I deeply believe that life is about growing. And if we’re not growing and learning as people, we are fundamentally on the decline to, well, you know, the opposite of living. As you might have been able to tell, I am slightly obsessed with the notion of learning, growing and being a better version of myself. But, it wasn’t until recently, that I realized how one of my favorite things contributed to the personal growth process.

Travel.

Ever since I picked up and moved to Europe without ever having stepped foot on the continent, the seed for wanderlust and travel was planted in my soul. For the longest time though, my primary goal in traveling was to escape.

When I moved to Europe, I definitely saw it as an adventure, but I also viewed it primarily as a clean slate for my life. It was a way to escape the mistakes of my past and start fresh.

After moving back to the States, I still could not shake the travel bug. I got a “real job” and after getting married, my husband and I made a pact to go traveling every year for our birthdays/anniversary instead of buying gifts. So every year, for the past four years, we have been traveling internationally. And every single time, I have viewed it first as a way to escape the problems and challenges of my life back home for something more exciting. A few weeks a year with no problems and no worries, right?

WRONG!

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Last year, here we sat at the Barcelona airport, hung-over as hell, trying to figure out how we would ever meet up with our Airbnb host. We had just arrived on a 6am flight from Ibiza, where we had spent the last two days celebrating my husband’s birthday and my 30th birthday. As luck would have it, the airport wifi wasn’t working, our host wasn’t answering the phone, we had no idea where the apartment was and we were beyond exhausted. The moment I took this picture, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and go to sleep, but that was out of the question. We were forced to be creative, to problem solve and figure out a way to meet our host. Which, I’m happy to report, we ultimately did.

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Or take this moment, where we tried to pack too much sightseeing into a morning before our train departure to southern Portugal. I insisted on finding this café in Lisbon before catching the train. That decision almost made us miss our train and we spent the next 30 minutes running through the streets of Lisbon to make it.

I have soooo many stories like this from traveling. Like the time we did miss our train to Croatia from Slovenia because our bus was caught in traffic, and as a result, we had to cobble together a series of trains and taxis to get us to Zagreb. Or the time when we were supposed to camp out at “The Beach” in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand to only have it cancelled due to a monsoon. Upon arriving back on the main island, nearly all the hotel reception desks had closed for the night, which meant the only accommodation was a super sketch hostel. And we were lucky to find that.

I used to get pretty stressed out when these types of situations would happen on our trip because, well, I try to control uncertainty through planning and I’m a (recovering!) perfectionist. Put those two qualities together when something doesn’t go according to plans and I usually have a pretty big issue with it.

So, it’s not really a fair statement to say that travel is the few weeks a year with no problems and worries. In fact, trying to view travel as an escape doesn’t really work at all. You might be able to escape from your superficial circumstances for a moment, but never from who you are as a person. In fact travel, especially international travel, amplifies everything about you as a person. Travel has a way of shining a spotlight on our strengths, out weaknesses, our fears and our passions. That’s why travel is often used as a way for people to discover themselves – because it will show you, good or bad, exactly who you are. But, the beauty of travel is the opportunity to react differently than your normal behavior patterns condition you to. You do not have another option; travel often forces you to react differently.

Most things are uncertain when you travel. Your most basic knowledge of everyday life is questioned and challenged. How to get around, communicate, eat and other basic tasks are no longer routine and in the realm of comfort. You are forced to adapt. You are forced to problem solve in difficult situations, despite your personal limitations.

The greatest part about being in a situation of tremendous uncertainty is the tremendous amount of growth you can experience as a person. These lessons we learn on the road are directly applicable to everyday life, because so many of life’s problems (at least mine) are due to a deep aversion to uncertainty. Self-doubt, anxiety and bad habits can probably all be traced to some fear of the unknown if you think about it. Travel conditions you to handle this uncertainty a little better.

This is why travel is one of the most powerful teachers we have in available to us in this world. Not only can you learn so much about the beauty of this world, its vibrant colors, cultures and people, you can learn an incredible amount about yourself. It forces you to examine the behaviors you’d like to change and simultaneously gives you amazing opportunities to alter those behaviors.

Ever hear someone tell you to invest in experience rather than possessions? This is why. Experiences, especially travel, give you a phenomenal return on investment compared to most other investments. The lessons you learn lead you to be more productive in all aspects of your life. For me, it has enriched my life in incalculable ways.

You can do this too. All you have to do is be willing and make it a priority.

As I prepare for our next round of travels, I truly know the reason why I love traveling. I no longer view it as an escape, but as a way to truly feel alive and come out on the other side as a better person. I always knew those memories that weren’t so great in the moment made for the best stories. Now I know why. These were the moments of great personal challenge and growth, and what a memory that is! This time I’m gonna greet uncertainty with a big hug for the possibility it brings.

Go forth, explore, embrace uncertainty and GROW! Be alive!