Pico Iyer, the author of Tropical Classical and other travel books, once said: "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves." Regardless of whether you're young or old, wealthy or poor, an introvert or extrovert, travel is always a good idea. If done right, it enables people to completely "lose themselves" in their new surroundings and stretch the boundaries of their comfort zones. Although traveling may be challenging at times, it also offers a plethora of benefits: you can experience new cultures, meet incredible people from all over the world, learn new languages, see the sights you've only read about in history books (or on the internet), and ultimately--or better yet, hopefully--find yourself. Still not convinced? Well, here's my personal story of how traveling shaped my sister and me, and helped us realize our dreams:
Born two years apart in Wausau, Wisconsin, my sister and I are twins in every aspect but age. A few months before Stephanie's eighth birthday, our parents sold our house and did what any normal family of six would do: moved into a 39-foot-long travel trailer and spent the next two years visiting most of the 50 states; we even briefly lived on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. We witnessed several rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We explored the Grand Canyon and participated in New Orleans' Mardi Gras festival. For several months, our family left the trailer behind while we lived in Germany and visited friends in Switzerland and France. Although the adventures have never ceased, our parents eventually settled in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It was not until years later, in 2014, that the next big adventure began. And this time, it was a sister excursion. We gave up everything that was familiar in order to pursue a life beyond our comfort zones. In just one month, we quit our jobs, moved out of our charming downtown apartment in Portland, Oregon apartment, and said goodbye to family and friends.
Three years later, we have visited 64 countries on 6 continents and will likely explore 100 countries before 2019. Some of our highlights include: visiting the Great Barrier Reef; bungee jumping in New Zealand; drinking in the sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia; cruising on the emerald waters of Halong Bay, Vietnam; riding a camel in the Sahara Desert, Morocco; visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand; catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Norway; staring up at the enormous Christ the Redeemer in Brazil; swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines; and hiking the 4-day Inca trail to Machu Picchu, Peru.
Although we often hopped blissfully from country to country, we also lingered in some places. For example, we lived in Florence, Italy, for almost a year while we completed our hospitality and event-planning program at Florence University of the Arts. We also taught tennis and swimming for several months in Australia. Throughout our time spent abroad, we learned many valuable lessons about people and about life itself. In our case, traveling has been the best teacher both in terms of shedding light on the political and economic situations around the world, and also in the sense that it has enabled us to learn from others and continually reevaluate the kind of person we each want to be.
All of these unique opportunities and adventures broadened our perspective and equipped us with some fun conversation starters. Ultimately, however, the discussion ends with the same question: "What will you both do when you have to return to 'the real world' and get a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job?" Our answer is simple: we don't. As Hans Christian Anderson powerfully stated, "To travel is to live." With this notion in mind, we researched the top travel companies around the world before finding the perfect match in Backroads. And now, as part of the wonderful Backroads family, we're living our dream as Trip Leaders. So the real question should be: Are you living? And if you're traveling, there's no doubt you are.