1. To see our everyday world through fresh eyes
Once I met a cartwheeling water sprite masquerading as a young woman on Bondi Beach. She wanted to borrow my swimsuit.
No problem. I stripped off, and sat wrapped in my towel, watching her antics in the surf.
It was an awakening. I’d just returned from a big, life-changing two-year trip overseas and regular life seemed dull.
Then I realised: I was living where people travel. If I could hold onto my openness, my generosity and most of all, my curiosity, then there are always marvels to be had.
Travel helps us remember that.
2. Simplified choices
“Fish or chicken?” Contemplating a trip, that question is more appealing to me than a perfect picture of an island paradise. Here’s why:
Life is hectic. Especially before a trip when everything gets jammed up or crammed in: life, work, your suitcase, even the itinerary.
And then you are away but not yet arrived. Life simplifies and time unfolds.
On a plane: fish or chicken, tea or coffee, sleep or watch a movie. In the car, on the wide open road: music or podcast, stop or keep driving.
That moment—when everything is done and adventure awaits—is addictive.
3. Create memories
Travel gives you an album of mental snapshots, slices of time you can pull out when you need sustaining.
For fear I pull out one from Cradle Mountain; there I am strong and joyous at the summit despite a nearly paralysing fear of heights.
For laziness I time travel Lake Mungo: worth all the hassle in the world, camping with two kids, to be there photographing their footprints in the sand.
And if my persistence is wobbly: I go to New Zealand, whooping with my kayaking instructor in a river gorge. I’d just managed my first ‘live’ eskimo roll, after nearly two years of trying back home.
These are my little zingers, earned from my travels and always on hand if I need to remember an essential part of myself.
We all have them. They just seem more frequent when you travel.
4. Never too cool for school
Shared laughter even without a shared language is a traveller’s pot of gold. It doesn’t matter if you are the cause.
In Indonesia I ate curry at my homestay, and tried to ask what meat it was.
I ran out of words at ayam or chicken. Then I resorted to animal noises.
I tried mooing. And bleeting. And oinking. Little titters of laughter echoed around the table, but they understood. No, none of those animals.
Then the mother pointed to the tree and I panicked. Indonesians don’t make monkey curry do they?
OK. Nothing for it. I tried a monkey noise and threw in an action for clarity: ooh ooh eee eee aah aah.
Even the ancient grandmother exploded with laughter. The youngest boy scampered up the tree, soon to return, holding a jackfruit.
5. Learn the lingo, lose your pride
“Do you have a saucepan hat?” I asked the lovely Guatemalan lady I was staying with.
She blinked. Paused. Then laughed, tears spilling over and pulled out her lid. Learning Spanish is one of the great things I have done. It didn’t come easily—I’m tone deaf and have a dodgy memory—but in learning another language you also learn to think differently. Even my sense of humour in Spanish different, more slapstick.
For me the key is never being afraid of making mistakes, just giving it a go. So now I remember tapa for lid, rather than hat, tobillo for ankle, instead of foot-wrist and cola for ponytail; rather than culo or arse. I’ve read learning a language makes you smarter. I don’t know about that—stupid mistakes seem to be my speciality. What’s changed is I’m not afraid to make them.
6. To experience loneliness, and other uncomfortable things
I travelled in the days before the Internet (I was 19. I’m old, not ancient) to Central America. Letters had to be written and mail drops pre-organised. I even sent faxes to my mum to tell her I was safe.
I was lonely and isolated. When the whole cultural immersion thing got too much, sometimes I watched reruns of Beverley Hills 90210 just to hear English.
I made some really dumb decisions. And some great ones, but I had no immediate feedback from people who loved me.
What happened? I learned to read maps and that I could survive misery, that my own company was OK and sometimes I got a bit odd if I spent too much time in my head.
These days, this disconnect needs to be a deliberate one, travelling plus a social media detox. Like most detoxes it can be uncomfortable. But the mindfulness that comes is always worth it.
7. To be the change in the world
We don’t have to quit our jobs and go off to save the world, or even donate our salary to help the poor.
Tourism is a very real way people can pull themselves out of poverty. Tourism operators are already encouraging people to return to Nepal to help the country rebuild after the earthquake. Rwanda has experienced rapid—and surprisingly equitable growth—thanks to the returning tourist dollar.
And even the smallest thing—paying a local woman to wash your clothes or hiring a yak from an Afghan nomad—injects money into a local economy, into a family.
Yes, irresponsible tourism can destroy a place. But done ethically and well, it can bring about change.
8. Find your tribe
In Spanish they called me pata de chucho, somebody who is always travelling (It’s not as poetic in the literal translation foot of the dog). Ten years of motherhood has settled the amount of travel I do, but perhaps not the urge.
A fellow soul traveller put it like this, “Back at home I feel weird looking at friends settling down but I just want to travel, to see new places. And so I do. As soon as I go out in the world I realise, there’s a whole world of people just like me and that I am not weird at all.”
9. That old pocket of loveliness: gratitude
There is nothing like a raging malarial fever or a solid (no, never that) dose of dysentery to make you grateful.
That was certainly the case for me. Malarial shivers and bone racking headaches came with the kindness of strangers, family who nursed me back to health and even baked me a birthday cake.
Dysentery in Timor came with an appreciation of vibrant health we only get when that health is suddenly gone.
We’ve all been there, miserable and unwell away from home. You become vulnerable and exhausted, your reserves seemingly tapped out. Courage needs to be summoned.
And in another twist: these tales of disaster of shit and pain and toil always make the best stories; something we can all be grateful for.
10. Share the big, wide world my your kids
When I was nine my father took me to Papua New Guinea and I think I was lost in a market. Alone and surrounded by people who didn’t look like me at all, I should remember terror. Only I don’t. I remember a big man with a halo of hair, a bone through his nose and red betel nut lips saying apinun pikinini, good afternoon, child and taking me back to my father. Apparently I said, “Dad, it’s just like in the books!”
Now with kids of my own I don’t aspire to lose them in a busy market (or at least not very often). I do however, hope to recreate that sense of wonder of a different world outside our own little bubble.