tell me you want to take a road trip with me unless you’re serious.
To better appreciate where you come from. Aside from missing the creature comforts of home (central heating and insulation, I will never, ever, ever take you for granted again), you will take a page from my last two paragraphs and make it a point to get out and see – and appreciate – what lies in your own backyard/state/country.
To appreciate each day you have there. When you’re in a new country, you often wake up thinking, “I’m in [exciting new country]!” You often feel that way doing ordinarily mundane things: “Sure, I’m just walking alongside a river, but I’m walking alongside a river in New Zealand!” When you have that attitude – and the sense of urgency that comes with knowing you only have a finite amount of time there – it honestly helps you make each day count (trite as that may sound). And, as with my traveling points above, it reminds you to do the same when you’re back home.
OK, fellow travelers: what have YOU learned?