I see wisdom as an understanding of what it means to be a human being. Wisdom helps us navigate our lives, both giving us the tools to change our circumstances and to adapt to those we cannot change. Wisdom is often gained from a mix of first-hand experience and teaching from our fellow life travelers. The first rule of wisdom is to know there is always more wisdom to be had and to forever seek it out through experience and learning.
Travel has long been seen as a source of wisdom. The wise are often said to be worldly, that is they know of the wider world beyond those they were born to. In religious traditions, the pilgrimage was a means of gaining wisdom and enhancing faith. To undertake a journey to a holy place is also to undertake a journey within yourself. The experiences you have along the way make for a rich tapestry to learn from and reflect upon. Echos of pilgrimage find their way into the secular world in such traditions as “the grand tour” and “the heroes journey.”
How Travel Makes You Wiser
The most obvious benefit is that traveling brings you a host of new experiences. Every place and every person in the world is unique in some way. While you can see pictures or read descriptions from afar, to truly understand something on a full human scale often involves being there and experiencing it for yourself. You not only can take it in with all your senses, you can feel what it means in relation to yourself as a mental, spiritual, and physical being. This will not only tell you something about the place but something about yourself. With people you meet, this is especially true.
Relationships at a distance are meaningful, but to actually see people in the place they live gives you a fuller picture of who they are and how the place is part of their lives. You will experience both how people in different places are markedly different, and how they are fundamentally the same the world over. You can then reflect on how the places you came from shaped yourself and how your new experiences may change you.
Secondly, travel opens you up to how little you know. Wisdom flowers as you realize how little of what is possible is already in your grasp. The more you travel the more you realize the truth that you don’t have all the answers and that wisdom lies in always seeking more. Travel breaks you out of your bubble where you think every question is settled and the truth is always obvious. You will see that your tradition that works so well, is not the only tradition that works well. Likewise, you can see that the evil you know, is not the only evils there are. This encourages you to open your eyes and your mind, to ask more questions, and to seek more answers.
Travel also helps you discover yourself. Even if you are traveling with companions, you will often be forced to rely on your own wits and wisdom to make your way. You will be challenged in ways you never imagined and you will discover new strengths and weaknesses you otherwise might not have known. The routine formulas we create for ourselves in a more static and sedentary life have to give way to more improvisation and spontaneity when you are on the road. Every time you stretch yourself and succeed or fail, you will learn more about who you are, and provided you are willing to learn and grow, you will become wiser for it.
Tips for Getting Wiser
The best kind of travel for becoming wise is when you try to experience life from the view of those who live in the places you visit. It is easy to avoid this in places catering to travelers. They often make it possible to hide away in a bubble of hotel rooms and tailor made experiences appealing to comfort and familiarity. While these are great for a safe refuge, the best and richest experiences will happen when you embrace the unfamiliar and new. I love going into local groceries, or getting my haircut at a local barber. There are always details that are unfamiliar and new and they give you unique insights into the place and its people you won’t get at a museum or monument. Think about what these things mean to you, and what they would mean to the people that live there.
Remember that travel doesn’t have to take you far from home. You can have these experiences just visiting a nearby town or even a part of the place you live that you have never been to. It is a very common experience to speak with someone in a place we visit who has never been to the places that make that location famous. Before we left our own home we made an effort to get out and see the kinds of places we would visit as travelers. It is a testament to how travel opens you up, that we came to regret the things we didn’t do in the place we lived for so long.
Examine the past as well as the present. When we are being thoughtful, we will do research on places we are going to visit before we get there. Knowing the history of these places often enhances our appreciation of what we find there. Any good tour guide will try to fill you in, but reading on your own lets you focus on the things that interest you most and dive deeper into the details. A study of history also lets you see the world for more of what it truly is, an ever changing tapestry rather than a static picture.
Finally, stay alive and keep your health up. Travel can have it’s dangers so be aware of them and take the necessary precautions. While I’m sure a near death experience can lead to a lot of new wisdom, it is one case where I’d prefer to learn from others who have been there.
Go Get Some Wisdom!
It’s out there waiting for you! Go get some today by having grand adventures, putting one foot in front of the other, and generally opening yourself to the vast array of opportunities waiting for you just around the next corner.