This has been the longest time I’ve been in the U.S. since I graduated. Right after college, I hopped on a plane to China. My original plan was to live there for 6 months to a year, explore the country, and solidify my Chinese language knowledge. I’d majored in Chinese but lacked the confidence to continue practicing if I’d stayed in the U.S. I figured that if I was ever going to use the language it would be in the country itself.
Fast forward to five years later and I’d established a life in Shanghai and was fully immersed in the ex-pat lifestyle. I moved back to the U.S. last year but continued to do business back in China and Asia. Despite being based in Seattle, I spent about 50% of my time back in China. It was the perfect compromise: I was still able to experience a country, culture, and city (and delicious jianbing) that I loved while getting to explore a new city back in the US and be closer to friends and family.
I was set up to have another year of splitting my time between the U.S. and Asia but 2020 had other plans.
It’s now August and the last time I was outside the US was November. It’s been a weird transition, to say the least, and I know I’m not alone in feeling disappointed about how the year has turned out.
But what I didn’t fully realize until I went on a road trip last week was how much I missed traveling. Even just the feeling of traveling and everything that comes with it:
- The thrill of being in a new place
- Exploring a new city
- Navigating the new and unfamiliar experiences
- Learning about yourself
There are countless articles and books out there about how we need to get outside our comfort zones and expand our horizons. Nothing does this better than traveling.
Removed from your home and community, you have to react to the moment, you’re more curious and even willing to try something new.
I’m a big advocate for traveling abroad because I learned the most about my home culture (United States) by traveling around Asia and living in China. I learned a lot about Chinese culture but being outside of my comfort zone taught me about all the cultural norms that we have in the U.S. The kicker is that unless you travel outside of the country, you probably interpret those norms as universal laws. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t).
Not every country has the same personal space boundaries that we have. Not every country likes to hug new people. Not every country gets right to point when they meet a new colleague or client. These are U.S. cultural norms. But hey, I didn’t learn that in school, I learned that by living outside of my culture.
Unfortunately, we seem to be far away from getting back into international travel but there’s also something to be said for getting out of your bubble of your city. Break out a map or open up the app on your phone and pick a new town in your state.
You can still experience the thrill of seeing a new place and some of the learning that comes with traveling outside of your bubble. Maybe you try new food, explore a new hiking trail, discover you hate hiking, or enjoy a lazy morning in the hotel.
Last week, my partner and I took a road trip around the western coast of Washington and it was a great feeling to get out of our bubble. I missed the thrill of newness and the things you experience when you’re away from home. We tested our physical limits by going on a spontaneous 26-mile hike (my feet were NOT happy the next day), ate delicious local oysters, and explored local thrift stores and bookstores.
Just the little act of getting out of your house, your town, your city, helps. Don’t forget about all the benefits of traveling, even if it looks a little different in the time of COIVD. And international travel, I miss you and can’t wait until we’re all able to explore new countries and cultures again.