Personal growth might not be one of the first things that comes to mind when you think about traveling abroad, but perhaps it should. When you leave the comfort and familiarity of life in your home country, you turn every day into an opportunity to learn, discover, explore, and grow. But the lessons you learn may not be what you always expect. Here are 27 surprising benefits of traveling abroad that have transformed my life for the better.
Benefits of Traveling Abroad
1. You regain your curiosity.
As children, we all have an innate sense of wonder. We view the world as a magical place to explore using our favorite two words: ‘how’ and ‘why’.
Unfortunately, as we grow up too many of us are taught to stop questioning things and to instead do as we are told. Whether at school, at home, or in the workplace, we are led to believe that following directions is the primary means to success and happiness. And over time, we simply stop asking how or why.
Travel is the perfect opportunity to regain one’s curiosity. Leaving the banalities of everyday life behind and instead surrounding yourself with the new and exciting reignites the flame of exploration. You’re not only allowed to ask questions, you’re encouraged. How do the locals live? Why is a particular custom followed?
When you travel, being curious becomes a way of life. You get accustomed to asking questions about everything you see, do, and feel. And when you return home these habits follow. With curiosity, a trip to the neighborhood grocery store can be as interesting as a walk through the bazaar of Marrakech. It’s all mindset.
2. You gain confidence.
Travel isn’t always easy. Spend enough time on the road and you’ll have your share of mental and physical challenges. But these obstacles are almost always less intense or consequential than those you face at home.
The culture shock you get arriving in Japan for the first time or the strain your put yourself through hiking to Machu Picchu might seem intense in the moment, but these pale in comparison to the challenges you’ll have starting a business, raising a child, or battling a serious illness.
Travel provides the perfect opportunity—in a fun and relatively safe environment—to overcome obstacles and build confidence. Whether your future challenges are mental or physical, research indicates that believing in yourself is the most important thing you do to succeed.
3. You learn to take things slowly.
How often do you slow down and simply enjoy the moment in your daily life? Be honest.
If you’re like most people, it’s not very often. We live in a time where, despite--or perhaps because of--all the advances in technology, we feel as though we must constantly rush from thing to thing, accomplishing goal after goal.
This is not a good way to live. You miss out on so many incredible things when your not focused on the present moment. All too often we fail to notice the warmth of a friend’s hug or the joy passed on through a stranger’s smile because we’re thinking of something entirely unrelated to our current circumstances.
Many novice travelers pack this habit with them on vacation. They try to see the whole Louvre in one day, or all of Europe in two weeks. Invariably, they return home exhausted, stressed, and disappointed, wondering why their hurried experiences didn’t live up to their lofty expectations.
Fortunately, one of the benefits of traveling abroad is that you realize how counterproductive this is. You decide to either do less or travel for longer. And you discover that slowing down actually allows you to experience more.
For a single day spent living in the moment—fully focusing on people and places you encounter—will provide infinitely richer feelings and insights than a whole month of rushed travel.
And while it’s not always possible to go through life at home with the same leisurely pace we have on the road, the memories of your travels inspire you to regularly slow down—even if just for a few moments.
4. You realize it’s OK to fail.
Anyone who honestly looks back at their past travels recognizes that they are often filled with failure. From butchering the pronunciation of the local language, to getting lost in a foreign subway system, to wrongly guessing which of the menu items won’t come with eyeballs, travelers are always making mistakes.
And yet, 99% of the time, everything works out just fine. We learn something new about the way things are done in whatever corner of the world we’re in, and we move on. Often, such minor failures are so common that we simply overlook them.
This is in stark contrast to how many people live at home, where they treat failure not as a useful tool to be embraced but rather as something to be avoided at all costs.
I used to feel this same way. I thought that one C on an exam was a disaster or that a mess up at work would instantly result in a pink slip. Somewhat unsurprisingly, this made me incredibly risk adverse. I avoided situations where failure was a possibility, and always tried to take the safe route.
All this changed once I began traveling. I saw how travel mistakes mostly make for a good laugh or a minor inconvenience. Sometimes they even turn out for the better.
Mispronounce Chianti at a Florentine wine bar and the bartender might snicker. Get off at the wrong stop in the Paris Metro and you might have to walk 30 minutes back to your hotel. Grab the train to Ljubljana rather than Lisbon and you might meet the love of your life
By seeing firsthand through travel that failure can be a valuable learning tool—perhaps the most valuable—rather than something to be feared, you return home eager to make mistakes, to learn, and to grow.
5. You have better stories to tell.
Mark Twain once said that “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Traveling only supports this.
The absurd mishaps, random occurrences, and incredible adventures that occur while traveling make for fascination stories that almost no one—save perhaps the Most Interesting Man In the World—can top. So regardless of whether your audience is your family, your friends, or a hot date, the traveler is able to entertain and (often) inspire simply by sharing a few stories from the road.
6. You learn to focus on what you can control—your responses.
One of the most appealing aspects of travel is that you never quite know what will happen next. Most of the time, this means that life on the road is filled with surprise and novelty, but sometimes it results in unexpected setbacks.
Missed flights, closed museums, or minor illnesses; almost every traveler has dealt with these issues at one point or another, and there’s little you can do to prevent them.
However, one thing travelers can always do is control their responses. When things go south, it’s up to you to decide quickly whether you react with annoyance and anxiety, or strength and strategy.
Rather quickly, travelers realize that the best way—and sometimes the only way—out of difficult circumstances is to focus on what they can do to improve their situation rather than on what’s gone wrong.
Ask politely for a spot on the next departure when you’re flights been cancelled, and you’ll usually get whatever spots are available. Lash out in anger, and you might be spending the night sleeping on the airport floor.
Whether at home or on the road, we all experience setbacks like this at some point. As travel teaches you, what ultimately determines your future is how we react to these challenges.
7. You better appreciate what you have at home.
It’s easy to take what you have at home for granted. While I don’t believe that you can easily say that one country or city is clearly better than another, when you visit somewhere that doesn’t have the same things that you’re used to it helps you to better appreciate what you have at home.
In many parts of the world, what most consider basic amenities are luxuries, and the concept of human rights is foreign. Traveling through Cuba, I met and lived among people for whom regular access to clean water or political freedom was just a dream.
While overall life in Cuba is too nuanced to make grand proclamations, it was sobering to experience these restrictions, even if just for a few weeks. [To find out more about my trip to Cuba, click here.]
Of course, not all the things you learn to appreciate about your home while traveling are as serious. A trip abroad can inspire a newfound gratitude for family, friends, certain foods, and even your local weather (nothing quite makes you appreciate the winters in Wisconsin like a January trip to Antarctica).
8. But you also gain humility and perspective.
Of course, traveling isn’t just about reinforcing the good aspects of life at home. Rather, it shows you different ways of doing things, some of which may actually be superior to what you’re used to.
This process can be somewhat humbling, especially if you’ve been raised to think that your culture and society does everything the best. In the long run, however, having a realistic perspective on things allows you to identify problems and to take the necessary steps to correct them.
Furthermore, once you acknowledge that you may have been wrong (or at least less-correct) on one thing, you become more accepting of new ideas and possibilities in general--something that will help you in all aspects of life.
Such lessons often arise in the most unlikely of circumstances. Despite all the political and economic hardships the Cuban government has placed upon its citizens, its emphasis on communal responsibility has created a palpable sense of cooperation that is often lacking in the U.S, especially recently.
9. You become a better communicator.
Travel is a great tool for developing your communication skills. While traveling, you encounter all sorts of people, many of whom will share neither your language nor culture. In these circumstances, it can be difficult to convey even the simplest of ideas. Such challenges makes you use ingenuity and creativity to exchange information.
Learning to use tools like Google Translate, point books, hand gestures, and even sketch pads to express your ideas, you begin to think of communication in entirely new ways. And in dealing with people from disparate backgrounds, it becomes clear how the same thing can be intercepted very differently depending on your life experiences.
This process ultimately forces you to think more carefully about how and what you say and do, making you both a more nuanced and more adaptive communicator.
10. You become friends with people around the world.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have met and befriended people from around the world while traveling. Whether they were fellow adventurers or amicable locals, these relationships have enriched my life both on the road and at home.
The same can happen for you with the right attitude and initiative. If you keep an open mind and are willing to speak with strangers, you’ll discover a world filled with interesting and engaging people.
Naturally, the more you travel, the more people you meet. Over time, you’ll develop a personalized, global network of like-minded individuals with whom you can share ideas, discuss international events from a local perspective, and plan future experiences.
Often, you’ll find yourself taking turns visiting your new friends in their hometown, such as when I went to Dublin, Warsaw, or Skopje. And when you decide to travel somewhere different, you can reach out to this network for advice and to connect you with other like-minded locals. What’s not to love?
11. You learn to trust your gut.
Of course, not everyone you meet while traveling has your best intentions at heart. Because of this, it’s common for less-experienced travelers to feel as though they need to be on constant high alert.
Unfortunately, this can cloud their whole travel experience in negativity and fear, which in turn can lead to unnecessarily mental and physical strain.
Our sub-conscious minds are incredibly adept at noticing the subtle indicators that suggest that something is off. Because of this, in general you only need to react as if there is danger if you feel something is off.
Experienced travelers don’t worry if acting on their gut makes them appear rude or cowardly; they know that this feeling is there for a reason, and that being safe is only smart.
They also use these gut feelings to assist in less-serious matters. Whether they are trying to decide what restaurant to eat at or which city to travel to next, they discover over time that trusting their instincts often leads to better outcomes. [Check out my article on How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying (And Change Your Life in the Process).]
12. You see that nobody’s life is perfect.
We live in an age where perfection in life seems not only attainable but common. On television, in the movies, and on the internet, we are bombarded with examples of people whose lives seem to have no flaws. They are happy, healthy, and wealthy.
Making matters worse, social media allows everyone to publish their daily highlight reels, where the only things we do are drink, laugh, fall in love, and travel.
Even if you rationally know that this is an illusion, you subconsciously hold it to be true. And so you begin to ask yourself why—-despite all your efforts—you are not seeing the same results that so many others have achieved. This often leads to stress, self-doubt, and sometimes, even despair.
Travel helps to kills this fantasy. On the road, people tend to let their guard down. They expose more of themselves to the world than they otherwise would.
And so you see that everyone—regardless of personal or professional success—has more to their story than what they share.
Recognizing that nobody’s life is perfect—that no one is happy, healthy, or successful all the time—allows you better empathize with the plight of others and to stop feeling guilty for being human.
You accept sadness as an everyday part of life. You see failure as inevitable aspect of learning. You stop obsessing over artificial standards of beauty.
This is not to say that you don’t keep trying to improve yourself. If anything, knowing that perfection is not the goal motivates you even more because you can actually see the finish line.
13. You become more creative.
History is filled with writers, inventors, and thinkers whose work has seemingly been invigorated by time abroad. Think Ernst Hemingway, Nikola Tesla, Mary Shelley, or Thomas Jefferson.
Research has now proven why this is; traveling abroad leads to greater creativity levels. Visiting a different country—and experiencing all the novelty that entails—encourages the development of new ideas by making it easier to change thoughts quickly and to create connections between seemingly unrelated topics (think: sharks + tornados = Sharknados).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more you immerse yourself in the local culture, the greater the benefits.
Travelers who spend their days interacting with locals—eating as they eat, drinking as they drink, and (attempting) to think as they think—will become more creative than visitors who merely observe native culture from afar.
To be creative, you need to think outside of your normal horizons. To develop new thoughts and create new things, you need to be open to different ideas and activities. Travel teaches you to do all these things.
14. You uncover new passions.
So much of what we do—whether it be the food we drink, the thoughts we have, or the activities we pick in our free time—are a result of our surroundings. Our actions and habits are often copied from our parents, our friends, and our neighbors.
When you travel abroad, you’re able to escape the confines of social pressure and routine of home.
On the road, things that you never would have dreamed of trying at home—either because they go against social expectations or because they’re not easily available—seem to present themselves at every turn. And if you’re willing to take the risk and try, you often uncover new, life-long passions.
A farm boy from Kansas may realize they love mountain climbing while backpacking through Austria. An architect from Johannesburg may discover an unknown obsession with baseball during a summer in Chicago. A body builder from London might embrace veganism while in Tibet.
You never know what hidden passions you will find when traveling abroad.
15. You start to see the beauty in small, everyday occurrences.
As travelers we often fetishize the people and places we discover abroad. It’s part of the mindset we develop. When on the road, we’re regularly enchanted by everyday occurrences that we completely ignore when at home.
I still remember how charmed I was the first time I noticed the scent of fresh bread from a neighborhood bakery in small-town France, something to which I’d normally paid no attention.
If you travel enough, this way of looking at the world follows you home. You begin to see the beauty in small, everyday occurrences, like the rustle of leaves on your lawn in autumn or the daily calls of songbirds in the morning.
And in this way, you discover a whole world of simple pleasures.
16. You gain confidence.
When you travel abroad, you inevitably face challenges. Whether these are as minor as driving on the left side of the road (on second thought, that’s actually quite hard!) or as major as learning to live without running water, your confidence grows when you handle new and difficult circumstances.
And the more you travel—and the greater the challenges you face—the more confidence you gain.
Returning home, everything seems easier and more manageable than before. Since you’ve handled adversity on the road—usually without the support systems you have at home (think family, friends, and routines)—you can confront challenges knowing that you’ve got what it takes to succeed, regardless of the circumstances.
17. You find love (even if just temporarily).
As almost any world traveler will tell you, no matter if you're looking for it or not, love seems to find you on the road.
Whether it’s with an amorous local, an intriguing sightseer, your fellow travel parter, or something less human—like Spanish siestas, pistacchio gelato, or Japanese Kit Kats—you’ll feel your heart strings tugged at some point or another.
And though the risk of heartbreak is real (Kit Kat does retire flavors occasionally), the immeasurable joy that comes from deep passion is always worth it.
18. You realize that experiences are way more valuable than objects.
Growing up, I was convinced that the key to happiness was having lots of nice things. At various points in my life, I told myself that I’d be happy forever if I only had a room full of legos or a fancy new car or the latest smart phone.
Traveling the world helps you to see how absurd this is. Yes, you may gain some temporary joy from getting a cool toy, but it won't last long. Soon, you’ll be looking for that next fix.
In contrast, the happiness one gains from experiences lasts a lifetime. Memories of an evening spent hanging out with friends on the beach don’t become less enjoyable with time, they become even more precious.
19. You stop watching so much TV.
It’s rare to sit down and watch TV for any extended amount of time while traveling, save perhaps for a big soccer match or news event. Frankly, there’s no time nor need. During the day you’re usually running around seeing things, and at night there’s almost always something more entertaining and exciting going on.
The longer you go without television, the less you feel the need for it.
Spend enough time traveling, and you’ll return home actively wanting to avoid TV, instead preferring to spend your free time doing the same type of things you did while on the road. Chats with friends, live music, walks in nature, reading books—these all instinctually get prioritized over TV watching.
20. You better appreciate the internet, but realize that you must limit its use.
As any traveler can attest, the internet is a godsend.
It allows you to do research quickly, connect to family and friends easily, and even earn a living remotely.
But it’s also a major time suck and a diversion from real life. You can easily get stuck looking up obscure facts on Wikipedia instead of exploring the local Mayan ruins, or distracted by your Instagram feed while out with friends in Bangkok. So experienced travelers learn to limit their use of the internet, opting to look at the world rather than a screen.
21. You become painfully aware that you cannot please everyone.
Growing up in the Midwest, I was told that if I only tried hard enough I could indeed make everyone happy. Well, traveling the world has convinced me otherwise.
No matter how friendly or accepting you may be, there will always be someone that doesn’t care for you simply because of who you are, where you’re from, or what you represent. It’s not a large number, but they exist. Once you realize this, it’s as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
You’re free to stop worrying about what others think and simply be yourself.
22. You become more employable.
Traveling abroad helps you develop and enhance a number of skills that are incredibly important in today’s creativity-based economy. These include:
-Adaptability: Travel is practice in quickly and easily adjusting to new customs and cultures, handling unforeseen adversity, and making the most of unexpected opportunities—all useful when starting a new job.
-Creativity: Travel—especially when it’s immersive—has been shown to help you create fresh ideas and develop new solutions to old problems. What employer wouldn’t like that?
-Patience: On the road, the world doesn’t always move at the pace you would like. Whether due to delays, cancellations, or a cultural emphasis on ‘taking one’s time’, travelers learn fast that sometimes you have no choice but to wait patiently.
-Curiosity: Surrounding yourself with new and exciting ideas inspires you to explore and learn as much as you can, something that bosses always love.
-Communication: Traveling to faraway places, where you often don’t share the same language nor the same cultural references, forces you to uncover new ways to express ideas based upon your audience.
-Time Management: Faced with only limited days to see and do everything you want, you have to be smart with your time while traveling. You become an expert prioritizer, and experienced time-estimator, and adept at knowing when to say ‘it’s time to stop’—all incredibly valuable skills when facing deadlines.
-Organization: Travelers, especially those that change locations a lot, have to be well- organized. To have a trip run smoothly—and to keep yourself from losing passports and sim cards—you quickly realize that you need planing and systems.
-Self-Responsibility: When you travel abroad—especially if alone—you take complete responsibility for yourself. Your friends and family aren’t right there to help if something goes wrong; you need to solve your own problems. Employers love to hire people who aren’t afraid to fix things when they are broken.
23. But you also set yourself up to be your own boss.
These same skills also can be used to be your own boss.
The spirit of independence and adventure that travel promotes often inspires people to start their own businesses or to become freelance.
Self-discipline, organization, resiliency, the ability to accept and learn from failure—these are all essential traits for any entrepreneur. There’s a reason so many world travelers become successful digital nomads, working for themselves remotely from all corners of the globe.
24. You realize that almost everyone wants the same things.
The more you travel, the clearer it is that almost everyone wants the same things. Whether you’re in Bangladesh or Bermuda, surrounded by Berbers or Bushmen, deep down the locals you meet are all just looking for some combination of love, security, meaning, validation, and a better future.
We usually focus on our differences—skin color, religion, economic status—but there’s something quite comforting in realizing how much you have in common with the rest of the world. In fact, it may be the greatest lesson I’ve learned from traveling.
25. You also see that people are very different—and that’s OK (for the most part).
At the same time, there are clear differences between cultures. The ways in which people try to achieve these basic human desires varies greatly from person to person and country to country.
In Japan for instance, the emphasis is almost always placed on the group rather than the individual. As a result, what you want matters much less than what is best for the group.
Sometimes, the way local people decide to live their lives and organize their society might confuse or upset you. When this happens, try and figure out why things are they way they are. Often there’s a logical reason. And if there isn’t, or the reason is something you find morally repugnant, that’s OK.
You don’t have to accept or agree with everything you encounter while on the road.
26. You see that money is not the solution to all of life’s problems.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned while traveling is that money is not the solution to all of life’s problems. Growing up in the U.S., I was convinced that happiness was only dollars away, whether they were spent on the latest video game system, a fancy car, or a massive home.
Yet while traveling, the happiest people I have met have been those who worked just enough so that they could afford food, shelter, and health care (if it wasn’t already provided for them by the government—a shocking concept, right?!). Unless their profession was something that brought them great joy or directly helps others, to work anymore than necessary would have been silly to them, as that would have taken away time from the things that really mattered to them: family and friends.
They might not have the cash to buy a yacht or a month’s stay at the Ritz Carlton, but their wealthy in so many non-material ways.
27. You understand what it means to be truly generous.
Growing up I thought being über generous meant to tip 20%, donate old clothes to Goodwill, and to occasionally share the nachos at sporting events.
I only learned what it meant to be truly generous after traveling abroad. Without fail, I consistently found that those with the least material goods to give—people who lived paycheck to paycheck, if there even was a paycheck at all—were the most likely to offer me a a place to stay, a meal to eat, or even just a heartfelt smile.
While I’m not suggesting that you should give up everything you have—after all, generosity deals with more things than just money and things—it does put into perspective the sacrifices I’d been making (or not making) up until then.
Bonus benefit: you realize how lucky you are.
It’s easier than ever before to travel abroad—at least for some people. The majority of the world still has neither the money nor the freedom to leave home. Whether due to personal and professional commitments, health concerns, or a lack of rights, many would-be adventurers cannot travel at all.
When you visit places where the locals rarely travel, you truly see how lucky you are. Not only are you getting to experience a new culture, but you also become a window to the outside world for those you meet. You may indeed be the first American, Canadian, or Australian they’ve ever seen in person, and they might have lots of questions.
Having the ability to share your insights and shape the perspectives of others is a powerful and unique opportunity. You never know what your words will inspire—happiness, curiosity, anger, or perhaps change.
As you can see, the benefits of traveling abroad are numerous.
When we leave our homes, we enter into a world of personal growth, education, and adventure. We develop new skills, uncover new passions, and learn lessons that last alifetime. In these ways travel transforms you, enhancing and changing your life in the process.
And though your journey eventually comes to an end, you’re never quite the same.