Doesn’t this look a lot more inviting than work? (Photo: Connie Ma)
By Paige Smith
A friend of mine told me last week that he hasn’t taken a vacation in three years. For three consecutive years he decided to forgo his paid time off for…more work. To me, not taking advantage of your designated vacation days is unthinkable, but unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common occurrence in the U.S.
A 2013 Expedia study revealed that U.S. workers are skipping, on average, four of their allotted vacation days per year, amounting in total to a collective 577 million unused days.
But why miss out? A recent report by Oxford Economics, an economic forecasting group, says four out of 10 workers cite a heavy workload as the most common reason for opting out of travel.
We don’t take time off because we feel too busy to leave our lives and because we fear falling behind with our workload. We are a culture that measures success based on productivity, output, and hustle.
As a result, many of us have adopted the dangerous perspective that doing more leads to a more fulfilling life. But doing more of one thing means doing less of something else. So when we say yes to work, projects, email, schedules, and commitments, we make less space in our lives to say yes to things like adventure, exploration, relaxation, personal time, spontaneity, and self-reflection.
“I don’t have time to travel,” people say. But the truth is we make the time to do the things we need to do. We have time to work 40 hours a week because we need to support ourselves. We have time to grocery shop because we need to eat. We have time to answer emails at 11 p.m. because we believe we need to be constantly available.
But we need other things, too — things beyond basic survival, financial gain, and professional accolades.
We need sanity. We need mental and physical well-being, emotional health, meaningful relationships, stillness, adventure. We need to feel a connection to the world around us. Breaking our routines to travel improves everything from our productivity and our attitudes to our social lives and physical health.
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Without time to uplug, all that work won’t be as productive. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Why shouldn’t leading a complete and present human life be considered a successful and fulfilling use of our time on this earth?
Traveling jolts you out of the state of numbness it’s so easy to fall into when you are perpetually busy. The act of traveling is akin to taking a basic course on the fundamentals of life: through mistakes, observation, and new experiences, you’re given the tools you need to be a successful, whole, and happy human being.
More than ever before, we need to consciously slow down our hectic lives and make the time to see new places.
Here are just a few ways traveling helps you actually become a better person in the other parts of your life:
Traveling changes the way you make decisions
Traveling puts you in situations that lie far outside the realm of the mundane. When you’re in unfamiliar territory, you have no comfortable cocoon to retreat to if you feel nervous or overwhelmed with whatever you’re experiencing. Think of this as a good thing. Stripping yourself of the comforts of a routine shocks you into making decisions based on intuition instead of habit.
So many of us become such slaves to our routines that we stop questioning whether or not they continue to serve us in the best way. When you travel, you have the freedom to enter every situation asking yourself the questions, “Wait — is this what I want to do? Is this what’s best for me right now?”
Traveling can put your problems into perspective
It’s far too easy to be consumed by the issues we create for ourselves. Many of us don’t have enough time to carve out quality experiences with our loved ones, we don’t have enough energy to accomplish what we need to, we don’t have enough experience or knowledge to take the step we want to take.
But when you travel, you get the chance to remove yourself from the stress of everyday life. Stepping away from what you know shifts your perspective and forces you to question what is relevant and important to you. When you encounter and observe people who live differently than you do, you may realize that the problems you thought you had are not really problems at all. Or at the very least, that they aren’t as significant as you’ve built them up to be in your mind.
Traveling teaches you to adjust to new paces
Traveling forces us to surrender to the pace of life wherever we are. Maybe you’re visiting Seville and you’re hungry, but every shop is closed from 2-5 p.m. Or the ferry you’re trying to take to Mykonos is two and a half hours late. Or maybe you want to sleep in because of jet lag, but your Airbnb hosts in Copenhagen only serve breakfast until 8 a.m.
You can spend time feeling angry and frustrated, or you can accept the new pace and adjust accordingly. There are not many other options.
When you’re forced to adapt to a new culture or city’s time, you might just realize that nothing is as urgent or desperate as it seems and waiting often does not equal wasted time.
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Traveling teaches you how to be resourceful
Navigating a new place requires imagination and resourcefulness. When you’re lost, when you’re searching for a specific museum, or when you’re in desperate need of a rain jacket, you have to use the tools at your disposal to figure out your situation.
Being constantly outside your element keeps your brain sharp and helps you develop a pause-and-react approach to life. Not only do you greet problems with a greater sense of intelligence and calm, you can begin to view them from a new vantage point, one that enables you to explore creative, non-linear solutions.
Traveling can teach you how to forgive yourself
If there is ever a time in life when you might feel imperfect, it’s when you’re traveling. You probably make frequent mistakes, you embarrass yourself in front of locals, you realize how little you know about the world, and you might be prone to impatience, grumpiness, and apathy.
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Traveling humbles you. It can show you not where you are weakest, but where you have room to grow and evolve. And unless you choose to pack it up and take the first flight home, you’re forced to figure out a way to confront your flaws and accept them. Traveling teaches you—over and over—how to forgive yourself. And the more patience you learn to display with your own shortcomings, the more patience you show to others as well.
Traveling shows you how to take risks
When was the last time you veered from your routine to take a risk? When was the last time you said yes to uncertainty? When was the last time you leapt into an unknown situation with optimism instead of fear? Traveling — at its most basic level — is a perpetual series of risk-taking.
You book the last train of the day 30 minutes before it departs and run to the station. You decide to travel to Nicaragua for your next vacation because you’ve never been. You order the steak tartare in Paris even though you’ve never tried raw beef. You decide to go skydiving or parasailing. You rent a car in Tokyo despite knowing nothing about the roads in Japan. You say yes when someone asks you to dance.
Or maybe, you simply disconnect from technology and give yourself the freedom to unwind. These are all risks. And sure, not all of them have immediate positive effects, but they offer something better: education. The beauty of taking risks lies not in the end result, but in the process of growth and learning that comes from embracing challenge and change.
Not only does travel force you to become a risk-taker, it de-stigmatizes the unknown. It neutralizes the negativity that surrounds uncertainty and somehow makes it thrilling.
There are no downsides to seeing more of the world. So just do it. Let go, and go somewhere.
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