Written by Andrea Arzaba
I started traveling before I was “officially born”. When my mom was pregnant, she went with my dad to Cuba. They were enjoying a young couple’s life, saving as much as they could so they could backpack around the country. During their time at La Habana, in the central market, an old woman told her she was pregnant. It was there that she knew she was going to be a mother.
The best thing is that this did not stop her from continuing to explore Mexico before I was born. I was fated to become a traveler.
Twenty-five years later, I am honored to represent female travelers as the “Poster Girl” of Go Girl Travel Network’s Women in Travel Summit 2015. After visiting more than 25 countries, due to study, grant research programs, journalistic opportunities and backpacking adventures, I realized that every single country I have visited has changed my life for good.
I am thankful for every moment I felt out of my comfort zone, every new dish I have tried, every hostel and house I have stayed in, every stranger I have talked to – and I am extremely lucky to say that I have met those dearest to my heart across the globe, in unexpected moments and places.
So how has traveling made me a better person?
It taught me empathy.
I experienced Ramadan with Indonesian friends. I learned the demands of Turkish youth during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. I understood a Chilean’s educational discomfort and a Brazilian’s love for samba. I learned about Saharawi’s situation through friends in Spain and I witnessed Mexico’s inequality and beauty through its indigenous peoples. Today, I try to put myself into the shoes of other people and try to understand life from their perspective.
I learned to travel light.
When I was younger, I used to bring everything I thought I could need, plus extra shoes and clothes, for a weekend out of town. Half the things I brought for a five day trip never left the giant suitcase. Learning how to travel with the essentials has been a blessing: no more long distances with rolling suitcases and no more money spent from extra baggage fees.
It increased my curiosity.
“Are you going to Turkey on your own? You’re a woman and you don’t even speak the language!” or “Travelling to Jordan? But you’re only 19 years old!” were comments I got. Even in my country, Mexico, some people felt insecure about me going to southern states. Fear for the unknown. People cared and I appreciated their efforts to keep me safe but I am glad I did not listen. Luckily, my curiosity and excitement about seeing new places always pushed my insecurities away.
It made me conscious of my own prejudices.
Muslim, catholic or atheist. Black, white, yellow, purple, green, red…whatever color you consider/think/feel/want to be. Traveling helped me to realize that just because something is different, that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Or right. Today, I try to understand the other person’s point of view and I often question my own cultural understanding.
It made me not want to buy the unnecessary.
Carrying those giant beautiful lamps, delicate plates or heavy statues for more than a month? Are you kidding me?
It helped me define who I am.
Being able to get out of my comfort zone often, made me feel empowered and confident. I am not afraid of moving to new places anymore. I know that no matter where I go, I will always find good people (and I am sure that you, fellow traveler, can relate to this statement!)
Traveling makes me feel alive. It allows me to savour the present to the utmost, and to embrace new places and experiences. It also gave me a life goal: to go to (at least) one new country every year.
How has travelling changed your life? Please share your experiences in the comments section of this post.