What You Learn From Travel

I  wrote this for PopSugar USA

Travel to me is a second skin. It’s a reflex I have never thought too much about; it’s my way of life. For that, I am immensely thankful, because it is without a doubt the biggest influence on who I am and will continue to become. I also understand that not many people can’t afford to travel, but there are many people out there who can, and you should because the experience is invaluable.

I was born in Denmark to Somali parents, and like many people around me, the Summer and Christmas holidays called for a little vacationing. My first trip was before I had the motor skills to sit up for a passport photo. All holidays were usually for short periods of time, but it wasn’t until we packed up and moved to Malawi, at the age of 8, that my life truly changed. I had never been exposed to poverty or any communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

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I had never met an orphan or anyone surviving with the bare minimum yet so happy. It was my first time in Africa, and trust me, you can hear about a place, but there is nothing like getting the wind knocked out of you because you’re so overwhelmed out of sheer excitement or just plain-ol’ anxiety. This was truly a time where I learned what true resilience is: to live life in such a way where you are thankful for the little you have, to not worry about anything beyond your capacity, and to take each moment as it comes.

As a family, we took many road — trips throughout southern Africa, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana, to mention a few. I witnessed this incredible collectiveness and community that I hadn’t been exposed to in Denmark. There is no you or I, it’s we . . . a togetherness that nurtures who you are. It instills in you this responsibility to be there for people no matter what you are going through, and this energy is reciprocated by strangers even when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere or you meet people at local restaurants and they invite you for tea at their home. Travel taught me about identity and the bond of sharing — “Ubuntu, where a person is a person through other people,” according Dr. Michael Onyebuchi Eze. I started developing a sense of who I was and wanted to be through my interactions with strangers, because I learned about their cultures, beliefs . . . I witnessed how they interacted with the world around them, and to my surprise as an almost-teenager, people that I thought I had zero in common with suddenly started feeling like a reflection of myself.

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From Malawi, we ended up moving to Kenya, where I finished school before heading to the UK for university. The story has been the same wherever I’ve gone: to travel is to learn and grow. I learned how to empathize with people of another culture although it may be a complete 180 from my own. You begin to be able to communicate with people better and understand a different standpoint or mind state. Traveling showed me what innately makes us us; that when we strip away everything at the end of the day, we are all really the same. Personally, as someone who has never really been from here or there, it made me feel at home in the world.

There has never been a place that I have visited where people haven’t been so warm and welcoming. You travel through some of the most fascinating places, and not only do you learn about the past and the present, but you are invited in with such pride. That’s a privilege and over the years I have seen people I know and some viral social media posts of people who can be disrespectful to the places they visit. If anything, travel has taught me humility. It’s very easy to come from a privileged background and have a subconscious “greater than thou” mentality, but the chances we get to see the immense beauty around the world should remind us of how the whole world doesn’t run in the way we may be used to at home. Remember that it may be short-term for you, but this is someone’s home, someone’s beliefs, someone’s way of life, and just because it doesn’t make sense to us doesn’t mean it’s less than.

Travel has always given me perspective on what’s important in life, and honestly it’s not the career, the money, the perfect life. Many times, everyday life sweeps us off of our feet in the most unromantic way and has us chasing life. Travel taught me that being happy comes from within. Sometimes we all need an escape to reset ourselves — it doesn’t even have to be to an exotic location, it could be to a town a couple of hours away you’ve never been to or taking a hike to watch the sun set over your city. Push yourselves out of what you know, be spontaneous once in a while, and enrich your lives.

Seeing the world is important. Getting to know people unlike ourselves is the only way to move forward in the world we live in today. In a world where the minority that hate are the loudest, where people are scared of what they don’t understand, I’ve learned it’s OK to be exactly who you are and still be part of the world. A classroom can’t teach you about a place or a people the way your senses do when you’re there. Travel is the education for life. Move around, go experience things, let go of your security blanket, and feed your soul.

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