This post has been a long time coming! We actually wrote the original draft over a year ago as a guest post for a friend’s site. We recently needed to hear these reflections again ourselves and so we wanted to rewrite and share our lessons with our community here.
Somehow, over two years have gone by since our backpacking trip across South America. In many ways it feels like just yesterday; and yet so much has happened and changed in our lives since then (like getting engaged + starting two businesses!).
Still, no matter how much time passes, we both firmly believe that this trip was one of the best decisions and risks we’ve ever taken in our lives.
Because long-term travel can radically shift your mindset and perspective on life, especially in your twenties.
Why You Should Travel in Your Twenties
Our backpacking trip was the first big adventure that Pete and I set off on together, and it’s been a catalyst for so many other opportunities, challenges, adventures, and decisions we’ve made since then.
Some amazing things happen when you start to take a chance on yourself. I’m a firm believer that when you invest in finding out who you are, who you want to be, and what you believe in, it’s the best money you will ever spend.
While we could probably write an entire book on how those few months of exploration and self-discovery has changed our lives for the better, today we’re sharing the top 5 ways our long-term travel changed our perspectives on life:
1. Learning the importance of self-exploration and reflection
It’s easy to go through our routines, day by day, waiting for the weekends. It’s our default mode.
We may be happy in some ways or another, but we were certainly not exceedingly happy with our lives. Still, we found that for many of us, unless we are exceedingly uncomfortable, we won’t do much to change our situations.
Long-term travel changes all of that. Simply making the move to leave everything you know behind in search of the unknown – both in yourself and the world around you – allows you to open your mind up to self-exploration. By default, you begin reflecting on your lives in ways you never thought of before.
By physically removing ourselves from our daily routines, we finally had the chance to take a good, hard look at our lives. Were we living the kind of lives we wanted? Were we working towards a career that we loved? Were we living each day with a sense of gratitude and fulfillment? For us, the answer to all of these was a big resounding No.
2. Learning to step outside of your comfort zone
Prior to our backpacking adventure, Pete and I led pretty comfortable lives. Pete was a pharmaceutical sales rep, and I was a management consultant. By the world’s standards, we were considered fairly “successful.” We were starting out in great careers and making salaries that I never would have dreamed of in college. Pete had a paid company car and I was raking in the hotel points with all of my work travels.
The crazy thing was, we were so unfulfilled. We felt far from successful in our own eyes, and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that some of you may know the feeling – when it may seem like you “have it all together” and it couldn’t be farther from the truth. When you’re yearning to find your calling, to do something that gives you an understanding of your purpose, and to truly become the best version of yourself.
Long-term travel, especially in countries with a very different way of life, forces you into a new reality – one far from the life you are used to living. It takes all of those comforts and safety nets that you are used to and throws them right out the window.
And in our opinion this is the hardest and best way to do it. You know what they say: Great things never came from comfort zones. We’re here to tell you this is absolutely true.
Letting go of those chords that bind us to our comfortable, safe lives allows us to experience the world in a whole new way. If you no longer have those jobs, those apartments, those salaries to fall back on, you are free to take a step back and reflect. You’re free to choose a new path – or forge your own.
3. Learning to challenge your beliefs
It’s easy to get caught up in our own bubbles. How we see the world forms around the lives we are living – and where we live plays a huge part in that vision.
In our daily lives, it can be easy to take for granted the blessings we have. Everything from our ability to buy fresh groceries and find wifi in almost every neighborhood coffee shop to the availability of a college education and our freedom to choose our own career paths – these are luxuries that don’t exist in many other countries.
When you see how people live their lives across different countries and cultures, it gives you a news lens with which to view life.
One story that comes to my mind is our Bolivian tour guide, Nadia. Nadia’s family didn’t understand why she’d leave her small town to pursue an education in tourism. They couldn’t wrap their heads around working hard towards an unconventional life, even if that’s what she knew would make her happy. But despite the naysayers and cultural difficulties to get to where she wants to be, Nadia only had this to say: I’m going to show them what is important to me, and what makes me happy, by how I live my life.
She decided early on that she would share her happiness – and inspire others to take a chance on their own – through her actions and mindset, not in her words.
When you embark on a backpacking trip, you leave everything that is important to you behind. Some of these things you will miss terribly, and others you will find out really aren’t that important after all.
One of the things I am most grateful for from our travels is learning how to appreciate a simple life. Instead of needing to fill my life with things, I’m seeking to fill my life with people and experiences. Learning to live out of a 65L backpack for four months forces you to let go of many of the material things that can so easily fill up our lives.
4. Learning to be present and slow down
Being the recovering perfectionist and type-A planner that I am, we had booked flights for most of our travels before we ever left the United States. Shortly into our travels, however, Pete developed an severe anxiety around flying.
Three weeks into our trip, the anxiety was so overwhelming that we canceled the remainder of our flights. Instead of flying down to Patagonia, we boarded a 23 hours bus through Chile from the Atacama Desert to Santiago.
It was unexpected and last minute. We had no books, no movies, and a low charge on our phones to listen to music. Needless to say, it was going to be a long trip, and there was not much to do besides stare out at the Chilean countryside.
Thankfully, we had our bibles, our minds, and each other.
After a small panic attack on my end, we quickly learned how to just be in a moment and how to take things as they come. We had no control over our schedule. We would break whenever the driver stopped. We had a full day on a bus and nothing to keep us busy.
But as troubling as that seemed at the time, it’s more concerning in hindsight. We were so dependent on external things to satisfy us. The fact that we were so reliant on distractions to keep us busy during long travels – or just life in general – really shook us up.
How many times do we turn to scroll through our phones when we have an absence of something to do? How often do you check your texts at the dinner table? How many of us carry our phones with us to the bathroom?
Our culture has this need to be busy all of the time. To fill our days from beginning to end. To make sure we are productive. And social. And always connected.
Traveling forces you to cut the cord with all of the distractions our world is so ready to provide, and allows you to relearn the simple joy of living in the present moment.
5. Learning to let go of comparison
We have the uncanny ability to stalk most of our friends with a quick tap of the Facebook app. We know what people are doing at every moment of the day thanks to Snapchat and we know how amazing every else’s lives our thanks to filtered Instagram posts.
The problem with this unparalleled ability to access everyone else’s life is that we can get so wrapped up in comparing ourselves to others that we forget to live our own lives.
Traveling (and unplugging for that matter) forces you to disconnect. It allows you to live out your day without the need to see how it’s measuring up to everyone else’s.
In return, this disconnect gives you the peace and freedom to live your life on your own terms. To follow your own heart and passions instead of “doing it for the ‘gram.” To stop living by what you should do and start living how you want to.
We saved this lesson for last, because we truly believe that learning to let go of comparison is one of the hardest and most important lessons we can learn in our twenties.
It’s the only way we can start to carve our own paths and figure out who we truly are and what we believe, without the filter of what everyone else thinks.
There are a hundred more lessons we could share from our travels. To say that it was the best money we ever invested in ourselves is a vast understatement. Our long-term travels allowed us to explore new ways of living, reflect on our own lives, and teach us the tools for how to start living the lives we want upon our return.
If you have experienced a similar transformation from traveling, we’d love to hear how it changed your perspective on life! Let us know in the comments below – what lessons did you learn?
*ps – you can check out a fun video we put together of our travels here!