I love traveling. I’ve been to six countries outside the U.S. on three continents, plus 25 states and Puerto Rico — and I’ve hardly made a dent in all the places I want to go. However, despite the dozens of flights I’ve taken by myself those trips were all with a group of some sort, whether family, church, or school. They’ve all been places I wanted to go, but as an emerging adult I’m finally getting the opportunity to take larger trips on my own initiative.
I’m fortunate to have a family who supported traveling and adventuring, and who taught me how to do it well. I have friends who have never been outside the U.S., and friends who have been to more countries than they can list off the top of their head. And while big trips sometimes aren’t feasible based on work or finances, I can’t stress how important it is to explore the world beyond your own experience — especially as a young adult.
Think of it this way: Few of us are married, fewer have kids, and fewer than that own a home. We are likely as untethered as we ever will be again. Money can be tight, but we decide what to do with it. New things and places can be intimidating, but it’s always better to learn how to handle them early on. I haven’t gone 6 months without getting on a plane since early high school. That may sound like a lot to some of you, and not a big deal to others. And I know that affordability is a big obstacle for people wanting to travel. The good news is travel also doesn’t have to mean going across the globe.
My absolute favorite places in the world are only a few hours from where I grew up. And they’re familiar now, but weren’t the first time I went there. I’ve gotten to talk with people from far more places than I’ve ever visited, and listen to amazing stories. I’ve eaten homemade, amazing food from countries that I’ve never been to, and those are some of my favorite meals.
So in an escalating order of how far you’d have to go from home, here are some of my favorite ways to make the big, wide world feel more like something I can see and experience a lot of:
Without leaving home
- Books – There is no better way to build empathy and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Pick up a novel or nonfiction book that explores a neighborhood, culture, or country different from yours. You might connect to it more than you expect. My favorite: I Am Malala (there are a ton of others on my to-be-read list)
- Documentaries – I don’t watch a ton of documentaries, but they’re an amazing way to learn stories you otherwise might never see. Plus there are often a bunch on streaming sites like Netflix, and are usually in stock at the local library. My favorite: The White Helmets (less than an hour and on Netflix!)
Without leaving town
- Food festivals – A lot of towns and regions have cultural or food festivals. See if yours or a nearby town will be hosting any, and go explore without having to get on a plane
- Mom-and-pop restaurants – Last month I had amazing Colombian food at a little restaurant run by three generations of women that I happened to stop into because I was hungry and it was close. Even if it’s small or out of your comfort zone, you can find some amazing flavors
Without leaving the country
- Road trips – These are one of my favorite ways to see a lot of a new place, because 1) your car has windows, and 2) you can stop whenever you want. It’s how I’ve explored 20 of the 25 states I’ve been to, and how I plan on visiting more
- National parks – Nature is beautiful. Visit it. Love it. Protect it. Plus, it’s insight into the history and culture of an area, and you might meet some cool people from other places who are also visiting the park
- Double up – Lots of cool sights can be seen in one trip if you’re willing to zig-zig or travel just a little further. Before you make plans to go somewhere, see if another place you’d like to visit is nearby. By making your trip just a little longer, you’ll be able to see more while only traveling once. Especially recommended for the East Coast!
Without leaving the atmosphere
- Sharing is caring – Hostels, Airbnbs, and friend of a friend’s couches all make international travel way more affordable. If there’s a place you really want to visit, see if you can find a non-hotel option for accommodations
- Budget airlines – They can be bumpy rides, and you usually don’t get to bring a lot of luggage. But places like Wow Airlines and Ryanair can cut way down on what’s often the most expensive part of international travel
- Travel sites – Ask around and see if friends who have traveled a lot have favorite places to book through. One that was recommended to me is Tripmasters, a site that bundles flights and hotels, but lets you customize the package as much as you want, and offers a huge number of locations
Traveling is hugely valuable, even if it’s done in small steps. Ultimately, all it takes is being open to a world beyond what we know, and letting it teach us and shape us.