I didn’t grow up in a traveling family. Besides the yearly ritual drive down to a cabin for a week every summer, my parents weren’t big on trips of any sort.
But in my later teens, that started to change, mostly because of my sister and me. We started wanting to connect with the unschooling community more, and traveling as a trio of sisters and mother (my father’s job doesn’t allow for much traveling) to unschooling conferences and camps. And pretty soon, the friends I made at those places had me craving more time spent away.
In the past six or so years, I still haven’t been off this continent. I haven’t even made it to the opposite coast! But I have made many, many trips to visit friends, most within a (sometimes long) days bus or car ride. And though it might not be as exciting as backpacking in Europe or hiking in Peru, I have learned and grown a lot from the experience of traveling, not to mention having some of the best times of my life. Here are just a few reasons why I love getting away from home every now and then for a good adventure.
When I first started traveling by myself, at a time when I was just starting to be more independent, it felt like a very big deal to be the only person responsible for getting myself over long distances and handling whatever problems came up while I was gone. While parents have definitely been called in a panic time or two, when they’re not within an hours drive you still have to fix things yourself, with just advice (and the occasional emergency loan or bus ticket) to get you through. I haven’t needed either of those last two in a while, and the panicked phone calls have become few and far between. But travel has marked some of the times in the past that I first started to feel like an adult because I did manage to solve problems by myself, get myself to the right destination, deal with emotional upheaval (both my own and that of friends), and otherwise keep it all together. And managing to do that while far away from my parents meant so much to me.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a cafe in rural Maine, many hours from my home in Montreal. Some things may have changed in the years since I started spending more time away from home, but what hasn’t changed is how much more confident I feel when away from my familiar haunts. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but being somewhere unfamiliar, meeting lots of new people and going to new places, gives me a freedom I feel few other times. I’m more outgoing, and though it’s still scary, I’m more likely to introduce myself to someone, joke around, and be more myself than I often am with anyone other than close friends. Maybe it’s because my immersion in the social life of wherever I am is so temporary, so that I don’t feel as concerned about how other people view me. I can be less self-conscious when I’m leaving in just a week. But whatever lets me push my social boundaries when away definitely stays with me when I head home. I’m reminded of all that I’m capable of, and that I can be an outgoing person at home, too, if I want to. Stretching my comfort zone when away gives me that much bigger a zone when I get back home.
If I’m to be confident and independent, I need to first feel secure. This has meant learning, through trial and error, how to find or create situations where I can be comfortable far away from my usual surroundings and routines. For me, this has meant that I now stay only with friends (whether at their houses, or camping with them, or staying at a less familiar place with a good friend) and not friends of friends or casual acquaintances. I need to feel safe wherever I am, and for me that means being with at least one person I really trust. It also means that I keep my routines. I might be away from home, but I can still do the same things I always do before bed and when I get up in the morning. I can still use the same methods to calm down when I’m stressed. Bringing familiar routines away with me helps me stay calm and grounded, no matter how unfamiliar a place I am. It’s thanks to that base I can try scary new things and meet so many new friends!
I head back home on Monday, after over a week of adventuring in Maine. I’ve already met a lot of new people, tasted a whole bunch of different food and drinks, slept at two different houses, walked around Portland, and swum in a lake. Plans for the coming days keep unfolding, as my good friend and host thinks of more places she wants to bring me and more people she thinks I should meet. It’s been a really good time so far, with more good times to come I am sure. And through it all, I feel myself stretching, testing my current limits and finding new ones, and feeling better and more centered within myself.
No matter how near or how far we venture, I think travel can help us all to learn and grow!