David Whitley takes a look at the life skills that tend to be learned on the road
People who go travelling to find themselves, then spend six months growing dreadlocks and strumming Jack Johnson songs on a Third World beach, are rightly regarded with utter contempt.
But that doesn’t mean to say that travel is an essentially worthless process. There’s an awful lot to be learned away from home - and much of it will stand you in good stead for the future.
Go travelling around the world, and you’ll continually find yourself in awkward and unfamiliar situations. There’s no mum and dad to deal with them for you, you’ve got a work out a way of doing it yourself. Day to day actions – finding a cash machine, working out the public transport network, using a map to find where you’re staying – require decision-making processes. You’re continually put in situations where chickening out and doing nothing, or waiting for someone else to do it for you, is not an option.
Over time, this changes your thinking processes. You start becoming accustomed to dealing with things and taking responsibility.
Most painfully shy people who go travelling don’t tend to stay that way for long. It’s pretty hard to skulk around the world not talking to anyone. You soon come to realise the importance of shared experience – seeing something great and having someone to discuss it with enhances the feelings.
It helps, of course, that other travellers tend to be more outgoing and open to strangers than people in your home town may be. People in your home town already have a set of friends – they don’t really need to open up to new people. On the road, such companionship is much rarer.
And when you see others starting conversations with you, you’re much more likely to start conversations with others. It only takes a few goes to realise that it’s not nearly as terrifying as you first thought.
It’s a rare traveller that doesn’t come back with their communication skills enhanced. This is partly due to the problem solving thing, but mainly through the realisation that being sociable will make their time more enjoyable.
Different cultures do things in different ways. Things that may seem strange at first will start to look logical when you look at it from the local perspective. When you take into account the situation, the climate and the history of a place, certain character traits stop being weird and start being understandable. Different cultures put greater emphasis on different aspects of personality.
When you’re exposed to a global soup of different approaches and cultures, you start to learn why things are done in ways that you’re not used to. Understanding another person’s perspective is a hugely important skill – for both work and life in general. You might not agree with it, but it certainly helps overcome any hurdles to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
You’ll also find that sometimes you do agree with the other perspective, and you start forming a world view that plucks the best from various cultures and ideas. And that’s never going to be a bad thing.
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