Upon re-examining our lives and the decisions we made to get here, we wondered what it is about travel that has changed us in so many ways. That was when a cousin-in-law’s mother hit the nail on the head when she told us at a family gathering (upon learning that we had been all over the world) that travel is the best education you can get. Even though my wife and I had already suspected this was the case, here we had someone who actually lived it and confirmed our suspicions.
“I have memories that are still with me since I traveled in the 60’s and friends who still keep in touch,” she said. “I’ve seen so much and learned so much about things you’d never learn about in school or watch on TV. Keep traveling while you still have your legs. I congratulate you.”
And with those words of wisdom in mind, we’re digging deep into our personal experiences to explain why travel is the best education you can get.
It’s one thing to see something on TV or read about it in the newspaper (or internet or books or whatever your media of choice is), but it’s another thing to see and experience those things in person. More often than not, when you’re told about something, you’re unlikely to appreciate its message and more likely to react (or not) briefly and then forget about it not long thereafter. But if you’ve witnessed a bombing or were confronted with beggars firsthand, these moments stick with you and you start to wonder why these things happen.
For example, in school, you can try to teach students about revolutions by regurgitating what’s in the history textbooks citing such factors like say the population had a 95% illiteracy rate, the rich got richer while the poor got poorer, and the populace was oppressed with no opportunities to break out of poverty. Sure the students might memorize some dates and some key figures in history, but it’s forgotten after the test or class is over and the implications of the cause and effect of the conditions leading to the revolution are lost.
But if those students perhaps visited (or better yet stayed with) a family with no running water, no electricity, no schools, and lack of food while working real hard to survive; all the while harboring deep resentment at the government for accepting bribes, hoarding most of the country’s wealth, and even coming in and building dams or deforesting to mine for coal (thereby putting more pressure on their own lands and impacting their own means of survival), then perhaps those students would be so deeply moved by the experience that they can better understand why the people want to act and revolt to improve their situation.
That is the essence of why deep impressions, which you can only get by experiencing things firsthand through travel, is one main reason why travel is the best education you can get. Perhaps more importantly, such impressions stick with you to the extent that you’re more inclined to want to take action to change things for the better.
We always believed that reality is the fastest and most effective teacher. When you buy some knock-off at a deeply discounted price at some street market only to have the knock-off fall apart on you when you get home, you learn never to look at knock-offs at street markets the same way again. But until you’ve had the bitter taste of being ripped off, you’ll always be looking for the next great deal no matter how dodgy the vendor is.
When you’re out there traveling, you’re more likely to witness places where socialism has been successful (and not as evil as gung-ho pro-capitalists and industrialists would have you believe), you’re more likely to appreciate how other people around the world (especially in Europe) don’t worry as much about health insurance and health care, and how locals in rural villages have found ways to adapt and live with their environment rather than trying to force arbitrary and detrimental changes against Nature. Without travel, these lessons may never be learned. As a result, you’re more likely to be swayed by bias from the media or from peers, which is not unlike kids learning bad habits by learning from undisciplined peers (i.e. the so-called “bad influences”) since they don’t have the information needed to make wiser decisions.
So it’s with this in mind that we think travel has a way of testing your theories and beliefs. You’re bound to run into different people, different cultures, different ways of doing things, different beliefs, and different environments. Often times, these are contrary to what you’re used to or what you’ve preconceived going into the trip. In that way, travel expands your horizons and makes you more open to the tremendous diversity and variety on the planet and its peoples. And by keeping an open mind about things, you’re more apt to learn from these differences and apply them in ways that would improve your own life (and hopefully others as well). And in the process, you’ll develop greater respect for other people while embracing differences instead of alienating people who are different.
Perhaps one of the most important things that travel has done for us is give us a greater sense of perspective. For when you travel, you’re exposed to a greater range of experiences. Thus, you have a more extensive library of experiences and knowledge to call upon when you’re confronted with a new situation or issue. And given our expanded library, we have the confidence to see the big picture, solve problems, not sweat the small stuff, believe in ourselves and what we know, understand people better, judge character better, and look at things more objectively. And through this awareness and self-belief, we feel that we’ve broken through barriers (many of which were self-imposed) regarding what we thought was possible.
Travel in general (at least the more enlightening customized types) is expensive, logistically difficult, and requires a lot of time, health, and energy to pull off. However, we’ve learned to overcome these barriers while getting richly rewarded with the knowledge acquired as a result. And it was through our own time put into trip preparation and execution that we broke through those mental barriers that typically keep people from getting out there in the first place; coming up with such excuses like it’s too expensive, too difficult, too much time to plan, etc. In a way, it forces you to overcome complacency, step out into the real world, and acquire the intangibles that make you a better person as a whole.
Through what we’ve learned, we are more able to filter and process information (so we’re no longer slaved to what the media pushes or says), we are better positioned to align our work (and consequently our lives) to our core values (my personal ethic is a sustainable future), we’re less inclined to give into hot air and hypocrisy when it comes to political issues, and we’re more apt to be respectful of different people with different backgrounds (you never know what you can learn from them).
Indeed, travel has given us the tools we need (through exposure, education, and perspective) to take steps necessary to improve not only our lives, but that of our children as well. We don’t proclaim to know everything, but at least we can put things in perspective and act accordingly.
Even though we’re saying that travel is the best education you can get, we’re not suggesting that you should forego a formal education nor does it mean it’s the answer to all of our problems. We’re just saying that travel will educate you in a way that will bring you closer to a more meaningful, healthier, and happier life if you go in with an open mind and the right attitude.
However, there are different kinds of traveling and we should point out that not all of them are conducive to learning. In fact, if you travel just to consume (like only chill out at resorts, go golfing, or do watersports [not that I condemn these activities]; all without interacting with locals or experiencing what the place has to offer in terms of authentic experiences), then you’ll only learn about consuming and little about local cultures, environments, and peoples. You won’t be able to expand your own horizons and acquiring travel’s educational benefits.
Speaking of consumption, we acknowledge that travel is not environmentally sustainable (what with the greenhouse gases [GHGs] spewed into the upper atmosphere by flying, planes being as close to energy efficient as they’re going to get, and the environmental damage caused by wasting water at resorts not to mention all the plastic bottle waste). However, we think if more people traveled to learn and see or experience genuinely different things, they’d be more understanding, better able to put things in perspective, and take steps to make the world a better place as well as more sustainable. So with that said, perhaps these same people would be more willing to find a way to make travel (let alone their own lifestyle) less impactful while still benefitting society (especially the education you don’t get in school) as a whole.
And regarding school, I think travel can do wonders if you complement your education with worldly experiences. That way, you get the skills needed to earn a living through school, but you retain more of what you learn (or even question some of it) through your experiences and observations while traveling. Besides, it’d also cause you to vote more intelligently thereby producing better leaders. I dare say that people who haven’t expanded their horizons and don’t have an open mind have been unable to stem the tide of corruption and poor leadership, which has resulted in much of the big problems we see around the world today.
So is travel the best education you can get? As far as we’re concerned, you bet!
Even though our travels have caused us to dip well into our savings thereby delaying that home purchase that everyone (including our government through its twisted tax laws) pushes for, we wouldn’t trade it for the world. We’re not materially rich, but we have a lifetime of memories and moments as well as a few friends we’ve met along the way. We rekindled a deep urge to constantly discover new places using waterfalls as the excuse to see places both far and near. We hope we can keep it going. For we never want to stop learning, improving ourselves, and making a difference in the world.