Nomadic Matt poses for photos along a winding road in Hawaii

posted: 20/2/2023 | February 20, 2023

Traveling the world is like being a kid again. You don't know what to do, where to go, or how to function.

How do you stay safe?

How do you get around?

How do you communicate?

What cultural norms should you follow?

In each objective, you start over and have to relearn how to perform the most basic of life skills.

You have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Without them to guide and teach you, you will be lost. From locals giving you rides to people helping you when you're injured to those simply telling you where to go or inviting you to their home, you need their guidance and assistance just as much as a child needs an adult.

Every day on the road, you learn what to do for the first time and how you must depend on others—like a child.

Of course, this constant relearning is one aspect of the grueling journey. It's a lot of mental work to keep figuring out who to trust, how to behave, and how to get around. That's why long-term travelers always end up slowing down (and why people who travel too fast get tired). After a while, you can't do this every day. Your mental energy is drained. Burning brain.

But it is through this process that you actually grow up. You come to understand the world in the same way you grew to understand your hometown.

First, you can learn how different countries operate. As a Henry Rollings quote says, “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.” By repeatedly seeing how other places operate, you can get a sense of what your home country is doing right — and wrong.

It also gives you unlimited opportunities to improve yourself and the way you do things.

We live most of our lives on autopilot. We wake up, we go to work, we run errands, we watch Netflix – and then we do it again the next day. We know where to eat, where to shop, how to get around, and where to avoid. We know the exact route to get to the grocery store and we've done it so many times that we can only zone out walking to get there as we think of a million other things we have to do.

In our daily life, we follow routines. Our minds don't always need to do “work” to figure out how to live.

And any book on psychology will tell you how important it is to function as an adult. We need routines because we only have so much bandwidth per day to make decisions. Routines allow our brains to work better and focus on more important tasks. Without auto-pilot, we can't function.

But, on the road, you don't have a routine. Every place and situation is new. Everything you do requires active decision making.

Think about finding a place to eat instead. In a new destination, if and when you find a restaurant, you don't know what to order, what's good, what's bad. All of that is a mystery. Every time you want to eat, you have to decide: Does the place look sketchy? Will I like the food?

It's tiring.

But relearning how to decide where to eat, over and over, helps you improve the process. In this case, you know the universal clues to what makes a good restaurant. You learn how to eat alone. You learn what you like.

Whether it's finding something to eat, figuring out how to get around, figuring out how to find information, or learning to trust people, I think because we travelers have to do it so often, we develop mental pathways that are different enough that we get better at making decisions independently. common than most people. We just have more experience.

The same is true in dealing with people. Because language isn't universal, I have to figure out every day how to communicate with people who don't understand me (and vice versa).

But by doing that many times, I got better at reading people than if I had only ever met them living in my hometown. That constant, tiring work – while draining – has resulted in lifelong gains by becoming better able to communicate and interact with and understand a wide variety of people.

And in the end, all this work makes you a more independent, confident, and mature person. You grow up feeling a better sense of who you are, what you want, and how the world functions.

Traveling can be a lot of work. This may be mentally exhausting. And it might make you feel like you've regressed as an adult as you wander helplessly from one destination to another. But, in the end, all that rewiring makes you a better person.

Book Your Trip: Logistics Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find cheap flights using Skyscanner. This is my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the world so you always know there's no stone unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, go for it because it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guest houses and hotels.

Don't Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you from illness, injury, theft and cancellation. It's comprehensive protection in case something goes wrong. I never travel without it as I've had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Want to travel for free?
A travel credit card allows you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what kept me on the road for a very short time. Check out my guide to choosing the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to work with when you're on the go. I list everything that I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can't go wrong with them on your travels.