If there’s anything I’ve learned since moving out of my parent’s suburban home outside of Philadelphia at the age of 22 to live abroad in Australia, it’s that home isn’t a place – it’s a feeling.
Feelings can be cultivated anywhere, and that’s the true beauty of creating a new home for yourself. As someone who previously had barely left the East coast, let alone the country, I’m so relieved that I did and horrified to think about the consequences of having not done it.
That’s who I’m writing this article for – for the previous version of myself and all of the other people out there who haven’t yet had a reason to or are hesitating to move away from their hometown. I promise you there’s a bigger world outside the boundaries of where you went to high school, made your first friends, and had your first heartbreak. I’m not saying everyone needs to move away forever, nor should they, but I do think everyone should do a test run of exploration before they commit to a lifetime of settlement in one place.
If not now, when? Can you honestly say that out of the 7 billion people on this planet, you’re surrounded by just the right ones? Out of the 195 countries in the world, you were born in the right place? While most of us can’t explore every possible opportunity throughout the entire world, we can start by trying something – anything other than what is familiar. These are the biggest reasons I’ve found traveling far away from home to be therapeutic and important for my personal growth.
Your Surroundings Create Your Reality
If you’re miserable where you are, maybe you should ask yourself if it has anything to do with where you live. Do you like your job? Are there many opportunities in your town or city? Do you have people to reach out to? What I’ve found from traveling to different places is that with each new city, I felt different. The vibe changed, the energy of the people changed, and so too did the scenery. This isn’t a ground-breaking idea, it’s actually quite intuitive.
If you surround yourself with negativity, you’re probably not going to feel great. There are many reasons to feel unhappy or unfulfilled at some point in life, but one huge factor that we often overlook is where we’re forcing ourselves to spend 24 hours a day, every single day. Start with questioning if the place you live is compatible with your values and what you want out of life. Maybe you dream of living by the beach or somewhere hotter. Or you could be living in the city, but you desperately wish you could live in a rural town with acres of fields surrounding you.
Start with questioning if the place you live is compatible with your values and what you want out of life.
On a deeper level, you may live in a state whose politics deeply unsettle you or that’s populated with people with whom you can’t find common ground. If you’re forcing yourself to put up with conditions that are the explicit antithesis of what you want, that’s a recipe for unhappiness. When you gain control of your environment, you become more autonomous and less dictated by your surroundings. You should be manipulating your surroundings to meet your needs, not the other way around. Since studies show that where you grew up can influence whether you're less likely to get married young or if you'll have an anxiety disorder, it's no small matter. Those who live in the city are 21% more likely to have an anxiety disorder and are less likely to get married young.
You Realize How Big the World Is
If you never venture beyond your hometown, a little voice will always be there in the back of your mind, squawking about how you never lived up to your potential. How could you, if you’ve never ventured beyond where you grew up? Even if you just take a vacation somewhere for a few weeks and try to soak up a different culture as if you were a local, that experience would be invaluable, because you would realize how different the world can be outside where you were born. Your worldview is shaped by the people you associate with and your surrounding environment. If that environment never changes, neither do your views. You never expand your thoughts or potential. You never challenge your worldview, which does you a disservice.
Traveling can be a blast. If it wasn’t, people wouldn’t be desperate to quit their 9-5 to pursue a career in travel blogging or sell all of their belongings simply to afford an adventurous life. However, it’s more than just fun. It’s necessary. You may think you prefer living in the West, but how do you know if you’ve never tried anything else? Likewise, maybe you assume America is the best country in the world, but then you spend a semester abroad somewhere in Europe and it opens your eyes to some of America’s social services that seem to be lacking, leading you to question if you'd like to return at all.
This can be true in a domestic context – if you’ve always lived in the city, you may not realize all of the negative aspects of city life, and vice versa. It’s about empowering yourself to control your environment. However, fewer of us are leaving our hometown these days. Between 2010 and 2011, we saw the lowest rates of migration since the 1940s with just 11.6% of the population deciding to move.
Just the act of traveling before you’ve gotten to your destination can be huge. As you’re looking out your window seat on the plane, surrounded by nothing but clouds, hovering thousands of feet in the air in a metal contraption, you realize how small you are. That can be incredibly scary, but it can also be a huge relief to put your life into perspective. This is when the fleeting thoughts about our mortality pop back into our minds, and we’re urged to remember that we don’t get this experience forever. This can revitalize you and motivate you to do more in your everyday life by taking more risks, pursuing what you’re passionate about, and refusing to settle for less.
You Need To Make Yourself Uncomfortable To Grow
To put it bluntly, stagnation is the enemy of growth. I know firsthand how scary change can be. For the first 20+ years of my life, I loathed change and feared the new. I had anxious thoughts about everything. However, once I started to push myself out of my comfort zone by traveling far away by myself, exploring new places, and living abroad, I became less anxious. Exposure to new experiences is crucial if you’re high in neuroticism because you learn how to tolerate fear and move past it. According to neuroscientist Philippe Goldin, by repeatedly exposing yourself to the thing you're afraid of, you gradually bring down the physiologic fear response until it's gone or more manageable.
Once I started to push myself out of my comfort zone by traveling, I became less anxious.
You don’t necessarily become less fearful, but you do become more courageous. You’ll have experiences you otherwise wouldn’t have given a second thought to. This has been huge for me because it’s carried over into so many other facets of my life. Once you defeat one monster, you’re more empowered to defeat others. You need to take more risks to get any rewards worth speaking about.
To have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can’t just sit at home, unwilling to try anything new. When you go to a new place, you not only expose yourself to new foods, sights, and smells – but also people. What if the person you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with doesn't live in your hometown? So many romantic, professional, and friendly relationships are out there waiting for you to pursue them if you would just step outside the bubble that you’ve remained in for all of these years. We should never underestimate the power of relationships. They have the potential to change the course of our entire lives.
Sometimes life can seem monotonous, tedious, and boring. Feelings like this occur when our inspiration has died, and we’ve become trapped in a never-ending cycle of living the same day repeatedly. This is when world travel can be revolutionary.
When things seem bleak and the colors of life begin to dull, that’s when you need to walk the streets of Paris or marvel at the architectural allure of Rome. You’ll be inspired by the beauty, culture, and history of these remarkable cities that have been touching the lives of people for centuries. Not only will you feel moved by the sheer beauty of it all, but you’ll be inspired by the amount of foresight it takes to build something like a cathedral that takes hundreds of years to complete. That sort of time, dedication, and vision isn’t a norm that really exists in our culture anymore.
When You’re Old, It’s Experiences You’ll Cherish the Most
When you’re 80, it’s not possessions that you’ll look back on most fondly, but the experiences you had – science says so. A University of Penn study found that happiness was higher for participants who spent money on an experience like going to a sporting event or restaurant than purchasing a product across all categories, regardless of cost, and this was true when measuring happiness before, during, and after its consumption.
Experiences make us happier, and for longer, than possessions.
Another study found that the happiness we derive from material goods diminishes very quickly, and becomes worse over time, but it’s the opposite for experiences. This is because our experiences are more directly incorporated into our identity, as we are our lived experiences. Of course, it’s easier said than done to just pick up and move across the country or, furthermore, the world.
I acknowledge that most people are tied down by family, friends, money difficulties, and a lack of opportunity. What I do suggest, however, is that you take whatever opportunity you get, especially while you’re young, to travel somewhere, anywhere, for any amount of time. At the very least, you’ll find out what you don’t like, which is just as useful and empowering as finding your dream life.
There’s nothing wrong with living in your hometown. However, I think you should hold off on making that decision until you at least give yourself the opportunity to try something different. Maybe your “different” is just in a different town in the same state, or maybe you're ready to pick up and move halfway across the world. Either way, I encourage you to explore somewhere new before it’s too late, because you may regret it if you don’t.
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