By Sarah Piper
Travel is suppose to make you a better person. Grand adventures to new places are supposed to help you find yourself and become wiser. There are Instagram stars and YouTube bloggers who tout grandiose trips as the guaranteed means to achieve the benefits of travel.
Such praise for travel, however, is misguided. Travel is only a tool for growth; without knowing how to use it to your benefit, travel is worthless.
At the end of the day, the effort you put forth determines the worth of your travel. For example, a trip abroad is only as adventurous as you are. Therefore, it should go without saying that if you want to learn grow on a trip, you must force yourself to do so.
Leaving for San Francisco, I knew that I wanted to return home with the ability to think critically and speak intelligently about American media and its effects on the United States’ collective perceptions of minorities, housing crises, and global warming. In order to achieve this travel goal, I made an effort to be involved in academic readings and discussions, as well as to speak with San Francisco locals in order to learn their perspectives.
Having left for San Francisco with the desire to return better read and educated, so I had planned on the trip changing me in that way. What I had not expected was the personal growth I experienced outside the academic realm.
Just a day into our group of eight’s journey, I discovered a truth that shaped the rest of my trip: Traveling with friends and family is one thing, but traveling with strangers is another.
When you travel with a group of people you know, you know who the picky eaters are and who the culinary adventurers are. You know who will be a shameless tourist and who will try to blend in with the locals. You also know who will plan out every minute of their day and who will go with the flow.
When traveling with strangers, you have no such luxury.
Although obvious in retrospect, I had not realized the challenges I would face while I trying to live graciously with eight total strangers for an entire week. A pleasant travel experience demanded that I grow in areas I had not anticipated. It would have been easier to blunder through the week, living only according to my own preferences, but I instead used the trip as an opportunity to grow personally. Thus, the week turned into an exercise of patience, grace, and empathy.
As our group negotiated new foods, confusing bus routes, and differing personalities, I found out just how difficult spending near 24 hours a day with eight strangers for a week is. But, I also learned patience, grace, and empathy as I learned about my comrades and why they were particular about what foods the ate, liked to plan out every moment of their day, and the thousand other factors that played into their travel preferences.
Meeting new people in the place you travel to is what Instagram stars and YouTube bloggers claim leads to the most personal growth, but it was the strangers I arrived to California with that allowed me to grow the most.
Though I may not have traveled to some grandiose, exotic land, I certainly returned to Michigan not just educated about media literacy issues, but I also a more patient and empathetic traveler. Although difficult at times, I found that building friendships while negotiating misadventures and individual travel preferences was the best part of my trip. At the close of my reflection, I cannot help but to feel grateful for the personal growth opportunities and friendships that this trip allowed me to experience.