This post was originally published on The Hungry Orchid and republished here with permission.
After wandering the narrow alleyways of Zanzibar, I accepted I was too navigationally incompetent to find my way back to my friends at the hostel. I resorted to asking a local boy for directions to Monsoon Hostel. His response was a hand wave signaling me to follow him.
On our 20 minute journey back, he surprised me with a million-watt smile after learning I was from “Obama’s country” and I was more than charmed by his love for cooking despite his mom’s disapproval.
Moments like these are why I love traveling. I relish in sharing a pleasant exchange with a new person, in discovering what’s around each corner of a new surrounding, and of course, in holding the Royal Dancer yoga pose in front of jaw-dropping landscapes for Instagram-bound pictures (so basic).
But these moments aren’t exclusive to travel.
We have deemed globetrotting to be the ultimate act of self-growth in which everyone must participate. And for good reason: It exposes us to new ways of interpreting the world; it helps us learn about ourselves as we navigate unfamiliar people and environments; it pushes us past the warm and cuddly parameters we become too accustomed to at home.
But you can have Eat, Pray, Love experiences without ever lifting a longitude or latitude. We are quick to praise a trip taken across the globe but sometimes, we can hardly achieve at home what we seek abroad. Why not live every day as we do while traveling? Here are some ideas:
Expose yourself to folks unlike you.
Traveling exposes us to other cultures and ways of life—you learn there’s more than one way of doing and thinking. But what if we lived every day with the same open-mindedness, curiosity, and empathy we carry with us within foreign borders?
- Interact with someone who has uncomfortably different opinions from your own. Ask your friend to invite her Trump-leaning friend to dinner too. Instead of painting someone “ignorant” or a “bad person,” try engaging with that person. Leave your assumptions at home, and go in with an open mind and heart. What is this person’s experience? What motivates their opinions? Maybe you would hold similar opinions if you lived their experiences. You likely won’t reach an agreement, but both of you may learn to think more carefully.
- Take advantage of the melting pot. We leave the country to immerse ourselves in a different culture but sometimes forget that we’re riding the metaphorical “It’s a Small World” ride every day in many places here in the U.S. So don’t just sit in the cart and merely watch, jump out and make friends (disable the song while you’re at it). We’ve got people from all over the globe as cubicle neighbors, baristas, Uber drivers, and so on. If your circle of friends is as diverse as a pack of gum, make the effort to liken it to a box of chocolates. If you already have friends from different backgrounds, learn more about their cultural identity. We often don’t talk to friends about things beyond what we have in common—you may be surprised to learn a different side to your friends.
Admire the world around you.
The allure of traveling often stems from the stunning sights—whether they are lavish temples, ethereal beaches, or mystical mountains. But why not say “How you doin’?” to your everyday surroundings? With our perpetual need to engage with a smart device, our worse-than-a-minute-man attention spans, and the hypnosis of social media, chances are we’re not doing the best job of stopping to smell the roses.
- Turn off your GPS. My automatic reflex when I get in my car is to enter my destination into Google Maps. But then I pause and remember that I probably have enough information to get to the Target I’ve been to 82 times. Navigating from memory requires me to be more aware of my area and forces my mind to be present because well if it’s not, I’d probably end up in Mexico.
- Live up to the “I love the outdoors” clause in your online dating profile. Join a hiking club or seek out parks you’ve yet to visit in your area. I was completely unaware of the park no more than 3 miles down the road from my apartment until I joined a volunteer club that helped beautify it. It’s now one of my favorite havens when I’m needing an escape from the city. It includes a beautiful wooded area you can hike up to that gives the captivating illusion of being far away up in the mountains somewhere.
Stretch your comfort zone.
Traveling challenges you to face the uncomfortable whether it’s navigating a city with signs written in a non-English script or using a squat toilet. Experiencing a new place pushes you to confront fear. Not in the waking up in the morning and facing yourself in the mirror kind of way, but in the “Hey, my heart is beating out of my chest, I’m uncomfortable, but I’m feelin’ alive!” kind of way. It’s just as important (if not more) to strengthen the “face your fears” muscle at home too.
- Have difficult conversations with friends/family. Challenges inevitably arise in any relationship. Instead of brushing off or compartmentalizing the issue that has come up, face it directly. Many times we’re afraid to confront our friends or family because maybe the world will explode if we do. Take the gamble and push the comfort zone in your relationships. Break rapport and honestly express what’s on your mind. This can lead to richer, more fulfilling, and deeper connections with the people in our lives.
- Order a new entree from the menu at your favorite restaurant. We cling to the familiar because we want to defend against disappointment. But order something besides the General Tsao’s chicken next time. Go ahead, just try it. Sure, you may end up with a belly full of gut-wrenching regret (food is not a joke), but what if you end up ordering the food incarnation of your soulmate??
This kind of personal growth doesn’t need to be exclusive to travel, we can strive for it in our daily lives. Plus, seeing the world is not a practical feat for everyone. Regardless of Sky credits, hot online deals, and GoFund Mes, it can be financially hefty and unfeasible for many.
Traveling is a superb life goal but it’s not the only ingredient that makes the red velvet cake of rich human experience. I challenge you and myself to grow in the same ways traveling allows without having to spend a dime.