After traveling through Europe, China, Africa, South and Central America, and much of the Caribbean, I decided that Americans have a lot to learn from other cultures, and from the unpredictable nature of life away from home. Here are six of the most valuable travel lessons learned that North Americans may find helpful in their everyday lives.
We are always running from home, to work, to the gym or from school to soccer to tutoring. In third world countries—where travel is by foot, bus, or by bicycle—people make their way to a destination at a much more leisurely pace. They walk at a speed that allows them to arrive to work without being disheveled or fatigued. They wait patiently for buses, and yet they look content whether alone or in a group, in the rain or in the hottest sun of the day.
When I think of the frenzy of a subway station or the rush to get the kids out the door for a ride to school that is often less than a mile away, I think we could learn that gentler pace. The amount of stress in our daily commute would be as foreign to them as having the luxury of driving a car to the gym … to run on a treadmill.
Tip: Commit to one less thing each day to create a little extra space to slow down.
Try New Things
When on vacation, we experiment with new foods, spices, and activities and quite often we discover we like them. If we could bring this type of curiosity about new things into our lives at home, not only would we have a more diverse experience of cooking and eating, we would also become more open-minded in general.
Often, we go to a restaurant and order our favorite meal because “we know we like it,” and we buy our clothes at a certain store because it’s our style. These patterns in our lives can go unnoticed. But think of all the things in life we might miss if we never try anything new.
Tip: Next time you go out to eat or shop, try a place you’ve never been before.
In our culture, devices are everywhere. I see couples on a first date both looking at their hand-held devices while waiting for the server to bring them dinner. I see kids watching TV while doing homework and Snap Chatting their friends. In business conferences we are tweeting our followers in case they need to know we are in the audience with 1000 of our closest friends about to listen to Richard Branson.
Imagine if you are on safari in the Serengeti, on the stairs climbing up the Great Wall of China, or diving the Blue Hole in Belize with this level of distraction. You might miss the male lion, the view from the top, or a really large whale shark.
Tip: Live in the moment you are in to fully experience it.
When travelling, there are delays, cancellations, or disruptions that are beyond our control. We deal with weather, mechanical challenges, ticketing snafus, and long lines for boarding passes and customs.
Frequent travelers learn to see these as inevitable and are pretty unflappable when faced with these challenges. The mindset seems to be “it’s out of my control” or “I’ll get there when I get there.”.Just imagine if we could have a little of that detachment in our daily lives. No more frustration when you are in the express aisle at Whole Foods and everyone in front of you has five or six extra items. No more screaming to get the kids out of the house and on the school bus on time.
Tip: Add a little daily dose of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” when something falls out of your control.
When you can avoid using a vehicle, do it! Our obesity problem here is truly an epidemic. Children aren’t walking to school. We don’t walk to work. Studies show that getting out and walking for 30 minutes daily for the next 21 days will make you feel better.
There are multiple reasons to walk: the exercise, the fresh air, and time in nature are a few. When we are vacationing, we walk on tours, to dinners, around theme parks, and at the end of our day we go to bed and sleep well because we have been getting Vitamin D, while we increase our heart rate and see exciting things.
Tip: If possible start walking or biking to work. And if you live somewhere where that just isn’t possible, try a nightly after-dinner stroll with your family.
When you travel to a country where English is not the first language, you have to listen much more closely in order to understand what the guide, concierge, or waiter is saying. And if they can sense you’re really listening, they may also share stories about how they grew up and what they love about their city, which is always interesting to hear.
If you’re listening, you’ll also pick up and overhear about restaurants recommendations and local artisans not found in any guidebook. Multi-tasking is the norm in our culture, but in order to pick up on the details, it’s important to uphold a certain level of focus. By actively listening, you connect to people in a different way and open yourself to hearing what they want to share with you.
Tip: When in conversation at work or home, try to put your device down and turn the TV off to fully tune in to the conversation. Encourage your mind to be present in order to listen fully.