Over the summer, Heineken launched a brilliant marketing campaign called “departure roulette” at JFK airport. They asked travelers: take a chance, push a button, and “open your world.” Travelers had to commit to drop everything and go before pushing the button and seeing whatever destination was chosen, and then they got a free trip and $2000 to spend. Not surprisingly, many people declined because of their existing travel plans or fear of the unknown. What would you do? Well, if you’re in the majority, you might not even be able to go, because approximately two-thirds of Americans don’t even have passports. Another unsettling statistic is that approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. It makes me wonder: could there possibly be a link between our inactive lifestyles and our unwillingness to travel?
I always dreamed of seeing the world, but I struggled with a pretty horrible fear of flying after a couple of bad flights as a kid. When I finally realized that the one thing I wanted to do in life was to travel, and the one thing that was holding me back was myself, I was determined to conquer it. I took my first flight in my adult life to move to England for grad school at age 26. Being away at school, living in another country, and traveling around Europe were all pivotal factors for me in my transformation emotionally and physically. It is really what motivated me and helped me to finally lose weight. All of those pictures in the collage above are from some of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had while traveling.
While I was away, I met the most amazing friends from all different countries and seeing their zest for travel made me want to see as much of Europe as I could. I was there for slightly less than a year and I visited ten countries and dozens of cities and towns in the UK. Every time there was a chance to take an adventure, I’d book my train ticket, car rental, ferry ride, or bus fare. Most of the time, I didn’t think twice about it. I scoured the Internet for travel deals, booked hostels, or coordinated through couchsurfing.com to stay with random (and sometimes crazy) people wherever I was going. It was easy and fun to piece together the plans of a mini once-in-a-lifetime getaway several times a month. Not every trip was perfect, and there were definitely some frightening and unpleasant moments, but there wasn’t one thing I would change because each trip made me rich in a new way.
One of my favorite quotes is “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you rich.” Of course it costs money, but in my opinion, what you get from the experience far outweighs the price tag. My bank account may not be as full as it would have been without the experiences I’ve had, but I feel beyond rich from each and every adventure. If you’ve ever seen the sun setting over the Austrian Alps, or visited a Christmas market in Germany with the snow softly falling as you sip warm mulled wine, or seen the city of Paris unfold 360-degrees around of you from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, I’m sure you’ll agree.
It wasn’t easy to travel being overweight, but I didn’t let it stop me. My weight had held me back for years, and I wasn’t going to let that happen anymore. People always seemed to know right away that I was American; besides my accent, I think being heavy is a telltale sign. I often felt judged, and it was embarrassing. I’ll never forget when my family came to visit me for Christmas in Austria, and we trekked around Salzburg one day to the top of a fortress high up on a hill. It took me much longer than it should have to get up there and I had to take several breaks. I was embarrassed, but it was motivating. I didn’t want to be the fat American tourist anymore. I wanted to keep up with my family and the other travelers. I made it to the top, but I still had a much bigger mountain to climb emotionally.
Throughout my time abroad, I lost about 15 pounds; but more importantly, I changed my frame of mind after seeing so many people with active lifestyles all around me. My year in Europe set things in motion to continue my weight loss and have lost 70+ more since returning. I’ve also conquered my fear of flying, but my travel plans have sadly stalled. In the two years since I’ve been back home, I have only gone on a handful of trips, mostly for weddings or family vacations. I’ve noticed that my friends and family travel occasionally, but I know very few people in the US who have the same mentality for travel that I saw exhibited by people while living in Europe. One could argue that it’s easier to travel in Europe because everything is closer together. Maybe it’s because the standard two-weeks vacation time in the US makes it harder to travel than in countries where people get more holiday time. Perhaps with the American economy what it is, we are all just pinching our pennies. Or it could be that we have so many obligations in this culture of perpetual busy-ness that we don’t take the time to travel for pleasure. Still, I think there’s probably more to it than that. Maybe part of the issue is that here in America, we just aren’t as active as people in other countries.
Maybe there is a correlation between our lack of adventure and our lack of fitness. It has long been established that Americans have a sedentary lifestyle. We are at the top of probably every list that examines unhealthy, inactive, and lazy lifestyles. As a culture, we just don’t spend enough time moving around. While this isn’t true for everyone, could there possibly be a link between our outlook on travel and our lack of activity? Is it just too much of an undertaking for people? Are we too lazy? Do we not see activity as a priority, whether it’s going for a run or going on a trip? Is that half-hour at the gym three times a week all the activity that we think we need, if we even get that? What momentum does that give us to get up and go when an opportunity presents itself? Or perhaps, we never even see the opportunity, because we aren’t in the right mindset as a culture.
Lately, I’ve heard woes from so many different people about setting up travel plans: It’s too hard to coordinate people’s schedules. My life is so busy. The security lines are such a hassle. The best deals fall on inconvenient travel days. I can’t take time off from work. If I’m only going for two days what’s the point? I’ll just go when it’s convenient. I’ll go when I can afford it. I’ll go some other time. Do we too often look at traveling as a special occasion? Why can’t we just pick up and go? Why can’t we push that departure roulette button and take a chance? Sure, it costs money to travel. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can find special fares, discounted rates, short stays, or less popular locales. Maybe as Americans, we put more value on getting ahead in our jobs that we don’t care as much about being rich from experience. But for me, experience is the kind of wealth that is the most valuable.
Your worldview expands when you travel. I know that I may not have made all of the positive changes in my life if it weren’t for my time abroad, living outside of my comfort zone. Seeing everything from the exotic to the mundane…seeing life in all its forms, in all corners of the earth, expanded my mental and emotional horizons and helped me to get healthy. So next time you have the opportunity to travel, take it. Just go. You may not know your true potential until you open your world. Whether it’s a day trip to a little town or a plane ride to a new city, a new experience has the power to change you. Life’s too short to miss out on the experiences that have the potential to make you rich in ways much more important than financially. It may not be money in the bank, but you can’t put a price on experience.
How has travel changed your world?