There are certain things in life that feel like they were predetermined long before you were born. Society has an accepted set of norms, and we’re expected to conform. We grow up, go to school, go to college, meet a nice boy or girl, get married, have babies, and then carefully shepherd the new generation along the same dry and dusty path. Here’s the thing… Treading carefully through life and spending $100,000+ on four or more years of good ole book learnin’ might make you a killer Jeopardy contestant, but it won’t teach you about real life, and it won’t open your eyes, your heart, or your soul. There are many reasons why taking the time to travel beats the heck out of waking up at 7am for Accounting 101, but here are the best lessons you’ll learn on the road:
There is no roommate with a stash of extra ramen if you spend your food money on beer and paintball, no parents waiting to do your dirty laundry, and no one giving you a talking to if you start making crappy decisions. College acts like a halfway house between childhood and the real world, but it also creates a lot of bad habits (no, your RA is not your Mommy, guys). At first your new found freedom is ecstatically liberating, but the reality may come as a bit of a shock; if you blow your budget, come down with the flu, or find yourself utterly and completely lost, the only person you have to rely on is you. Get through a year of traveling through strange and wonderful places, and you’ll be able to get through anything.You’re Not Alone
As isolating as traveling can sometimes be, you’re sure to meet locals that are as interested in talking to you as you are to them. In addition, backpackers are a unique breed, and they tend to bond with their own. You’ll make friends in the hostels, some you may end up traveling with for awhile, some you’ll randomly meet again in some tiny bunk-bed filled room in another magical land, and some you may just share a baguette and bottle of wine with and move on, but the result is always the same – a sense of community, a feeling of solidarity, and a lot of amazing memories.
We’d bet our Eurail Pass that more than one person will warn you against traveling abroad, citing everything from petty crime rates to terrorist activity and all kinds of scary scenarios in between. While you should absolutely check with the local U.S. Embassy to gauge a country’s climate before you cross any borders, few places are truly off limits. Just follow the same rules you would at home – beware of your surroundings, stay alert, don’t engage in illegal activity, know your way home – and be respectful of the local people and their customs. You’re a guest, so act like it.
You have no idea how privileged an existence you’ve led until you see the way the rest of the world lives. Travel long enough and far enough and you’ll see slavery, hunger, death, religious persecution, genocide, natural disaster, and poverty beyond anything you were previously capable of imagining. You’ll also learn how people find joy in loss, strength in hope, and dreams out of nothing more than rubble and ash. Your heart will break, but the things you find will help glue it back together. You’ll be humbled and awed and eternally grateful for having seen it all.
The more you travel, the more people you meet and places you see, the more you’ll realize how small you are in the worldwide scheme of things. There are 196 countries in the world, each with their own history that weaves in and out of the collective conscious, full of roughly 7.125 billion people speaking about 6,500 different languages, but all those facts and figures won’t tell you a thing about what it’s like to stroll through a lavender field in France, stand in solemn awe in a concentration camp in Austria, or touch the walls of buildings built thousands of years before you ever breathed your first bit of air. College has its perks, but if you want to learn about life, travel.