One of the things I love about how travel opens your mind is how it changes your perspective on your own culture. You start to notice the things you love about the place you grew up, and also what you wish you could change, as well. I think all of us need to experience that at some point in our lives. Whether it is a short vacation or living abroad more permanently, your ideas of how the world works are never quite the same after you’ve been someplace else.
Out of any group, I feel as though we as United States citizens can learn the most from being abroad and seeing things from other angles. We have a very strict idea of how governments should be run, how people should be treated, and how finances are so involved with our daily lives.
Here are 5 things that I’ve changed my mind on when traveling—and ways I think our system can change.
1. We need to slow the f*ck down
I’ve been to countries far, far more laid back than my own, and I can tell you from experience, being busier does not necessarily make you happier. It does make you feel like you can’t enjoy the things you’ve worked for properly, or to take a moment and appreciate the moments and experiences that make life worth living. We’re so focused on running around socializing, attending concerts, and hitting our required number of steps that we forget to enjoy what we’re actually doing.
2. We need to care less about money
Money can’t buy love—just as it can’t buy worthwhile conversations, beautiful sunsets, and laughter. There’s nothing wrong with working hard and making money, but if it is taking away from your life and what you really want to do then you might be doing it for the wrong reasons. I’ve known happy people who have lived out in the Sahara Desert with nothing, and miserable people with everything they could ever want. Things are nice until they are not—and you can’t purchase your time back.
3. We need to enjoy eating
Along with both these things comes with the fact that we take only a few minutes out of our days to eat. It used to annoy me living in Italy and Spain knowing that an afternoon lunch was likely to go on for hours. ‘Don’t these people have a better place to be?’ I always thought. The fact is that they didn’t—and that eating as a family and friends was a huge part of what made their days worth something. I’ve forgotten the meals I’ve eaten at a desk, but I will never forget the giant lunch I shared with some Greek friends in Thessaloniki and how I learned so much about them and their culture that way.
4. We need to be more spiritual
I’m not saying we need go searching for a shaman in the jungle who will read our fortunes and require us to say 10 Hail Marys (but if you’re into that kind of thing, go for it). What I am saying is that most places around the world do have some sort of connection to the past and what created the culture. Catholics in Italy might not go to church regularly, but they seek something beyond themselves. Hindus and Buddhists still meditate. We as United States citizens tend to believe that spirituality is a thing of the past, but it’s really a part of us as human beings.
5. We need to be more connected
I knew so little about the world outside my home before I started traveling. No matter how much I read, or how much I tried to know, it wasn’t the same as actually being there. We are an isolated nation, and we like it that way. But if we isolate ourselves too much, we can’t claim to be aware of what is going on globally, or more, how we can help one another and the planet. Travel opens doors and reminds us how small we are and how we all need to work together.
I love the United States in many ways. However, these are things I always hope I keep in mind once I have finished exploring the world.
What do you think we as United States citizens should change?