One of the most liberating realizations of travel is embracing one’s insignificance in the universe. Far from grim, this new awareness is a beautiful lesson in the role you play in the world. It teaches us the value of ourselves, those around us, and the ground we tread upon.
Gustave Flaubert summed it up pretty well: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” That’s why travel is good for you.
Meaningful globetrotting is important because it puts our life into perspective. It aligns our little speckle of essence against the universe. It is not being small; it is the world being big, and both your celebrations and problems not holding as much weight as it may seem at times.
Growing up in a society where self-worth is emphasized, it has become almost a necessity to feel special. Yet, the world is round; we cannot always be on top of it. Understanding that individuals make up something much bigger and meaningful is good, and travel opens our eyes to situations that prove this over and over again.
Here are the ways travel makes us humble...
It embarrasses you.
Let’s face it: it’s not the most pleasant sensation to unpack a dozen bags of fresh produce at a cash register, and then be told to please come back with all items weighed. It's also not fun to try hailing down a bus at busy street corners with no result, to say that you have sixteen anos instead of años, or to find yourself wearing flip flops to an Italian dinner party.
Every time that you blush is a learning opportunity. Having cultural norms challenged, no matter how mundane the instance may be, is a healthy reality check. Travel has the power to make you feel completely silly, and this territory outside of the comfort zone is great indication of personal growth.
It shows you how much you have.
Sometimes, you need to see a mother huddling under a tin roof with half a dozen kids, rationing out soup from a single pot to understand just how much you have in life. Or to observe the lanky teenager who walks two hours every day to work alongside the highway. Or to attempt to fit all of your possessions into a single carry-on for a RyanAir flight.
You don’t realize how many things you have, either in your possession or back home, until you put restrictions or comparisons on it. Just the mere fact of being out there, seeing, is proof that you are well off: health, time, money, the opportunity to be the curious traveler that you are abroad. Feel grateful for your circumstance, but don’t assume that happiness or success is measured by the number of boxes that are waiting for you in storage.
It shows you how much you don’t have.
At the same time, witnessing that mother or barefoot teenager can be an uncomfortable poke as to how much you are missing in life. Happiness has nothing to do with things; it is a personal state that stems from an appreciation for the current situation.
Often, it is those that have the least that offer us the most. Whether it be a seat at the dinner table or a hand with luggage, it is time and effort that are the most valuable presents abroad. And when observing family and community, selflessness and smiles, we see how it's possible to own the entire world and still not have anything.
It shows you true resilience.
This is such a big reason why travel is important. Travel is impact, and this is seen no better than by looking in a mirror or at the faces of the people around you. The path might be filled with all sorts of obstacles: ugly weather, bad scheduling, injuries, language barriers, sketchy hostels, and the dreaded culture shock. However, it is resilience that carries you over these potholes and into Destination Paradise.
This spirit of determination is also witnessed on the majority of the human population. There are hardships in most countries: poverty, political corruption, disease, lack of infrastructure, restrictive gender roles, limited education. And yet, there are people getting out of bed with a smile on their face, winning little personal victories every day.
Humanity can take a lot, and most challenges end in strength of character.
When it seems like the bumpy bus ride will never end or the stomach flu will not pass, just keep in mind all of the new immunities you have developed. Travel guarantees that you´ll come back with a thicker layer of skin than you left with, but you’ll also have to admit that you’re not completely invincible.
It shows you how much you don’t know.
You have been sorting your garbage for the past fifteen years, but you have no idea how to take out the trash in dumpster-less Mexico City. What to do? Stand awkwardly at the street corner, black bag in hand, and see what others do. By now, you've gotten pretty good at people-watching before doing the same. How else would you figure out how to validate bus tickets or which fork to use for the pasta?
New places and cultures are great at making us realize how oblivious we are to so many things. That law degree is going to be worthless when you’re trying to set up a campsite in Romanian forests, and the years spent memorizing science formulas will not help when you need to wash your own clothes in a Kenyan river. Useful intelligence comes with experience, and the more we learn abroad, the more we realize how much more there is out there that we don´t know.
It makes you appreciative.
The thought of getting tired of Colombian food might seem ludicrous, but after a couple of weeks in isolated villages where the diet is limited to rice and arepas, you would pay a lot of pesos for a fresh salad. And, after a solo fall semester studying abroad, Christmas with the family sounds like the best gift of the season. Let’s not even mention how glorious that long shower is after a ten-day trek through a rowdy jungle.
Travel makes you appreciate the finer things in life: new friends in foreign cities, colorful sunsets, warm meals, cold drinks, dry clothes, having a bed for the night. Dependency upon material possessions and luxuries tend to fade away, and that void is replaced with gratitude for the bare necessities. Seeing living conditions abroad and living out of a backpack rearranges priorities and inspires you to wake up and go to bed with a thank you on your lips every day.
It makes you think.
It’s a nice, cold shower to realize that something that is common sense to you might be completely foreign to the rest of the world— and vice versa. Habits and mentalities that you have been growing up with might not be the norm for the rest of the world, and it won’t take long walking in someone else’s shoes to realize that.
Growing up in one lifestyle builds social expectations and desires based on those of the people around you. However, the rest of the world ticks to its own rhythm. Spending 20 years working for the perfect degree, job, engagement, and wardrobe might have seemed fulfilling before, but now your eyes are open to all sorts of new realities built upon foreign mentalities, and there is a sense of desire for something different.
It teaches you trust.
This is perhaps the most important reason why travel is important, and how it makes us all humble. Traveling, especially solo and spontaneously, places you in the hands of good fortune. What happens with every step is up to the universe, and accepting the fact that the world is ultimately a good place makes relinquishing control an unburdening act.
It makes the journey much easier if you trust strangers (responsibly) and see them as future friends. Humanity is a trait that connects all of us, but sometimes the digital bubbles we build around ourselves limit both our interactions and expectations. Trust yourself enough to let down your guard. Practicing vulnerability is a beautiful thing, and there are few feelings as powerful as standing at the same level as someone else with open hands.
LET travel humble you
Now that you know how travel makes us humble, let it humble you. Whether it is a fashion internship in France, a weekend getaway to the next town over, or a volunteer placement in Peru, travel astounds, amazes, humbles, and offers a big boost of humanity. It might not always feel pleasant or comfortable, but it´s always good for you (like those mandatory vaccinations or those prescribed antibiotics).
In good and bad times, meaningful travel is our best teacher for personal development. Take each experience as a stepping stone to being a more well-rounded global citizen, and get ready to see the world from a new angle. Pack half the things you think you might need, make sure your passport is valid for twice as long as you have planned, and embark on the next journey. No matter the country, and regardless of the journey, the destination will ultimately be the same.