By Erick Widman
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs’ quote provides a key insight about how to build a remarkable life. Strangely—and sadly—enough, what we often pursue day by day doesn’t match up with what each of us actually values the most.
There is a fairly quick and powerful way to get refocused. A strong dose of international travel does wonders to align us with what we find the most important. Here are two key ways that the forced simplicity of venturing overseas points us to a deeper, more fulfilling life.
1. Travel Gets the Focus off of Production and Consumption
We are barraged daily with powerful messages seeking to change our behavior. Many come from brilliant advertising campaigns convincing us the path to happiness is buying what they’re selling. We also are highly influenced by our peers, friends, and colleagues to do what they do and be what they are. Especially for those of us in the Western world, we have a nearly irresistible pull toward finding our satisfaction in producing and consuming.
Travel, however, is quite different. When you journey to a new place, the emphasis is on seeing, understanding, and experiencing rather than consuming. Sure, many parts of the journey require money—whether you’re trying the street food in Thailand or attending a concert with the locals.
But travel always reinforces the idea that money is a means to an end of an experience—not the end itself, as it often can be at home. In fact, the process of converting your cash into the currency of your host country emphasizes that the strange-looking money you have in your hand is just paper. What matters are the doors this exotic paper opens, and how you can have a more fulfilling life by visiting the places where it’s used.
2. Travel Celebrates the Things that Really Satisfy
Whether we travel for a week or several months, the process of packing our bags is good for the soul. As we go through the exercise of deciding what few possessions we can bring along, we force ourselves to recognize what is important and what is not.
As we prioritize what is truly necessary and helpful to live, we do ourselves the favor of seeing that most of our stuff isn’t all that important. Basically, packing our bags helps us strip away and leave behind what mostly is a distraction, and instead live out our deepest values.
Here are a few things you can look forward to experiencing by leaving a few expensive possessions behind, and in turn, having a more fulfilling life overall.
Being Outside and In Motion by Not Having a Car
By traveling without the luxury of a car you obviously end up walking a lot more—and the two best parts about walking are that you are outside and you’re doing what our bodies were designed to do for most of the day. We are happiest and healthiest when we can be in regular motion, moving around and seeing the details of the glorious world around us.
Even when we’re not traveling internationally, we should strive to find a way to bring more of our daily lives into the outdoors and get ourselves in motion. I’m convinced that we should all consider the time spent outside to be one of the genuine factors of a fulfilling life.
When you travel without a car you end up feeling much more connected to the people and community you visit. Yes, public transportation can be unpleasant and a hassle at times—but for the most part it’s a great experience. Rather than zoning out as you stare at the road in front of you, you can take in the sight of all the fascinating people around you and speculate on their life stories. Even better, the more adventurous of us can strike up conversations or simply ask for directions from others on the bus or metro.
Cut Out Unhelpful Distractions by Leaving Your Computer at Home
The paradox of the information age is that despite having access to huge amount of knowledge at our fingertips, we don’t take the time to cultivate real knowledge and understanding. The internet is an invaluable and world-changing communication tool, but it simply can’t replace the importance of reading books in an intentional way. So rather than lugging along your computer and pulling up the latest news or Facebook every day, experience how refreshing it is to enjoy the forced simplicity of only being able to read books or write in your journal
Without realizing it, most of us spend a lot of time and energy doing things that we don’t actually value and that don’t help others or ourselves. International travel is a wonderful tool to break the vicious cycle of numbing—and unfulfilling—production and consumption.
Through the forced simplicity of packing only what is essential, by leaving our cars and computers behind, we give ourselves a liberating gift. We are freed to recognize that much of what we pursue is not meaningful or satisfying. Instead we see that nearly everything that matters is within reach already.