How Travel Made Me A Better Person

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Whether by design or not, I rarely thought of the world outside my home state in the USA growing up. When I went to college in a neighbouring state, West Virginia, I felt like I was on a different planet. But when I made my first two international trips in March 2016, I got my first reckoning on what I thought I knew. Therefore, I want to share the reflection I had on my travel the last four years across the world in hopes that if someone like I was in 2016, looking to expand their perspective on life, they might find some inspiration.

travel quote art

Quote hanging on my wall since 2016

Why would you ever want to leave the USA?

Granted, the United States of America is a blessed piece of land. Its diverse topography lends to a myriad of experiences. Snow skiing, water skiing, dune buggies in the desert, or deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida are all adventures to be had within the borders. Even the cultural differences between people growing up in Minnesota with those growing up in California lead citizens to believe that there is enough diversity to generate empathy.

I was one of those people. Not because I subscribed to any nationalist agenda as a teenager, but simply because the drive to see the world outside the USA was never doctrine. There is so much to see and do in the USA, and you could spend your whole life trying but still never see all it has to offer.

I tried to pinpoint when I decided to see the world, but it isn’t easy to pin down because I don’t have any old journals. But what I remember was that I was doing business school at night around age 23–24 at the University of Maryland’s online sister school, which had a predominantly military student base. During those courses, I interacted with American military families stationed worldwide looking to better themselves. I believe this, combined with my family’s British origins (having still not met some of my family living in the UK at this point), starting building this idea, perhaps subconsciously, that I didn’t know as much about the world as I thought I did.

But how to see the world?

I was building up this motivation to widen my global horizon just as I graduated from school. At this point, I had been working for several years on a sailboat yard. I loved my job working and fixing boats, but I wanted to trade in my paint overalls and fiberglassing ventilator for a suit.

So, I thought, ‘How can I get paid to experience the world and use this business degree I just paid for?’.

The first thought was crewing on a megayacht. Wouldn’t that be awesome? But I then learned that crewing is not a glamorous as it seems, and I wanted to know more about international business. Therefore, I spent the next month or so looking at multinational companies. Indeed, working for a company with offices in dozens of companies would have opportunities to see the world.

Corporate Training Program

I think we all know about internships. I explored internships, and while great for some, I was looking for the next level. That is when I found out about the graduate program concept. In many corporations, they have these management development programs targeting fresh graduates to take on a position and do extracurricular training.

After a few interviews at various companies, I found one in a company that promoted a two-year program of intense training with a group of 30–50 people from dozens of countries with training modules across four continents. What a find!

I accepted the position in March of 2016. I put in my notice at my job and took a three-week vacation with unused paid leave.

Filling a passport in four years

Before heading to Chicago to start the job, I went to the United Kingdom with my sister and dad to visit the family I had never met. The first indication we were out of our league is when we slammed into the curb, leaving the rental car lot because we forgot to drive on the left-hand side of the road. Thus began the funny memories I will always have from my journeys.

4 year travel GIF

Animation of my travels 2016 to 2020

I knew I wanted to see the world, and the only way to do that was to expose myself to those who lived in other countries. I still remember swallowing my fear as I hit send on a cold email to another employee in the Netherlands to ask him for an introduction and to hear some of my ideas on a potential process improvement after being with the company for only four months. That one email took me to 6 countries, as that person nominated me as a project lead on a global initiative over the next few years.

In just under four years, I managed to fill up my first passport entirely with visa stamps. Many countries I visited multiple times, but in 2017 I managed to see 12 countries in 12 months. A goal I had set myself when I got my passport.

I got addicted to exploring new places and volunteered for assignments and projects above my responsibilities. Luckily, those I connected with were happy to exchange a plane ticket for a young kid with endless energy to work on their project part-time. In combination with my volunteering for other functions’ projects, the graduate program helped me meet hundreds of people in some of my new favourite places, such as India, Japan, China, and the Netherlands.

Why being open to the world is essential.

When I opened up to the idea that my current scale was small and that I needed to widen my horizons, all kind of things opened up. Opportunities presented themselves for new jobs, new friends, new food and everything in between. I am so grateful for the opportunities that have blessed me.

More importantly, travelling has had a profound impact on my perspective and my empathy. I thought, given my troubled background, I had a much broader perspective on things than most. However, it wasn’t until I travelled did I realize how short-sighted I could be at times. I do not claim to have any proper understanding of different cultures; how could I? But I can say that spending even a short amount of time in a place so other than your own can help you become a much richer thinker.

How my perspective changed

  1. I thought I knew what poverty until I travelled the outskirts of Mumbai

  2. I thought I knew police until I passed through Chinese military checkpoints in Tibet

  3. I thought I knew what a family estate looked like until I went to the Drummond Castle in Scotland.

  4. I thought I knew nightlife until I went to Hong Kong

  5. I thought I knew cars until I saw taxis in Manila

  6. I thought I knew construction until I went to the Panama Canal

  7. I thought I knew religion until I sat in a 2000-year-old Buddhist monastery

custom taxi in Manila

Custom Taxi in Manila

You can do it too.

This article is a call to action. I exposed myself to the world, and it gave me so much back that I feel I have to show others the power of just spending a few days in another culture. If just for a vacation for a few days, go far, get lost, and get help from the locals.

“If you want the world to expose itself to you, expose yourself to the world”

Swallow the fear. Reach out. Travel. Expand your global perspective and build empathy for others, and opportunities for a better life will come to you.

#community #culture #travel #work