Friends want life advice? Tell them to travel more

From broadening perspectives to creating lasting memories, seeing the world can be a major exercise in self-improvement.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain

Mark Twain is just one of history’s many writers and thinkers who list travel as an essential piece of life’s ultimate journey. But what makes seeing the world so important?

We went looking for reasons on question-and-answer community Quora.com. In response to the question “Why do people advise ‘travelling’ so much when I ask them about life advice?”, community members shared how their own travel experiences shaped their lives and perspectives, and why they would recommend it to others. Here are a few of the themes that came up again and again.

You’ll better understand yourself
Travel sometimes forces people into unusual or stressful situations. Doria Arlin Ortega Michel, originally from Mexico, experienced this first-hand on her first night in Denmark, on a completely different continent in a country where she didn’t speak the native language. The airlines lost her luggage, her hotel reservations went missing and she had to navigate a new university campus to find her classes. But the experience made her grow as a person, meet new people and realise that “the world is not as scary as some say.”

“I had been confronted to do things that I could never do or never had the necessity to do at home,” Ortega Michel explained. “I have learned from great people about different styles of living, about different cultures, about kindness, about wisdom, courage, respect… things I would have never have learned if I did not go out of my comfort zone and decide to travel alone.”

Fellow student Fernando Ortega put his travelling experience in similar terms. “You learn what you are made of,” he said. “How long you can walk without rest, how little you can spend… and you also get to discover what kind of things truly interest you.”

One of Ortega’s favourite places is the city of Venice, despite others telling him the city “smells bad because of the water”, had “too many tourists”, or was “too expensive”. Instead of believing what they said, he went, and fell in love with the history of a place where “so many things happened”.

Quora user Andrew Anya echoed the sentiment, saying travel “is the best chance you have to see an unfiltered, unbiased view of the world”. But he also made it clear that travel isn’t an end in itself. “If the experience doesn't change you, you've wasted it… so travel with a purpose, not just for the sake of it.”

You’ll gain a broader perspective
As Twain’s quote emphasises, travel can open people’s minds and allow them to see things from a new perspective.

“When you travel, you are faced with alternative cultures that have a different way of doing, thinking and believing,” said Simon Huggins. “It challenges your assumptions and makes you shift your way of looking at things. When you get home, you come back to your own culture with different eyes and a more questioning mind.”

For Huggins, a trip to Mumbai opened his eyes to how different life could be to his hometown of Banbury, England. From the juxtaposition of slums against the city, the madness of the traffic and the incredible humidity, the sensory inundation was enough to stay with him forever. Years later, they are the details he most vividly recalls – far more than his visit to the Taj Mahal, which he described as “just another building” in the face of his other eye-opening cultural experiences.

Lawrence Lu said travel lets people see past themselves and their own immediate needs. The monotony of daily life might make people wonder why they don’t live in a mansion or own a BMW, he explained, but a traveller sees things differently. A traveller thinks, “I just saw a family of eight huddle for warmth inside a straw hut held together by cow dung. And they welcomed me in and asked if I wanted something to eat. Every time I have access to clean water I should be thanking whatever gods are out there,” Lu wrote.

What’s more, it doesn’t take a fancy trip to gain a broader view. “Do at least one real trip to somewhere poor and different without internet or TV,” he recommended. “Travelling makes you realise how small a mono-coloured dot you are on an epic massive hyper-coloured canvas.”

You’ll make memories that last longer than any object
Through the ups and downs of travel, the memories made on the road seem to be the ones that people treasure for a lifetime. “I'm 44 years old now and my memories of my travelling experiences are among the best I have,” said Kris Van de Vijver from Antwerp, Belgium. “The longer you travel and the more time you spent in one place during these trips, the better these memories will be preserved for a long, long time. Don’t miss out.”

Mauret Rojas from Monterrey, Mexico agreed. “[Travel] makes you go through adventures that will make you laugh every single time you remember them,” she said.