Travel

A Quick Thought on The Nature of Travel

Nomadic Matt posing for a photo along the winding road of Hawaii
Posted: 2/20/2023 | February 20th, 2023

Traveling the world is like becoming a child all over again. You don’t know what to do, where to go, or how to function.

How do you stay safe?

How do you get around?

How do you communicate?

What are the cultural norms you have to follow?

In each destination, you start from scratch and have to relearn how to do the most basic of life skills.

You have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Without them to guide and teach you, you’d be lost. From locals who give you rides to people who help you when you get hurt to those who just tell you where to go or invite you into their homes, you need their guidance and assistance the same way a child needs an adult’s.

Every day on the road, you are learning what to do for the first time and how you have to rely on other people — just like a child.

Sure, this constant relearning is one of the tiresome aspects of travel. It’s a lot of mental work to constantly figure out whom to trust, how to behave, and how to get around. It is why long-term travelers always eventually slow down (and why people who travel too fast burn out). After a while, you just can’t be doing this every day. Your mental energy gets depleted. The brain burns out.

But it’s through this process that you really grow up. You come to understand the world the same way you grew to understand your hometown.

First, you get to learn how different countries operate. As the quote by Henry Rollings says, “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.” By repeatedly seeing how other places operate, you get a sense of what your home country does right — and wrong.

It also gives you an infinite number of chances to improve yourself and how you do things.

We live the majority of our lives on autopilot. We get up, we go to work, we run errands, we watch Netflix — and then we do it all over again the next day. We know where to eat, where to shop, how to get around, and what places to avoid. We know the exact route to get to the grocery store and we’ve done it so many times that we just can kind of zone out on the way there as we think about the million other things we have to do.

In our day-to-day lives, we follow routines. Our minds don’t constantly need to do “the work” of figuring out how to live.

And any book on psychology will tell you how important that is to function as an adult. We need routine because we only have so much bandwidth per day to make decisions. Routines allow our brains to work better and focus on more important tasks. Without auto-pilot, we couldn’t function.

But, on the road, you have no routines. Every place and situation is new. Everything you do requires active decision making.

Think about just finding somewhere to eat. In a new destination, if and when you find a restaurant, you don’t know what to order, what’s good, what’s bad. All of it is a mystery. Every time you want to have a meal, you have to decide: Does that place look sketchy? Am I going to like that food?

It’s exhausting.

But relearning how to decide where to eat, over and over again, helps you improve those processes. In this case, you get to know the universal clues on what makes a restaurant good. You learn how to eat alone. You learn what you like.

Whether it’s finding something to eat, ascertaining how to get around, figuring out how to locate information, or learning to trust people, I think because we travelers have to do it so much, we develop enough different mental pathways that we become better at decision making in general than most people. We just have more experience.

The same is true in dealing with people. Because language isn’t universal, I have to figure out every day how to communicate with people who don’t understand me (and vice versa).

But in doing that so many times, I’ve gotten better at reading people than I would have if I had only ever encountered those who live in my hometown. That constant, taxing work — while draining — has produced dividends over a lifetime by being better able to communicate and interact with and understand a variety of people.

And in the end, all this work makes you a more independent, confident, and mature person. You grow up with a better sense of who you are, what you want, and how the world functions.

Traveling may be a lot of work. It may be mentally taxing. And it may make you feel like you’ve regressed as an adult as you wander helplessly from destination to destination. But, in the end, all that rewiring makes you a better person.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

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