As you peer through the oval airplane window, you see a new horizon looming before you. The landscape stretches off into the distance revealing some place that is excitingly unfamiliar, waiting for you to explore its unique beauty. Before we understand why it is important to travel — for our own maturation and personal growth — we must understand what it means to travel.

Modern day travel is often associated with a distant trip to some far-flung exotic corner of the planet. Yet we often forget that travel can come in many different shapes and sizes. Just as it can be a trip halfway around the world, it can be a new adventure to a local neighborhood that you have not yet explored. The most important thing is not the distance you travel, but how you travel — your mindset, openness, curiosity, and connection to the place.

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Traveling serves many different purposes, all of which are important in their own right. For some people it is an opportunity to escape the monotony of everyday life. For others it is a means to satisfy their insatiable thirst to visit someplace new. Regardless of what your motivation is, travel can lead to tremendous personal growth and introspection. This happens when you truly open up to the place you are visiting, whether it is a new country, a new city, or a new street in your own backyard. Opening up implies that you are ready to learn and to challenge any preconceived notions you might bring to this new place. It means leaving your mental baggage behind so that you may return with newfound riches in the form of unforgettable experiences, knowledge, cultural awareness, and friendships.

The next time you travel, do so with an open mind and a welcoming heart. If you are in another country, allow the people and their local culture, customs, and traditions to inspire you in some way. Take an interest in their way of life, drawing parallels and contrasts with your own. Strike up a conversation with a local, inquiring about their lifestyle, their interests, and their view of the world. Doing so will help you appreciate your own life with a greater contextual understanding. You may also form an unexpected friendship in the process. Many times, in seeing a new place we can better see ourselves — a part of ourselves is reflected back to us by the environment so that we may examine it in a new light.

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If you are not far from the place you call home, make a conscious effort to discover something new. It could be a piece of nature that you did not notice previously, or an establishment that you had passed by countless times but did not enter until now. The place is not nearly as important as the state of mind you are in once there. When traveling, it is vital to optimize for the experiences you can take away. Unlike souvenirs, endless photographs and selfies, or delicious cuisines, it is the experiences we accumulate while traveling that will forever define us. This torrent of memories is what we will reflect upon with immeasurable fondness throughout our lives and during our final days. When exploring near and far, always seek out experiences that will push you to try something. Traveling is an incredible gift that will help you learn, grow as an individual, and appreciate the beautifully diverse world around you.

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