These are the 5 biggest ways travel changed my life for the better

This article was created for The Travel Project by Megan Pieterse, a South African student who loves writing, reading and all things travel.

2015 was the year my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of travel with a 3 week journey across Europe. We visited 8 different countries (including Vatican City, which I learnt was the smallest country in the world!), and I got to tick Qatar, France, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Austria, Germany and The Netherlands. Now, one year on and I'm sat looking at photos, reminiscing and re-living the moments of all the places I had visited.

I went from knowing zilch about travelling, to becoming someone who refers to themselves as a 'travel guru'. I learnt so much about myself and the world around me, and I could never have dreamt of the impact this one trip would have on my life.

My confidence & self belief grew

Before travelling I was a shy and timid girl. I had no self confidence and I remember I couldn’t even go into a shop to buy something without getting nervous. Travelling pushed me into the deep end of things without having the chance to overthink, and I was forced to manoeuvre myself away from being shy. Over my past travelling trips I’ve continually been put in situations where I had to communicate in another language. I soon realised that there is no reason to be so scared of the unknown, because it only allows you to grow. I noticed that I could be whoever I wanted because people overseas don’t have any preconceived ideas of me. And most importantly, I realised I could be myself and be comfortable by just being me.

I became an all out Foodie

I always ate the standard 3 meals a day because that is what you are taught to do growing up, but I never realized just how much you can do with food. I learnt that to know if a loaf of bread is fresh you knock the bottom, and if it sounds hollow, yep, it’s fresh! I tasted macarons in Paris and saw that good food was made with passion. Have you ever had the pasta in Italy? I came back home having to wriggle in my skinny jeans which were now extra skinny! I learnt that snails will not kill you if you eat them – they actually taste pretty nice. I tried many local foods and they all opened me up to learning about local cultures, traditions and ways of living. I got to experience a whole variety of different cuisines, not only opening my pallet but opening my mind to the diverse world we live in.

I went way out of my Comfort Zone

I like to say that I am adventurous, but I quickly questioned that whilst in Switzerland. We went to the ‘Top Of Europe’, Jangfraujoch, and here I decided to zip line over the snowy mountain. It wasn’t until I started climbing the stairs that I began to question my decision. Just so you know, the altitude we were at whilst climbing these stairs encouraged my lungs to give up on me a bit. I knew I would regret turning back so I casually went with the flow. We reached the top and the lady helping showed us how to lock and unlock ourselves from the zipline. My incoming at the end of the line was less than graceful, with a few bumps on the hard snow and a wet bum afterwards, and I ironically got sunburnt…but I did it. This was just one example of getting out of my comfort zone and most importantly challenging myself in new ways, even if I am afraid.

I discovered what really makes me happy

The world is a massive place and there should be no limit to what can make you happy. If you as a person are unhappy, or want to change routes in life, then one thing I ask of you is please do it! I found what made me happy and what type of people bring out the best in me. I was not only shown the hardships of how people live, but how some people are so utterly grateful for such simple things. These lessons have encouraged me to volunteer as and where I can, because it makes me happy to see and know that I can make people around me smile. I have also made it a mission of my own to smile more, because smiling is the only true, pure language that everybody understands 🙂

I've learnt what it means to be independent

Travel left a massive impact on my life and outlook to living. I now know that if there is something I want, I need to go out and get it. And as I want to travel so badly, I am embarking on my first solo trip this year. I am terrified, but determined to independently accomplish my goals and ultimately, my happiness. I have learnt determination by saving money, and continually remind myself of why I am doing what I am. Instead of having that coffee and cake, I put my money aside. Priorities. There is no way I am going to accept a less than average life and not accomplish what I know I will benefit from. And that is to travel.

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