Top 5 Ways to Let Travel Change You

Last week I did a talk and reading at New Dominion Bookshop here in Charlottesville on the topic of "Can Travel Change You?" It was an excellent opportunity to really dig into my book and our year to clarify how our experience changed us, all of us, and find excerpts from the book that exemplified those changes.

One of the questions I was asked was "Does travel matter? For those of us who can't spend a year in Italy, how can we allow our 3 days in the Bahamas filter into our DNA, rather than just become a series of snapshots?"

Our time was up at that point, so I only had a chance to sketch out the ideas I had outlined. As promised, I'm placing that information here. 

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. Do you think travel can change you? How? And how can you leave yourself open to that change?

1) Go somewhere you don't speak the language, and try to speak it. You will feel like a fool. That's okay, we're all fools, you'll just be more upfront about it. Part of what makes travel spectacular is that it forces us to get comfortable with the edges (and outsides) of our comfort zone. Trying to express ourselves in another language is one profound way to do that.

2) Go off the tourist map. Look for places that aren't so well etched in your mind through guidebooks that seeing them is a mere checking off of what you already know. Rather, look to be surprised. 

3) Go off season. For instance, December is a fabulous time to travel to Italy. When you don't have to spend your energy battling crowds and waiting in line, you'll be much more able to notice the curling of the fog and the way your heart pitter-pats at the sudden appearance of Christmas lights strung across the next corner.

4) Linger. There's a real push towards seeing as much as you can as quickly as you can. It's like we've all developed travel-ADHD, skipping from one source of stimulation to another. But though that fills our eyes, it does nothing for our other senses. Stay in one place long enough to feel the discomfort of "now what?" and then force yourself to listen to your leading. Figure it out, on your own, with no guidebook to tell you what to see next. Wander, look at signs, follow locals as they amble into a concert in the neighborhood church. When you connect with local culture, feel how you are alien and one at the same time. Let that feeling settle and move within you.

5) Leave time to process your experience. Blog, write, or just sit in a cafe, without a book or a device and think. Not about how you'll narrate this story to others on social media, but rather think about what you've noticed and how it brushes up against the limits of your own experience. Allow those understandings to become part of who you are and what you know about the world.