Eye-opening beyond the sights
There is inherent value in the joy of discovering something entirely new. There is inherent value in honoring the diversity of human existence.
Yet travel international travel is also an imperative for personal development and global problem solving. The following list, written by an American in Paris, France, highlights the deeper layers of happiness, conditioning, and development that international travel exposes and evolves.
(1) Seeing that Happiness is Not Dependent on Your Preferences
The value of seeing that your preferred way is not the only way, or the right way, even if you like your way better, is that you start to realize that you do not need things to be perfect for you to be happy.
Even tiny things show us this—people live happily without American style coffee, in very small spaces, and throwing the toilet paper in a trashcan instead of the toilet bowl. The more we see the habits we have of expecting little things to be a certain way, the more we see how we unnecessarily project our wellbeing onto them and unconsciously let ourselves be a victim to circumstance.
(2) Undermining False Assumptions About Your Culture—Making Subject Object
When you are immersed in your own culture, it is very difficult to see it from the outside. Getting outside of it, you can make your subjective experience an object in your awareness.
This, according to many like Harvard psychologists Robert Kegan and Rob McNamara, is the essence of development. When things become objects, you can change them. This alone is so important I could end the list.
(3) Undermining False Assumptions About Other Cultures—The Illusion of Separation
Our assumptions about other cultures, more often than not, serve as a way to separate us, making an in-group and an out-group. For someone who values conformity and group belonging, this can be really nice, but it creates unnecessary fear of an “other” that is entirely socially constructed.
It is at also odds with reality, and from a spiritual and developmental perspective, undoing these false assumptions allows us to expand the sense of who we are and who we love to include more.
(4) Finding Old Solutions to New Problems
There are six billion people on the world, and every one of us is inherently a creative and adaptive being. Many problems we encounter in one city, culture, or nation have already been solved by people elsewhere. But how would we ever know it without travel?
Yes, we have the internet, but much of the time these old solutions are so commonly accepted people do not even think about them. As a tiny example, would you think to write about paper napkins on the internet? No, but if you go to Brazil you will no doubt discover that their paper napkins could use some updating.
An obvious bigger example is public transit systems that the US could learn from to alleviate traffic.
(5) Finding New Solutions to New Problems
Even when our new problem has not already been solved, being thrust into a new and different environment often helps us draw new conclusions and integrate previously disparate ideas.
(6) Finding New Solutions to Things We Didn’t Know Were Problems
In many foreign countries, each server at a restaurant has a wireless credit card reader they can bring to the table. When people want to split the check, the server goes to each person and charges them on the spot. Think about that the next time you are in the USA and writing amounts out on the back of the receipt.
(7) Seeing the Habits You Bring With You
Many of us have the idea of travel or vacation or retirement as an escape from the stresses and problems of our current circumstances. This is an enticing idea, but it is usually false: we bring most of our problems with us. The longer we travel abroad, the easier it is to see these habitual ways of thinking and being creep back up, regardless of the external circumstances.
Seeing them in a new environment, we start to realize we are not victims we thought we were. The benefit of this is that we can more easily change these habits.
(8) Greater Appreciation For What Is
In a similar vein, we are more likely to appreciate what we already have back at home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder—for relationships as well as creature comforts.
(9) Greater Appreciation For the Small Things
Sometimes I feel satisfied just buying groceries in another country. I am more likely to stop and smell a rose, and I enjoy taking a walk just for the sake of it. While travel increases our appreciation of what’s waiting back at home, it also increases appreciation of the little, everyday things wherever we are.
The Challenges of Travelling from the United States
The United States is isolated geographically, and this makes it hard to get exposure to really different cultures. We only border two other countries, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of money for the vast majority of Americans to get across these international borders. Especially compared to Europeans.
On top of that, the US has a lot of cultural and geographical diversity inside of our borders, as well as incredible national parks. For many people, there is no reason to leave.
This is precisely why it is so important for us to prioritize exposure to other countries.