Why Traveling is Important (Even if You’re Broke or Love Where You Live)

Yes. It’s true. It’s important to travel, and not because you have money and resources to do so, and not because you need an escape from your life. It’s important because it offers an explosion of creativity and a point-of-view you can’t get from surfing around Tripadvisor planning for the day you have 5k and 4 weeks off.

Which is probably going to be never. The real question behind travel is to ask is “Does environment matter”, and it does. You will still have the same core problems, talents and skills regardless of environment (in other words, you are who you are no matter where you are), but that doesn’t mean environment doesn’t inspire. You don’t really understand the economics and politics of Sudan unless you’re there.

Or what it’s like to dodge monkeys at Burma’s (Myanmar) Mount Zwegabin. Unless you’re actually dodging them. Or why roughly 80% of the Icelandic population is undecided on elves and trolls unless you see it’s landscape and talk to the locals.

But more than anything, travel is important because it wakes you up. Provided you’re off the resort. And also exploring life, not just the bottom of a margarita at a cabana bar.

Are you asleep?

When the seasons change in New York from blistering hot in the summer to brisk in the Fall, then later icy and magical with a dusting of white lining the trees like lace, and finally yielding to cherry blossoms lining the streets before you even realize winter has come to pass – you realize how long you were asleep. You realize the air never felt so crisp. Or the leaves saturating quite so red.

The blossoms so full and dusting the sidewalks in pink. Your mind is awake and you start to think about that project you’ve been putting off for months. Or how you haven’t thrown a party in nearly a year. Or connected with an old friend that sparked such ingenious ideas the two of you thought you’d take over the world.

You can’t be asleep at the wheel of your life when you step off a plane and have to decipher a new language and culture just to make it to your accommodations.You can’t lie complacent in your hotel room with the sounds of festivals and music and life radiating from the streets below. And you can’t pretend the whole world exists within the confines of your home with a trail leading to work, your favorite haunts, and back home again.

You look for empathy when you travel. Someone who will understand you’re trying your best to embrace the experience and might need a hand once in awhile. You are no longer in control of your perfect little life tied up in a neat bow when you travel. There’s no comfort in familiar faces, and you read body language and nonverbal clues when you don’t speak a language. You have your guard up and notice the small gestures and dimly lit alleys that surround you and decide whether it’s the welcoming glow of the locals or hostile warning for tourists.

The experience of designing your travel is just as important as the travel itself. Will you shell out a few hundred, or thousand dollars, instead of evoking the creative strategies that have already been researched and exist just for you? It shouldn’t be any big secret that you can travel free, frugally, and cheap with some creativity.

  • Save $2.44 a Day For a (Comfortable) Week Abroad
  • Frequent flyer mile programs
  • Couch surfing
  • Monastery and convent stays
  • Guesthouses
  • Cheap, exotic and non-Westernized locations

And if you draw from the strategies laid out for you, will you succumb to the 2-week vacation on auto-pilot, or strategize 50 days of travel a year while holding down a full-time job? I apologize, but I’m going to bring up Sex in the City. There was an episode where Miranda went out on a date with ‘Manhattan Guy’ a guy who had not left the borough of Manhattan in over a decade and scoffed at her for leaving the state, let alone city.

Most people I know in New York are worse than those I know who live in small towns. They don’t forge outside of three or four neighborhoods. They go to the same restaurants and bars. They have no idea Staten Island is the South Pole of the state of New York, or has beaches. They are unaware there is a wildlife refuge and hiking in Queens. They are clueless to the free kayaking or sculpture park in Queens.

Even if you love where you live and believe your life is the epicenter of the universe, you need travel. You need experiences and context to your life. Think of what you’ll bring back to your daily life and work. If you know how to get into Saudi Arabia without a valid visa, then you’ll never look at your daily life the same way again. Getting a proposal done, a blog post, a promotion, a raise will have new implications and insights after a remarkable experience. Skydiving when you’re afraid of heights forces you to rethink the fear you feel when considering a career or lifestyle change.

It’s not just about travel, it’s about trying new things and seeing new possibilities for your life.

If I hadn’t moved to New York from Georgia with no real place to live or discernible income and stayed through 9/11; I wouldn’t have forced my way from a staff job to freelance as a video editor. Or forged a path to travel writing. Or started a blog. Environment matters. Ask yourself where your life is taking you and if the same walls you’re looking at day after day are going to take you there.