Cultural Experience | All Experiences

The Unexpected Side Effects of Travelling

That travel can have a monumental impact on a person is categorically undeniable.

Whether it be a series of short getaways, a multi-month backpacking bonanza, or moving to another country entirely, all travel, fuelled by the irrefutable desire to ‘see the world’, simply changes a person. And honestly, it would be rather peculiar if it didn’t. Being introduced to, and experiencing firsthand, a multitude of cultural traditions, attitudes and day-to-day practices so different from our very own, the ones we’ve grown to view as commonplace, the ones experienced almost everyday of our pre-adult lives, is bound to leave a lasting impression. And so, certain travel side effects become expected, even assumed.

You expect to feel wiser, more cultured, more knowledgeable about the world as a whole; more, shall we say, worldly.

You expect to expand your network of friends, to meet people from all walks of life, and to feel richer as a person because of it (not to mention accumulate a string of potential travel buddies and couches to crash on along the way). And, of course,

You expect at times to feel ever-so-slightly homesick, to vow never again to take for granted a homecooked meal or a fresh set of sheets.

However, it’s not quite that straightforward. With the expected comes the unexpected, a series of side-effects you probably haven’t considered; some intriguing, some surprising, some downright baffling- all of which this writer has experienced firsthand, and which you may find yourself experiencing too. So read on, and discover the unique life lessons and game changers travel may just have instore for you!

1. You become a minimalist

If you’d have told pre-travel, clothes-obsessed, shopping-obsessed, spending-obsessed me that at the age of 23 I’d own a single pair of jeans and wouldn’t have bought myself clothes in over a year, I might have dropped my double whip caramel Frappuccino in a state of shock.

But it’s true; somewhere along the way, after a few years of extensive travelling, I became a complete minimalist. I certainly didn’t make any conscious decision to become one, nor am I doing so out of some kind of valiant anti-materialistic idealism. It just kind of, happened. You see, travel and materialism just do not go hand in hand. Planning a weekend getaway? Better make sure everything fits neatly into your teeny-tiny carry-on. Backpacking Southeast Asia? Okay, then take the previous rule and apply it tenfold; this time you’ll need to carry several months’ worth of supplies on your back without cursing the day you were born. Now, for the final boss; moving abroad. Good luck packing your entire life into one suitcase! (Perhaps two if you’re really pushing the boat out).

Simply put, travelling essentially forces you to become a more practical person. Eating, sleeping comfortably, staying safe, maintaining at least a decent level of hygiene, and protection against the elements become your number one priorities, taking up 90% of your baggage space in the process. Life becomes less “is this top cute enough to buy?” and more “do I physically have room for this?”, with the end result being that unless something is an absolute necessity, chances are you ain’t owning it. And while it’s a mentality you may not have expected to adopt through travel, it’s undeniably one that’ll stay with you long after your adventures are over. Besides, there are definitely worse dispositions to inherit; minimalism causes you to become a more practical person (which, lets face it, prepares you for life in general), it makes you appreciate people, places and moments above physical belongings (another great outlook, regardless of whether you’re home or away), and means you *finally* stop wasting your money on junk you don’t need, leading me nicely onto my next point…

2. You become REALLY good with your money

While the opposite is usually assumed (after all, as far as hobbies go, it can be a pretty damn expensive one), travel may actually save you a heck of a lot of money in the long run (bear with me here!). Because yes, whilst transport, accommodation and excursions often don’t come cheap, and while globetrotting may eat away at your bank balance in the time being, the act of travelling itself provides money-saving skills that will last you a lifetime.

You see, from start to finish, travel compels you to budget; not only does planning a getaway require some serious saving, and therefore intensive money management in the lead up to your trip, but to make your money last (and your trip successful), budgeting throughout the duration of your travels is an absolute necessity. Consequently, by scrutinizing every cent of your cashflow, you’ll begin to truly appreciate the value of a dollar; in turn becoming ten times more aware of your everyday spending habits and realising just how wasteful reckless spending really is. $40 for a dress you’re not too fussed about? That’s half a week’s groceries, $20 for a couple of shots? That’s your electricity bill for a month! $15 for a single cab ride? That’s 3 whole days’ worth of transit passes.

More: 9 Things you forgot to include in your Study Abroad Budget

Pair this acute awareness of your cashflow with the aforementioned minimalism and it’s enough to curb even the biggest impulse-buyers’ spending habits, both abroad and long after you’ve touched down on home soil, where this repeated behaviour will become second nature.

Indeed, even at ‘home’ in England, where I know my worldly possessions aren’t limited to filling a single suitcase, I still struggle massively to make a purchase unless I am absolutely, 100%, head-over-heels in love with it. And while that’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy life and let loose every so often (after all, what’s life without a little ‘treat yoself’?!), it’s a healthy and freeing mindset to have, both for your wallet and for your soul. Anyway, who knows when you’ll want to jet off again? And with your newfound money-saving skills, you’ll always be in a position to do so.

A good pair of walking boots: one of the only things you *really* need to own…

3. You become more independent than you ever thought possible

Perhaps a less shocking side-effect, albeit one I personally didn’t expect to affect me quite so considerably, is the massive growth in independence travel instills in you.

Whether backpacking or moving semi-permanently, as a traveller, chances are you’ll find yourself alone in a foreign country (or at the very least, sans parents/family/abundant and immediate emotional and financial support). There’s no nipping back to your parent’s house for a relaxing weekend, and no home comforts on tap whenever you fancy them. If you’re feeling worn out or in need of some TLC, it’s up to *you* to provide yourself with it. Because of this, travel really does teach a person how to look after themselves, or at the very least, how to fully appreciate when others do (here’s looking at you Mum!); something you’ll never learn to quite the same extent in the confines of your home country, with all the care you need just a car ride away.

However, travel enhances your independence even further than this, as no matter how long or short your trip, you’ll most likely be executing each step of the adventure yourself. You’ll work out complex journeys on unfamiliar transit systems, navigate huge cities and the great outdoors using just a map and your own noggin, full of place names you’ve not heard of, cityscapes you’re not used to, and even languages you don’t speak.

You’ll barter with vendors, befriend locals for tips and directions, and take part in activities that both scare and excite you, often completely on your own. And the best part? The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the greater your independence grows. Not only will your confidence soar whilst travelling, as you move between each leg of your trip with increased assertiveness, but this heightened independence will serve you just as well back home.

You’ll realise how capable you are of activities and opportunities you’d previously thought too ‘intimidating’; you’ll be more likely to throw yourself into the unknown, to try something new, and to put yourself out there, setting you up for a more exciting and well-lived life overall.

using google maps imagePaper maps > Google maps, always.

4. You realise how tiny the world is.

Pre-travel, the idea of hopping on a jumbo jet 5000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean seemed like a colossal, epic event; one that required extensive preparation, organization and contemplation.

Post-travel, I give it about as much thought as I do hopping on the bus downtown. You see, one of the major unexpected side-effects of travelling is that the world doesn’t feel any bigger, but instead feels a-hell-of-a-lot smaller. Cities and countries you’d previously only seen on the big screen or read about in magazines no longer feel like distant, far-away lands, but real, accessible places. And while at first this may sound a tad disheartening, as if their charm has been compromised somewhat, it is honestly *the* most liberating feeling to grasp just how simple and easy visiting these magical places is. You realize that the only thing stopping you (and thus, enabling you) is yourself, that the world truly is your oyster. You can go anywhere and do anything; after all, it’s just a plane ride (or 3) away!

Another sweet little side-effect of fully comprehending the slight size of our beautiful planet, particularly if you’ve been abroad for a prolonged period of time, is the newfound ease you’ll feel when making future living arrangements at home.

Pre-travel, the notion of moving to a new city, whether for work, school or a relationship, may have felt incredibly daunting. However, after spending a considerable chunk of time across the globe, you’ll be a dab hand at staying connected with your loved ones via the glory of Skype and social media, whilst the heartache of seeing your closest but once a year will make moving somewhere within driving distance (even if it is cross-country) pale tremendously in comparison.

Travel therefore not only prepares you for potential life-altering decisions you may need to make in the future, but will make it so much easier to say ‘yes’; something the pre-travel you may never have dreamt of.

5. You make friends for life.

Something you’ll have heard prior to travelling, but which never fully hits home until experienced firsthand, is that the friendships forged abroad will be unlike any you’ve experienced before. Indeed, a small handful of people I’ve met through travelling are some of the select few that I can say, undeniably, unequivocally, will be a part of my life forever. Despite living thousands of miles and multiple time zones away, I’ve grown to feel more strongly and closely connected to these people than several I’ve known for years.

And whilst this may resonate with several travel scenarios, it especially rings true in the case of moving abroad, and more specifically, Study Abroad. Here, you not only find yourself living in an unfamiliar country, completely on your own, but are surrounded by others in the exact same boat. In this situation, the fellow Study Abroad students you click with become so much more than simply friends; they become soul sisters, people with whom you’ll form an unbreakable bond by sharing an unforgettable, otherworldly experience that will bind you for life.

Meanwhile, locals who take you in as one of their own will gain an equally special place in your heart, as a second family in your new ‘home’ country. Essentially, Study Abroad will be responsible for some of the most remarkable relationships you’ll ever make, relationships which can only be formed under these extremely unique circumstances, and are reason enough alone to take the plunge into moving abroad.

best friends in superman costume image
Just a Kiwi, a Brit, and a South African, fully embracing North American dorm-life!


rocky mountains image with friends

Nothing bonds friends like experiencing the Rockies for the first time together!

6. From here on out, you’ll always feel a little bit homesick, no matter where you are.

One day, in the midst of my Study Abroad experience, I was deep within the realms of Pinterest when I stumbled across a quote that summed up perfectly the strange, indescribable way I’d been feeling throughout my trip, and have felt since.

Once you travel extensively, and form meaningful connections across the globe, it’s impossible not to acquire a subtle yet constant state of ‘lacking’. This particularly rings true after living abroad, where your friendships become family in your new home country. Indeed, from here on out, wherever in the world you are, and whichever ‘home’ you’re in, one of your families will always be missing, and part of your heart will always be aching.

However, this rule increases tenfold when considering the pain of not only missing people, but places too, and often just as strongly. Prior to Study Abroad, whilst I had always loved travelling, I never once thought I’d wish to *live* in another country permanently. Fast-forward 4 years and I’ve already tried (and failed) to secure Permanent Residency in a place far from ‘home’, and yet, despite my ridiculous, deep-rooted, borderline-obsessive love for all things Canadian, I find myself becoming ever-so-slightly irked from time to time. It could be the simple mispronunciation of a certain word, an accent that’s just TOO Kim Kardashian-esque American, or the constant lack of English Breakfast tea and unique British humour, but every now and again, I feel almost annoyed that Canada isn’t quite Britain. Which, honestly, is pretty damn bizarre given how much I both love this place and have sacrificed to be here. Bizarre-r still is the intense excitement and joy I feel when a British, or even, *gasp*, YORKSHIRE accent stumbles into my workplace. Yet, simultaneously, when back in good ol’ Blighty, I feel a constant tinge of sadness that I’m no longer in Canada (Where are the Tim Hortons? Where are the Hockey Jerseys? Where are the ridiculously friendly people wanting to know how my day’s going?), and find myself equally annoyed at the array of British traits I’ve come to loathe in my extended absence. It’s a strange and infuriating feeling, but nevertheless one I didn’t expect to garner from my time across the globe.

And so, whilst living in multiple countries does expose you to a vast array of amazing opportunities and experiences, it also has the tendency to greatly complicate your life, with no single place quite constituting ‘home’ ever again. And don’t get me wrong, this definitely has its pros; two homes equal two places full of wonder, joy and remarkable people that lucky you gets to experience. However, two homes also means a constant feeling of absence, no matter where in the world you are. But as the quote goes, that’s the price you pay for loving and knowing people in more than one place, as well as the places themselves. It’s a quietly sad feeling for sure, but it’s a price that, in my book, is worth paying for time and time again (albeit one to strongly consider before making the big move, as it’s a burden you’ll carry with you forever).

back pack imageDon’t mind me, just pondering my migrant existential crisis over here…

Despite that slightly melancholy note, all in all, travel is most definitely the gift that keeps on giving; just when you think it’s taught you everything it can, out of nowhere you’re blindsided with a whole new life lesson. Hell, I’m sure in a few years time I’ll be writing a whole new one of these lists! But that’the beauty of travel; it teaches you more about yourself and the world than you ever thought possible.

The Unexpected Side Effects of Travelling.

Rachel Ullah

University of Leeds | 4 stories

Rachel is a 23 year old Brit, originally from Yorkshire, who moved to Calgary on exchange in 2013 and proceeded to fall madly in love with all things Canadian. She moved back in 2015 and has been living and working in Calgary since. She loves exploring new places, drinking an obscene amount of tea (especially Tim Hortons, of course), listening to rap music, eating sushi whenever possible, hiking, running, anything Harley Quinn-related and Leonardo Dicaprio. A keen writer, Rachel hopes to build a career in either Journalism or Public Relations. Follow her on instagram to keep up with her adventures in Calgary & beyond: @rachelullah

2 responses to “The Unexpected Side Effects of Travelling”

  1. Mary says:

    This is truly how I feel when I leave Ireland very well written I thought I was the only that felt the this way

  2. This is so true! Especially becoming a minimalist. I would’ve dropped my frappucino too lol

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