5 Ways Travel Changed How I See Myself

travel how i see myself

Travel has been known to change lives. In books like Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, a personal journey is possible only by physically getting away and discovering the world. Travel can be the catalyst that changes your life forever.

There’s no guarantee travel will change your life. I love to travel, but I didn’t come back from Japan a Zen monk, I didn’t return from Cuba a salsa dancer, and I didn’t convert to Islam in Morocco.

What travel did, is help me see myself differently.

I see how wealthy I am

The first time I saw someone living in a shack, it scared the heck out of me. It was my first time in Thailand, and it looked like something out of a movie. It didn’t seem real. I was used to people living in houses, not shacks.

To me, it looked to me like the Thai people had nothing, and that made me feel self-conscious. I hadn’t realized there was such a difference between a developed and an undeveloped country until I saw it with my own eyes.

My way of living suddenly seemed unbelievably excessive. I had never thought of myself as a “rich” person, but compared to what I saw around me, I came from a pristine utopia.

I returned home, with a new view of my standard of living in the world, and a new appreciation for my wealth I didn’t know I had.

I see how I took speaking English for granted

Speaking English is something I take for granted big time. I didn’t meet many English-speakers traveling through Japan, and struggling with hand signals and body language to communicate was incredibly frustrating.

Not being able to communicate in the local language was difficult and embarrassing.

In my own country I’ve seen people get frustrated to the point of anger when dealing with a foreigner who doesn’t speak English fluently. It always makes me cringe, because I remember how patient people were with me, and how they tried to help me, despite my terrible language skills.

Before I traveled to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t realize how difficult it was. Now that I have, I’m more considerate with people who don’t speak English. Now instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, I see myself as someone who’s giving them an opportunity for practice and encouragement.

I see my nationality as part of myself

The things I took for granted living in Canada, are things that make it unique: forests, outdoor sports, four seasons, and small towns. It was hard to see these as anything other than “normal”, but once I traveled outside Canada, my perspective changed.

When other travelers would ask me “What is your country like?” the answer was (and still is) difficult. I didn’t know where to start, or what someone who’s never been to Canada would want to know.

Now that I’ve traveled outside Canada, it’s easier to picture seeing it through new eyes. I can see how Canada is different from other countries and I know what makes it unique. I can see how Canadian people are different from other people, and that my “normal” isn’t normal for everyone.

I’ve put my identity into perspective and I can see myself not just as a person, but as a Canadian person.

I know how important I can be in someone’s life

When I was teaching English at a children’s school in Japan, I was an authority figure, a teacher, and an ambassador for the English language itself. While I was doing the job, it was hard to see past the games, the misbehaving, and the frantically trying to fit everything into a one-hour lesson.

Looking back, it doesn’t seem like the most important part of my job was to teach English after all. I was there to teach students about myself, about foreign people.

Maybe after talking with me, they pwon’t be intimidated by foreign people, maybe they won’t dislike our differences, and maybe they’ll even try speaking English.

At the time it seemed like living and working in a foreign country was making a difference in my own life. Looking back, I think (and hope) that I made more of a difference in the lives of my students. I see myself as someone who can change lives, even if that’s not in my job description.

I see how much potential I have

Living in a developed country, it’s easy to forget how many advantages I have. It seems like everyone’s got a university degree, everyone’s got a bank account, and everyone can get a loan if they need money.

If I didn’t get a job working for a company, I could open my own business. I thought I had a pretty good idea what it would be like to start my own business from nothing, but I didn’t really understand what “nothing” was until I traveled to Zambia.

When I think about my home country – with help available to business owners, groups that support entrepreneurs, and banks that provide loans for small businesses – I have a renewed respect the Zambian entrepreneurs. They’re making a living without any of these resources.

In Zambia I saw entrepreneurs with no money going out and making it, by pitching ideas and talking to people.

Now when I think about myself, I can see how many advantages I have: education, finances, and a support network. I already have more than the African business owners, and they’re making more with nothing than I am with something.


Travel may not have changed my life the way it does in an inspiring memoir, but it changed the way I see myself: my opportunities, my national identity, my impact on the world.

I believe it changed me for the better.

I’m still traveling, still finding my place in the world. The more I change, the closer I’ll be to finding it.

How has travel changed you?

Photo by Mario Mancuso

10 thoughts on “5 Ways Travel Changed How I See Myself”

  1. Hi Heather,

    From someone who is also passionate about travel, this truly resonates with me.

    Traveling makes us realize how big the world is which truly widens our horizon, our understanding of others lives and culture.

    But more importantly, traveling is enriching. It’s us who are becoming richer, better with all the new adventures and experiences.

    Thank you for this post.

    And by the way, please consider traveling to the Philippines ;) :)

    1. Hi Jon,
      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m very happy that my experiences resonate with you, another traveler. I 100% agree that travel enriches your life.
      I have been to the Philippines, to Bohol Island! But I really want to go back, there is so much there to see, so many different islands, and so much excellent food. :)
      I’m sure new adventures are waiting for me!

  2. In my place there is a saying that ” a traveller is wiser than a grey haired man”. One can never over emphasize how much knowledge travelling will expose you to.

    1. Benjamin,
      That is a wonderful saying! I truly do believe that the knowledge you gain from traveling can’t be taught in any book or school. It’s something you need to do for yourself.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. There’s no education like travel. It does make you appreciate all the blessings of home. Americans can also educate others, in ways you didn’t mention. I’ve heard many people make the incredibly stereotypical remark that ‘Americans are all alike’. In this huge diverse country, this is patently ridiculous.

    A New York taxi driver is just like a California attorney who surfs? A Texas ranch hand is just like an advertising executive from Chicago? A North Carolina caregiver is just like a Nevada blackjack dealer?

    Americans can learn this same lesson of people in other places. What they learn from news reports doesn’t show them the human side of the individuals in these countries and that we all have characteristics in common, despite the barriers of language, color, culture, and religion.

    1. I completely agree, gigi. Making sweeping judgements on the people of an entire nation is completely ridiculous! Especially one as large as the US.
      Unfortunately all some people see is movies and TV, which doesn’t paint an accurate picture, let alone a fair one.
      Travel can break down these barriers, so that when you meet someone you can judge them for who they are, not for what country they were born in.

  4. Heather, I really enjoyed your insights. I have always believed that travel is the best education and that it grows us as humans in so many important ways. I lived in Ecuador for a time and when I came home, I saw everything so differently. It made me a better person. Since then I have had the opportunity to travel to over 20 countries and each time I return with souvenirs of learning and insight. It is priceless. It was nice crossing paths with you!

    1. Hi Maura,
      I’m glad that you enjoyed this article! That’s such a wonderful opportunity you had, to live in Ecuador. I do find it difficult once I arrive home, to keep the changes in my mind without falling back into my ‘old ways’.
      Keep traveling!

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