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Why Travel is Good for the Soul

by Francesca (follow)
www.andsoshethinks.co.uk www.twitter.com/andsoshethinks
Travel (17)      Learn (4)      Self knowledge (2)     

A sparkling sunset

It lets you see the world.

Kind of obvious, but not so powerful until it happens. There are landscapes and scenes that you will see whichwill literally grab your breath from your lungs and amaze you. Dramatic waterfalls channelling kilometres of water, vast oceans never ended, layers upon layers of hazey mountains, or iconic buildings tickling the skyline, intricate architecture and iconic views. Whether it's the Amazon ,Lake Como, Houses of Parliament or the Acropolis, there are some sights that people only dream of, and you get to see them. There's nothing like having your breath robbed from your lungs as you watch the fireworks unfold over Sydney Harbour Bridge or see 1.3 million square feet of water flow over Iguazu Falls to realise that travel is a gift.

And its people.

But it's not all about the big stuff. Whilst the natural world has plenty to offer and the cityscapes that we have created are searingly striking places, travel is about discovering a culture and connecting with the people there. This is where travel differs from a holiday. The negative view of holidaymakers and tourists is that they often take themselves and their lifestyles to a new, often warmer destination and live as they would at home. Travellers connect with the lifestyle, visiting markets, talking to random people in cafes, staying at a home, and learning that the way they do things in everyday life may not be the only way to do so.

It teaches you tenacity. And patience.

Things in life don't always go according to plan. When you are far from home, without your usual backup plans or earning a wage so that you can throw money at it, you just have to deal with it. Whether your flight is delayed, your baggage is lost, or you are simply unable to communicate to a waiter your fussy menu order, you learn that you can deal with it, life goes on, and when all seems to be falling, you just need to breathe. At home I get really bloody p*ssed off when I have to wait six whole minutes for a tube. I now know how to deal with it.

You focus on who you are, what you want, and your priorities

Our environment plays a huge part in who we are and how we live our lives. However free spirited we think we may be, everyone gets locked down into some sort of structure and routine, such as work, relationships, finance and education, and becomes answerable to and therefore slightly restricted by the expectations that these bring. Travel frees you, and lets you edge closer to who you truly are - or jump right in and hug your 'real' self. You can even be hundreds of different people, some aspects of which you will take home. When you are on the other side of the world, thousands of miles from anyone or any structure that you know, you can be your own boss. From small things like choosing to go to the beach to bond with a book rather than a gallery to edify your mind, to the ability to be, not rude, but not subject to the same rules that insist you talk to someone rather than read your book in peace, lest you offend them, to bigger endeavours and actions. Like a place - stay. Hate it and want to be somewhere else - go there. Even if you are travelling with friends or family, or are only a few miles down the road, travel is incredibly liberating and from it you will alter in some way. All of this will have you answering those big questions, whether you like it or not. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What do I love? Who am I?

It can make you healthy

Away from the demands of a deadline your choice of transport is yours, and walking an hour rather than jumping on a bus becomes an option. Stress is often medicated by caffeine and alcohol, and whilst both are definitely worth indulging in whilst travelling, they become something to enjoy and savour rather than a necessity for the mind and body to function. Vitamin D and fresh air are surprisingly good for you. Suddenly listening to your body becomes an option, not locked in by alarm clocks, lunch hours, gym bookings, so you can eat, sleep, drink Coca Cola no matter when. A study of 12,000 US men with heart disease found that at least one annual holiday reduced the risk of heart disease by 30%, whilst a 2005 study established a link between travel and a reduced rate of depression amongst women. There's also the fact that you are more likely to want to be outside, exploring and seeing the sights on foot or bicycle. And let's not forget the many activities that a new place, often away from a city scape, offers - kayaking, climbing, trekking, surfing, and the pool. Just get in it rather than sit by it. Being more relaxed means that when you do eat foods categorised in your mind as 'bad' you probably won't beat yourself up about it, being of the holiday mentality. As women apparently spend one third of their lives thinking about diet and shape, this is stress release indeed.

Talking of food...yum!

God, there are some good foods out there. Suddenly your palate is opened to a myriad of tastes, smells, and textures, none of which have ever graced your thoughts let alone your plate. Even those you know become enhanced - Italian pasta with fresh made passata and hand picked basil goes a world beyond the stuff you chuck in a pan, coat in Dolmio, and shovel down in front of the television. Street markets and local restuarants will be full of culinary delights that make your standard meat and two veg seem less appealing. With the added benefit of time you will probably find that you enjoy your food more, lingering of the taste, really absorbing the scent, and relish the meal as not just fuel but an experience. And at the same time a cheese and pickle sandwich will suddenly become the stuff of dreams.

You can just be

Even little things like holding open he door, or seeing a bird's footprints on the sand, or watching the sunset, which happens over four and half thousand times in the average person's life suddenly becomes something at which to marvel. You might not always have something to fill your time, and certainly not internet or television - but that's ok. You have you.

You meet new people outside of your usual circle

Older, younger, different experiences, social situations, plans and prirorities - and they all become interesting. We all grow up with certain parameters limiting the comings and goings of our social circle. Lots of people say you make friends for life. You might, but be happy making friends for the experience. Everyone has a story, everyone teaches you something. That is enough.

You realise what you need, and that it is not always material

When your life is in a bag, one that you alone must lug about, you become a little more choosy about the material objects that you actually need, and want. Whilst it's nice to have hundreds of pairs of shoes, it's not essential to everyday living, and a sale sign at the front of a store is not a demand to spend your money there. What was thrown on a cocktail at home (i.e. when money was coming in and not just going out) becomes a day's budget for food, bed, and entertainment, and so you become a little more choosy.

For building self belief

'If I can do this what else can I do?' You learn to rely on yourself, and be proud of who you are. You have the power and ability to funtion without a diet of stimuli, and can just be. You can get through rubbish times. You can thrive on amazing times. You can jump off cliffs attached to a rope, or help people starving and stealing. You can live apart from everything you have ever known. You can speak to new people every day. And someone misses you.

You start to appreciate home

You will miss people. And places. And your life. To become grateful is no bad thing. At first the missing and yearning may make you feel guilty. Why? People and places are wonderful, wherever they are. In lots of places one colonised by the western world you will see names familiar to you - because those first travellers missed home. As I read in the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, written by one of the first settlers Laurence Kerneway in Crusts (1874) 'That man must have a strong, cold heart, who in stepping from a ship's boat into a really new country does not feel bewildered, and something desolate.' Even at the same time as a thrill. And that is ok.

# Travel
# Self knowledge
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