Hi. I am Jessica and I work for True Nature Education. I help out with blogging and do a little marketing and I like to use fancy words like “high level strategic planning”, yada yada yada. I’ve been tasked with writing a blog about why it’s important to travel why you are young. I am extremely passionate about travel – and besides my two children, traveling the world while I was young was what shaped me into who I am today. I thought about writing this blog as more of a factual piece – in the 3rd person, and to try and give you all the stats and numbers as to why traveling is so freaking great (and important). But, my own personal experience with travel is a much more powerful story to share. At least, I think so.
I am 36 years old and I can confidently say that my decisions to travel and explore different countries and cultures have been a few of the best choices I made in my life. Hey, I am sitting here getting paid to write about it and share it with you, so I guess I am doing something right! I am not talking about travel in the sense of “booking an all inclusive trip to the Bahamas” where you receive an ice cold lemonade upon arrival and the biggest decision of the day is whether you make that extra investment in a poolside cabana. Now, don’t get me wrong, that sounds pretty sweet – but those are not the experiences in life I crave. I wanted something more.
When I was 19 years old I decided to go to Haiti on a two-week mission/service trip. Not the typical place a 19-year-old is spring breaking. I just knew I wanted to experience something more. And, I did. That trip changed my life. So much so that I signed up to go back for six months and teach at a local school. I was immersed in the culture. I was given an opportunity to share my gifts. And, most of all, I could feel that I was receiving so much more than I was giving. It was not always easy. I saw what real poverty looked like for the first time but I also saw what real joy looked like, too. My world view at 19 years old was just being shaped and I am so thankful, 17 years later, that I chose the dirt floor of a class room with 20 absolutely gorgeous and smiling faces as my spring break that year instead of getting a tan. I can’t imagine the direction my life would have taken i had I made a different choice. Because after that trip, everything changed. And these five principles have helped to guide and shape the person I am today.
1. The world is bigger than your iPhone screen.
Well, 20 years ago I guess you could say “back yard” but with literally anything you want or need at your fingertips these days, some might say, why travel when you can, you know, snap chat all day long. Or that snap chatting all day long is actually keeping you from engaging and exploring the world around you. Put the phone DOWN, unless you are using it to book a plane ticket.
2. Traveling teaches you compassion
For me, my first experience in traveling was visiting one of the poorest countries in the world. From my travels to Haiti, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and of course, Costa Rica, one common thread that weaves through all of my journeys is that I have lived a very privileged existence. The fact that I can leave my country and for the most part, go where I want, is extremely fortunate. And, it becomes very, very clear that no matter what country you are from or what economic status you hold, we are all one, beautiful human race. The smiles of the children you will meet along your travels will open and melt your heart, in ways you never imagined. Their toothless grins and bare feet will soften everything you ever thought you knew, about anything.
3. You have no excuse not too.
Nope. You do not. Take it from me. I am 36 years old now with a 9 month old at home and a mortgage to pay. I don’t think that I can stress enough that I AM SO THANKFUL I TRAVELED WHILE I WAS YOUNG (did ya get the point yet?). There have been many late nights with my son where I find myself rocking him to sleep and I get to day dream about all of the adventures I have had. The things that you might think are holding you back now – money, resources, don’t have a passport, etc – are all things to rise above and overcome. Yes, it does require putting a plan together, following through and being responsible – but the rewards you will reap and the lifetime of memories you will create are, priceless. As Nike keeps on telling us over and over again, Just Do It.
4. Feeling like you are a part of a global community is so empowering.
Just because you are traveling elevates you to this sort of amazing status where you can immediately make a friend for life in about 10 minutes. I have had more fun with the complete strangers I’ve met on the road, from all over the world, than with some of the friends I have had since birth! It is magical and difficult to put into words actually, but you seem to connect to friends you meet while traveling and see them as family. Sort of one of those things you need to experience to really know. Another great reason to get out there!
It may be because my first experience in travel was also my first true experience in service. After my passport was officially stamped, I was hooked. Service, in one way or another, is a filter that I desire to live my entire life through, and, it is because I took a journey and gave of myself and my talents, freely. Teaching school on that dirt floor in Haiti, filming a documentary in Ecuador, living in Costa Rica with True Nature Education gave me the wisdom to see that living in service to others is a way of life that lives on long after you take your backpack off. It is a daily gift.
One of the greatest gifts that travel has given me is the ability to look at my life, everyday, as a journey. We can take the spirit of traveling across distant lands and seeing things with new eyes right into our own back yard. My son will inherit my obsession for looking through a passport that is full of colorful stamps from places seen. My stories and memories will live on through him and hopefully his desire to see the world and make it a better place. And, that, is how traveling changes you, for the better.