It was the spring of 2015 and I was in the middle of a fruitless job search.
My parents said that they were going to Spain that summer to celebrate their anniversary. My brother and his girlfriend were also taking another trip back to Europe. Wanting us to enjoy the summer and experience Europe, they encouraged my sister and I to go as well.
Why hop around Europe for two weeks when I could be applying to more jobs, taking more courses and doing more volunteer work? I thought.
It just didn’t seem like the most logical thing to do.
I hummed and hawed, balancing between the responsibility of finding a job and my desire to travel the world.
My sister and I were both hesitant. She had just graduated and I only had a few contract jobs behind me. Jet-setting off to a foreign country was not on either of our to-do lists. In our minds, we had stuff to do.
But our brother’s insistence finally wore us both down.
He had gone to Europe before, so he knew the advantages of travel.
And little did I know how much those advantages would impact me.
1. Made Me See That the Moment is Always Now
My brother is always highlighting the fact that life is short and should be enjoyed. That now is the time to do things. I admire this about him — he acts and lives decisively in the moment.
I — on the other hand — approach life with caution and an overly analytical mind.
I like to assess all the risks and rewards before I make a move. I write pros vs. cons lists. I plan ahead so I know what’s going to happen ahead of time.
While this cautious nature has its advantages, it also has its limitations.
Because life is meant to be lived and if you spend too much time overthinking or worrying about things, then you’ll miss out. You can hold yourself back out of fear and uncertainty.
Not all decisions are made solely on logic or calculation.
Some decisions are made on intuition or risk.
Choosing who you marry is an intuitive decision.
Choosing to become an entrepreneur is a risky decision.
Choosing to leave a cushy 9–5 job is a leap of faith that’s both risky and intuitive.
No matter how much you plan, things will never play out the way you expect.
The dice rolls each day.
Despite the uncertainty of life, I’m also a strong believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason. I kept getting rejections when it came to the job search and looking back, I see that it was a blessing in disguise.
Because here I had this wonderful opportunity to travel.
So I took a leap of faith and left North America for the first time in my life.
2. Gave Me an Educational Experience Unlike Any Other
Almost as soon as we landed in Paris, I was distinctly aware of the cultural difference.
It had the busy thrum of a city but there was a different rhythm to it.
The front of restaurants and cafés were filled with people, dining al fresco. Smoking, eating, talking, observing each passerby.
People were sitting around Luxembourg Gardens, just soaking in the summer day and relaxing.
The food was delicious and tasted like it had been made with tremendous care. Paris, after all, is one of the food capitals of the world. And they definitely know how to make food.
It was nice to escape into another way of living and being.
Some people think that’s all travel is — just a means of escape.
Escaping your job, your life, yourself…
And it is.
However, I don’t think it’s just an escape. I think it’s much more than that.
In those four brief days in Paris, I was a stranger in a new but wonderful land.
Instead of spending my summer worrying, I was sitting in the middle of Luxembourg Gardens, listening to the trickle of the fountain, taking a moment to reflect. Letting the breeze float past, staring at the beautiful flowers arranged in huge pots around the gardens, walking along the tree-lined paths…
It was kind of surreal.
And it hit me: living is just as important as working.
It is just as essential.
I had learned more about life and Paris in those four days than I had from a textbook or lecture.
3. Showed Me That Life Is More Than the 9–5 Grind
Our parents and society — while well-intentioned — tell us that in order to be successful, we have to follow a step-by-step process:
- Achieve high grades.
- Get into college/university.
- Earn your diploma/degree.
- Use that degree to get a job that pays well.
- Get married and buy a house.
- Have 2.5 kids.
- Maybe get a dog.
- And two cars. You’ll probably need at least two cars.
Where does travel fit into that plan?
After we’ve achieved all those things?
Ideally, I think all young people should take a gap year either when they finish high school or when they finish college or university.
These are both crucial times in adulthood, times of dramatic change and uncertainty. Most people don’t know what they want to do after graduation.
What better way to learn about the world and yourself than by travelling?
Taking a trip to Europe during that summer was a way of escaping my situation (temporarily) but it also gave me an essential education.
When you travel, you get a glimpse into another way of life. You’re exposed to a different way of living and therefore, a different way of thinking.
There were lots of times that we were rushing around Paris, trying to get to museums on time, so it wasn’t always relaxing. But there were other moments when we just paused to take a breath and it’s very easy to do that in a place like Paris.
We took photos of all the famous landmarks. We savoured buttery, cripsy croissants. We sat in a restaurant not far from our hotel and felt the summer night breeze. My sister and I woke up early one morning to drink shots of espresso while we watched the heartbeat of the city.
I realized that I hadn’t been living.
I had just been existing; going about my day-to-day, so consumed by my failures and shortcomings.
I realized there was more to life than being so focused on what we have and haven’t achieved.
So much of my self-worth had been tied to my achievements.
When I travelled, I realized that my self-worth came not from my successes and failures but from how I viewed myself and what I had to offer.
4. Showed Me That I Can Be a Leader
I discovered that I had more to offer than I realized.
You may be surprised at how capable you are when you travel.
I was the planner during our trip.
I made a detailed itinerary, complete with where we’d be staying, our confirmation numbers, the dates we would be in each city…
This organizing quirk turned out to be a strength as my itinerary served as a good reference and guide during the trip.
I was also the one to make sure we got wake-up calls in the mornings and that the alarm was always set.
I surprised myself by being prepared and taking initiative.
I came back after the trip, confident that I could tackle anything if I could navigate five European countries in two weeks.
Travelling can throw a lot of curveballs your way: you might get lost, you’ll probably feel ill at one point, you’ll definitely get homesick and there’s a chance you’ll get the hotel address mixed up.
5 Ways to Overcome Homesickness While Travelling
You’re in a foreign place and then it hits…
It’s not these hiccups that matter though; it’s how you deal with them. When faced with a problem in an unfamiliar place, you’d be surprised at how assertive you become.
I’m glad I stopped hesitating and just decided to take the leap.
It makes me think of when I was a child and would edge along the side of the swimming pool, too afraid to fully immerse myself into uncertain waters.
I was afraid I’d sink.
But the thing about sinking is that you can always come back up and swim.
All of these truths have pushed me to take risks, little by little, until I see yet another side of myself or a new opportunity.
These truths have also reminded me that whenever an obstacle arises, it’s not necessarily about going around or through it but sometimes finding a different way to get where you want to be.
Travelling was my off the beaten path to discovering new aspects of myself and reawakening my confidence.
And usually that off the beaten path is the most exciting one of all.
Because it’s there that you discover things you hadn’t seen before.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” -Martin Buber