Notes From the Editor: What Does Travel Teach us?

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled.”

(Prophet Mohamed)

With this year marking nearly four years since I left England for my travels, I thought I’d reflect on a question that many people ask themselves after returning home from a long trip. What has travel and living in a foreign country taught me?

Has it changed my personality? Has it changed the way I look at the world? Since the idea of backpacking began, travellers have returned home with shaggy unkempt hair, a dozen bracelets on their wrist, perhaps a bindi on their forehead and proclaimed to their wide-eyed parents ‘woah man, Cambodia really changed me.’

I want to delve deeper into this statement and ask why? And how does it change you?

Rather than just an endless stream of eye-opening experiences, hedonistic pursuits and brand new activities, I wonder if there is more to it than that. How long is it after your appearance slowly returns back to normal and you get back into the routine of normal life do you start to forget everything that you thought you had learnt about the world during your travels.

Does travel really teach us anything in the long term?

On a basic level, you now know how to use a squat toilet without so much as a raise of the eyebrows, can make 100 baht last a week, have learnt to keep your cool in sweltering heat, can bargain the price of sarong down to what the locals would pay, can pick up the last three grains of rice with a pair of chopsticks and know that you should always get off on the right side of the motorbike.

Other achievements may include gaining your PADI certificate and being awarded with a license to dive, learning how to control a motorbike, overcoming your fear and learning how to rock climb… each one of you will have your own personal experiences. But all this is just superficial. Things that you have been forced to learn in the situe of travel, most of which will be rendered useless upon returning home. So what else? What lessons have you learnt that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life?

If we’re talking skills that you can put on your CV, you may like to say ‘patience.’ Anyone who has experienced an overnight bus journey, namely the 28-hour journey from Vietnam to Laos, can safely that they have become a master in the art of tolerance dealing with border crossings, changes in itinerary and ‘unexpected’ stops. Add to that, the ability to think on your feet, make the best out of a bad situation, and respond to challenges that may arise with an air of calmness, diplomacy and determination.

You’ve probably become more confident, assertive; have learnt how to handle yourself in any situation. You can deal with confusing foreign transport systems, hassling salespeople and can follow the ‘walking tour’ in any Lonely Planet guide within an inch of perfection. Your senses have become hardened, as has your liver no doubt (especially if you’re traveling with the Irish) and your ability to eat spicy food. And you’ve probably picked up a few foreign phrases – haven’t you? Mai pen rai if you haven’t.

But what else is there? What have we really learnt about ourselves and the world around us? I’m looking for something deeper, more profound. I want to know what travel really teaches us. As I delve deeper and deeper into the question, a phrase springs to mind, ‘The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know’ (Socrates) For me, travel has opened up my eyes in realising that there is so much I don’t know. Travel hasn’t so much ‘taught’ me, but ‘untaught’ me that the culture and society that I was brought up in has the right idea and way of doing things.

It has given me new ideas, new perspectives and forced me to re-address the way that I thought was the ‘right’ way to live. There are so many things, cultures, customs, foods and most importantly so many ways to live your life that I didn’t even consider before coming to Asia… and so many more things I have yet to learn. Just when you think you have a culture all figured out it can surprise you – believe me!

That is how I feel every day living here in Thailand and the reason why I find travel so addictive. The more you want to find out about the religion, politics, culture and history of a country – the more it poses further questions to the knowledge-hungry mind. The journey is never-ending.

They say travel broadens the mind and this is true. It challenges your way of thinking about things, what is right and wrong, social etiquette, customs, expectations and your thoughts about what you personally want to do with your life. Without overloading this article with quote after quote, I couldn’t resist this one to finish “Travel like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.” (Rick Steves)

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

4 thoughts on “Notes From the Editor: What Does Travel Teach us?”

  1. I’ve been trying to put together what we’ve seen and experienced and understand why this time was so important for me; I did so much to take it and it seemed like a matter of life and death, as if I needed this trip in order to breath again, to feel alive.

    A year ago 6 months around the world, seemed like an impossible achievement, like something that needed to be left to the ‘people with guts’.
    I had pictured this sabbatical from Lara as a dream to clear my head and figure out in which direction I wanted to go … It had to be a time to learn, a time that had to TEACH ME.

    Did it teach me? Did I actually figure something out?
    Yes in some way I did.

    Also by the time you manage to move away from your work schedule, your work worries and the daily things that we are accustomed to, you realize how in the big picture it’s all crap. Obviously this does not apply to everyone. … but is managing someone else’s money (in a company that in the end only rewards you so you’ll be more motivated to continue) and that does not actually improve anything in the world something that makes ME passionate?

    In order to succeed in something you have to be committed to it, you need to be passionate about it, so the point is figuring out what it is that makes you passionate?
    I envy people that know what they want, when you are sure about what you want everything is easier and on the practical side, it’s cheaper too.

    As mentioned in the article I too, got a PADI (advanced actually), learned to sleep with cockroaches, eat in places where the walls are so black you thought you would for sure get sick from just sitting on the chair, be patient when everybody rolls over you to get on the bus and nobody respects the line.
    But what it really taught me are those important things that move my heart and make me passionate.

  2. For me, it’s the realisation of how very tiny the corner we inhabit it is, and discovering quite how much of a world is out there beyond our own individual life-cocoons.

    I haven’t felt comfortable about everything i’ve seen, but everything i’ve seen has made me thankful for every second I have on this earth. To be able to drink in the sounds, sights, smells and experiences of many different countries and ways of life is a blessing, a privilege and something that I will always remain thankful to my home country for providing me with the opportunity and means with which to travel, a joy that some don’t have.

  3. I did not realise what I learned, until I came home.

    I asked my self the same questions. Only two months on I still ask the same questions and I still wish I was back there. This life I have, working non-stop, the stress and frustration… There is a calming nerve to the bus journeys in Laos, the over-night bus trips in ‘nam, the train travel in Thailand…

    It leaves you with a heart that’s set alight.

    From the streets of Thailand, throug the mountains of Laos, the plains of Cambodia, to the hills of Vietnam.

    I think that for at least me, the walls that kept me blind have been teared down.

  4. Totally true Nikki and why it’s awesome living in SEA! Travel challenges the status quo because each country has its own. No culture is the same and people live in so many different ways. I believe when we travel, especially to vastly different countries from where we have grown up, it challenges everything that we’ve known to be true. It makes it easier to have those life epiphanies about what is really valuable and important. For these reasons I believe that travel is priceless and if you have the opportunity you’ve got to get out there. We need to see the world before we know what it needs/doesn’t need – and I don’t mean on TV!! Well that’s just my opinion anyway!! Keep rocking it in Thailand. 🙂

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