How Travel Has Opened My Mind (and Can Open Yours, Too)
I’ve been to 33 states and 11 countries.
I’ll visit at least 5 new countries by the end of this year, too. Maybe a few states as well.
Travel has taught me a lot about people and a whole lot about myself.
What I thought I knew about religion, lifestyle, race, culture, and gender was just a blip on a ginormous map of NOPE. Like a tiny, confused ant in a world full of confident elephants. Ygritte from Game of Thrones would have told me, “You know nothing Amy Bellgardt.”
But I thought I did.
I grew up with no religion. I was raised in a diverse community. I had no political stance. I had close friends from various cultures and lifestyles. I considered myself a free thinker and open minded. But I still knew nothing.
I didn’t know that I would learn new ways of thinking, new ways of communicating, new ways of living, new ways of eating food, and new ways to love. I didn’t know that I needed to learn these things, but I did.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned in my travels is that every community is vastly different from one another, yet so incredibly the same.
All parents want to provide for their families, take care of their children, and live a good life. All kids want to play, be silly, and have fun. All families want to gather and celebrate together. All humans want to be loved and heard. They all want that.
Every community believes their religion and political opinions are the right way. Every community is passionate about their culture and lifestyle. Every community has dreams, goals, and commitments. Every. Single. One.
As a whole, we all want the same things, just in different forms in different places at different times.
As a traveler, I have learned that my job is to listen to each community’s story and belief system without judgment. To approach each situation with no stereotype, assumption, or agenda. To simply absorb the words and gestures (when I can’t fully understand the words) with an open mind and heart, even when it’s difficult or confusing to do so.
In return, I can offer what I know, too, as long as it’s warranted and appropriate. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t important at all. Communication, on any level, is of the utmost importance to me because it means that these communities are being heard. That I’m not there to only consume their goods and services, but that I really want to listen and see them.
What I’ve learned from these moments has been invaluable. What I am able to pass on to my kids is even more invaluable. What they then pass on their children is a giant snowball effect of good.
THIS is why travel is so important.
Travel has allowed my mind to bloom, even when I thought it already had.
Travel has taught me and my children to let go of judgements, stereotypes, and fears of the unknown.
With travel, I have learned the true meaning of compassion.
As I reflect on the horrendous events and judgements (oh, the judgement) that have occurred in our world within the last year, I keep coming back to what I have discussed above. Judgement and reactions are often a result of ignorance and lack of world experience. It’s easy to fall prey to this cycle, too, when we aren’t exploring beyond our local communities or personal fears. It’s a comfortable but potentially dangerous place.
If we grow up learning one thing from one community, we only know that one way and it’s hard to believe that way isn’t the only way. This cycle isn’t always our fault, either, and there shouldn’t be shame surrounding it. Sometimes our choices and opportunities to learn are limited, especially when we’re children or we do not know that we need to grow.
But today, as adults (and with the internet), we have more power than ever to change. We can choose to challenge ourselves with new experiences, or at very least, listen to new ideas. We also have more power now to consider travel, even if it’s simply to the next town over from us. We have the power to push through fears and fully experience the world we live on. To learn. To realize that we aren’t special in our current place, but simply a piece in a larger world that is.
Whatever the journey you end up taking, you’ll return home with more gifts than you can imagine. You’ll return home with a changed mind, a wealth of education, and more understanding of humans. You’ll return home more empowered and capable of love. You’ll feel the burden of judgement fall off of your back and fears subside. You will be an even better you.
Travel. Explore. Listen. Learn. Love.
Even if your means are slim, do these things to the best of your ability. Even if it translates to a free book at the library, taking an inexpensive road trip, or volunteering on a mission trip. Make travel and adventure a priority in your life today and you will take the best advantage of this small time we have on this Earth.
As for me, I’m going to keep on traveling, both alone and with my family. I will also continue to share these experiences on my platforms in an effort to inspire you to do the same.
I still have so much to learn.