How Travel Changed My Life (& Could Change Yours Too)

travel changed my life

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

If you had told me three years ago that I would be writing this now from a colonial casita in Merida, Mexico, I would have responded “Yeah, right…”. But just over three months into a seven-month trip, here I am – and I won’t ever say “Yeah, right…” again.

Travel has changed my life. And I think it could change yours too.

Travel (especially long-term travel) isn’t for everyone. If you’ve thought about it and are on the fence when it comes to traveling, however, I can assure you that the experiences, benefits and perspective you get are too good to miss. Here are some of the most life-changing aspects I’ve experienced over the past few months:

Attachment to Things

There’s nothing quite like living out of a backpack for several month to truly cure an attachment to things. The limited space (and my limited strength) has redefined my sense of what I ‘need’. At home, I used to think I ‘needed’ two weeks worth of underwear. Here, I realize that, while it might be more convenient, I don’t even really ‘need’ half of that.

Instead, I’ve truly come to appreciate the significance of experiences: I still go to the local mall here in Mexico, but I go to see a movie, people watch and take in more of the culture, not to shop.


Getting out of the UK and leaving behind everything that was familiar has helped me redefine my priorities based on what’s important to me, rather than what I think I should be doing. As a recovering perfectionist workaholic, one question that’s been really helpful for defining my priorities is the “10 years from now…” scenario. It goes something like this:

“10 years from now, am I going to be glad that I missed a night out with my partner in Buenos Aires because I chose to stay home and fix a demanding client’s ‘emergency’?”

“10 years from now, am I going to feel comfortable with the fact that I decided to skip a scenic hike to stay in bed and read?”

There aren’t any right or wrong answers to these questions – I’ve learned to go with what my needs are in the moment and listen to my gut response.

Respect for Resilience

In the second week of our trip, my partner and I got mugged by three men in Uruguay. It was a horrible experience, and it left me feeling shaken and suspicious of almost everyone for several weeks afterwards. I had nightmares, the smallest noise on the street made me jump, and I weighed up everyone in the vicinity for their ‘mugger potential’. When this was still happening three weeks later, I was scared that those feelings would never go away.

But they did.

That incident taught me a lot about my need to feel in control. Aside from staying in our hotel room all day, there was nothing my partner or I could have done differently to stop it happening, and that was one of the most terrifying things about it for me. Since then, I’ve come to accept something that I’ve never had the opportunity to accept before: that, sometimes, bad things happen – not because we deserve it (we don’t), or because we brought it upon ourselves. It’s not personal, it’s just one of the darker aspects of experiencing life.

Do I worry about it happening again? At times, yes. But I also know that my emotional resilience is stronger because of it.

Respect for Others

Despite the mugging, my travels have reinforced my experience that the vast majority of people are inherently well-meaning.

There’s the man on a motorbike who happened to see the mugging, insisted on coming to the police station with us, helped translate, and offered to call my phone to try to get it back. There’s also the people who have gone out of their way to help us get oriented and feel welcome. That’s not to mention the complete strangers who say hello on the street, wish us a good trip and make an effort to be friendly; not out of some ulterior motive, just because.

The Power of Permission

I gave myself permission to dream of long-term travel. I gave myself the permission to entertain the idea that the dream could become a reality. I gave myself permission to research flights, locations, accommodation and the practical details, and, finally, I gave myself permission to do it.

That’s not to say that there aren’t practical barriers in the way of traveling, particularly long-term travel. Finances, career, stability and relationships are all things you need to think about as part of the decision process. But from my experience, and having met and spoken to a lot of long-term travelers, those things are mostly hurdles to overcome rather than ‘no entry’ signs.

We can provide all the reasons in the world why we shouldn’t chase our ambitions, no matter how crazy or ‘out there’ they seem. But ultimately, the biggest barrier is usually ourselves. When we give ourselves permission to dream, and dream big, we realize that many of the barriers we see standing in our way are self-created.

What could you do if you gave yourself permission?

Photo by martinak15

32 thoughts on “How Travel Changed My Life (& Could Change Yours Too)”

  1. A long term travel experience is pretty far out of my comfort zone but I sure would love to give myself permission to do it one day. Sounds like an amazing life changing experience.

    I really like the 10 years from now scenario and hope I remember to use it often.

    As far as what I’d actually give myself permission to do….I’ll have to ponder that some more. I think right now I just need to give myself permission to relax and spend time on myself a little more often.

  2. Hello Windy,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you like the 10 years from now scenario, I’ve found it really helpful when it comes to my own priorities so I’d be interested to hear what your experience is like when you try it.

    I can totally relate to what you said about giving yourself permission to relax and spend time on yourself! While travelling and bucket list-style activities like that are great experiences, fulfilling your own self-care needs is so, so important – I hope you can give yourself that permission :)

  3. Enjoyed the story I totally resonated with it. Most of my life I lived in Arizona, last year I escaped a life that wasn’t serving me spending 5 months in Bandaras Bay. Since then I have been living out of my suitcase staying with my kids who are now scattered across the US and now getting ready to go back to Mexico for another 6 months with my 84 year old mother…I seriously don’t feel like I “belong” anywhere right now and enjoying the adventure…my ultimate dream is to couch surf across the UK…just have to figure out how to make money living my passion of empowering others to become their authentic selves…at 54 I am finally living fearlessly and claiming crazy. Thanx for sharing your journey, it was inspiring <3

    1. Lila,

      I can relate to the sense of “not belonging” anywhere. After years of living in the UK and Japan I returned home to Texas, and it was like Mars. I lasted 8 months before I was off again. Sometimes I feel like a nomad. But now with a 4 year old daughter Ive pretty much “settled” into the Denver area… although we still manage to travel quite a bit.

      I guess I now consider myself a “citizen of the world…”

  4. I agree. Even traveling within the US is beneficial. Most of the people in the city I live seem to have no desire to go anywhere else. It’s sad.

    1. Hi Yolande,

      Yes! One of the things I love about the US is that it has so much diversity; each state is like a different country.

      I’ve also known people who have no desire to travel, and it is sad. In my experience you can gain so much by experiencing other cultures and lifestyles. After all, what is life for if not for experiencing?

  5. I really enjoyed the personal, intimate tone of this post. Too often, “personal development” authors come off with a push-y tone (they call it motivational tone)

    ” the biggest barrier is usually ourselves” so true. Whether it’s about traveling the world or starting a business or whatever, we often make excuses to ourselves.

    I don’t consider myself a traveler — I’m a migrant :) After I immigrated to the US, I’ve lived in three distinctly-different places (Ohio, Tenn, Oregon), each several years or more. It’s been great — although not free of troubles.


    1. Thanks for your comments Akemi, I appreciate what you said about the tone. I also like your distinction between traveller and migrant – I imagine moving somewhere permanently or semi-permanently has its own challenges and rewards that are quite different to those experienced by travellers.

  6. I love what you said about barriers being self-created, Hannah. So true. For ten years, I told myself I could not leave public school teaching. It wasn’t even a thought in my head – even after my husband left public school teaching to start his own business. My obstacles were fear and people-pleasing. What I have realized since I resigned five years ago and started my own business is that the only one who can take action is ME. I created excuse after excuse.

    Now my husband and I have time to exercise, talk, write, and play together – every single day!

    Thank you for sharing your story with others. I know the idea of long-term travel is definitely on the table for us.

    1. Wow, Tammy! I felt so inspired reading about your experience. Taking the leap and leaving behind the comfortable and familiar to pursue your dreams is a challenge – but totally worth it, as it sounds like you’ve realised :) I’m happy to hear that you get quality time to do the things you love with the people you love now.

  7. Wonderful post, Hannah. I gave myself permission for long-term travel just recently and am simply waiting for my spouse to give himself permission, too. Our difficulty comes in balancing two dreams, one of spending months abroad in diverse countries and the other of becoming debt-free. Anyone who has worked on paying off student loans or a mortgage knows that every penny has to go toward that snowball to give you traction, yet I don’t want to wait to live life years from now. Ultimately you have to think outside the box to make multiple dreams a reality. Thanks for the push!

    1. Hi Emily, thanks for your comment. It can be hard to balance two dreams – I’ve definitely been there and it’s tough to negotiate between goals that don’t immediately gel together. If it’s any help to know this, I’m working online while we travel – it can be tricky to squeeze everything in sometimes, but that was one decision that helped make my dream a reality :)

      I really like your positive approach to thinking outside the box, and I hope you and your husband find a balance that meets both your needs.

  8. Hi Hannah,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences about traveling. I’m glad you told us your story about the mugging incident and that it didn’t stop you from traveling. That sort of thing can happen anywhere. But you’ve also experienced the good in others that helped you and your partner. I think some of us fear that something like this may happen to us while visiting a foreign country. Our fear is just that a fear. Sometimes things like this happen and we can learn from it and be stronger and to know that majority of people will respond in kind to help those in need.


    1. Eugene,

      I’m not sure what country you are in, but I wonder if this is a cultural thing? (And I dont mean your specific culture, but culture in general).

      I think that fear is fostered in the US. What I have found in my travel and living experiences overseas is that the US is at least as dangerous as many of the countries Ive visited, and more so than a lot of them.

      Then again, I remember meeting a lot of people in the UK and other European countries that were fearful of the US, mostly because of the prevalence of guns and the violent crime data.

      Fear is a useful adaptive emotion, but unquestioned and unchallenged can really be a life inhibitor.


  9. Hi Eugene, thanks for your thoughts.

    I totally agree with you that negative experiences like theft can happen anywhere – I’ve actually felt much safer for most of our trip than I did living in London. I was talking to a friend of mine who lives in Asia about this on my podcast recently; we agreed that we’d much rather be having all these amazing experiences with that small risk attached, than be stuck at home – with that small risk still attached!

    You’re also right that the vast majority of people are kind, honest and very generous. I’m constantly surprised by how willing people are to offer their time and energy. Just as negative experiences can make you stronger, experiencing all the goodness in the world is very life-affirming too :)

  10. Great post. Although I love travel, I’m a single dad and it’s hard for me to do much other that a couple short trips per year. As I try to live minimally, I love the fact that travel forces one to live more simply and let go of the “stuff.” I hope to do more international traveling as my daughter gets older.

    1. Hey Dan,

      Yes, that’s one of my favourite things about travel. Stuff can become such a burden – emotionally and physically – so it’s very liberating to be able to let go of it. Good luck with your future travel plans :)

  11. Great post. I really appreciate you mentioning the challenges and choices one has to make. When we let go off all the stuff we think we need and just experience “being” in all the ups and down of life.
    The older I become I realize the less I need or want commodities, its experiences that bring joy. I am planning a big travel this year.
    Thanks Hannah.

    1. Hello Karen,

      I’m glad to hear you’re planning a big trip this year! Where are you thinking of going? I like your point about ‘being’ – I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more aware of and present in the day-to-day experiences I have here, and I think that’s because I’m less distracted by ‘stuff’. I hope you have a great time on your travels :)

  12. Hannah,

    First, I really love your blog title. Carl Rogers really influenced my early days of studying psychology with his notion that the purpose of live is to become who you really are. I love the concept of personal evolution as a life long, never ending, journey. And long-term travel certainly contributes to that evolution, as does living abroad for a significant period of time. My time in the US Navy traveling and living overseas, and as a civilian traveling, working, and living in different countries really changed my “Im an American Badass,” and “Don’t Mess with Texas” paradigm.

    I’m definitely going to check out your blog. Very nice post.


    1. Hi Chris!

      Thanks for your comment. I originally took the title for Becoming Who You Are from the E.E. Cummings quote “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”, but the work of Carl Rogers has probably been the biggest influence on the way I think about actualisation and what it means to “becoming who you are”. I agree that spending time abroad can help you become more aware of those kinds of paradigms, and distance yourself from them. Look forward to connecting with you on the blog :)

  13. Hannah, thanks for the inspirational post. I’m slowly learning that the excuses are just that – excuses. I’ve always said I want to travel (vaguely), but when people ask me where to, I realise. My vision is lacking due to one big obstacle I’ve created for myself – affordability.

    It’s all in what we set as a priority, isn’t it?

    1. Hi Alarna,

      Yes, I think you’re right that priorities make all the difference. I really admire your willingness to look honestly at how you’ve been thinking about travel – it takes a lot of bravery to notice thought patterns like that. I hope you can find a way to realise your vision in the near future :)

  14. Yup, I agree with you completely. Of course it is much harder doing it with kids though…
    Traveling helps you evaluate your life, its values…
    It also helps me hear my inner voice and understand my needs and goals better than when I am in a busy city rushing all day long.
    If you also add up the amazing experiences and the new knowledge of cultural differences, traveling is most probably one of the best investments :)

    1. Hey Ani,

      Yes! That’s a great way of putting it, and I couldn’t agree more. I’d much rather spend my time and money on travel than have a car, TV, designer wardrobe (or even smart wardrobe, haha), etc. I can definitely relate to what you wrote about hearing your inner voice and understanding your needs and goals better when travelling. Like I said in the post, this trip has been invaluable when it comes to recognising what my true, authentic priorities and values are.

      Thanks for your thoughts :)

  15. Couldn’t agree with you more. Travel is an excellent way to build confidence as well as it repeatedly puts you outside your comfort zone, and taking risks is the number one way to build confidence. I gave myself permission to quit my job and spent a month skiing across Greenland. An amazing land with beautiful people!
    Thanks for this awesome post! Travelling is truly the best way to experience what it means to be a part of the human family!

    1. Wow, that sounds like a fantastic experience Akshay! I like what you said about taking risks and building confidence: once we show ourselves that we can take risks and survive – even experience huge benefits – a multitude of possibilities suddenly opens up :)

  16. The great thing about travel is that you get to meet new people. If you are lucky, you get to share stories with them and learn something important about life from these strangers. Through each fascinating story, you gain more knowledge on the human potential. And that knowledge is a great source of inspiration and motivation to truly live your life.

  17. mahavir nautiyal

    Dear Hannah,
    Beautiful post. I am inspired by birds who fly thousands of miles in a search for god knows what. Perhaps a desire for change of place, propitious climate and , of course, availability of food. A spirit of adventure is inbuilt in children but with age, it dies out in some but many , like you, retain it. There is always a risk in leaving the comfort zone, the fear of the unknown but the advantages are also many, as mentioned by you. We start living on our own, prioritizing our needs, learning from different cultures,and most importantly discovering our own strength and weaknesses. We renew ourselves in the process.

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