Just Wanderlust Blog » A discerning, food-loving, & culturally curious road warrior seeks the world's beautiful and bizarre destinations.

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10 Travel Experiences That Will Change Your Life. Forever.

Scour the internet and you’ll find lots of lists of must-visit travel destinations: the next up-and-coming destinations, the next hot spots, the year’s top destinations, the trips of a lifetime.   This is not one of them.  This is a list of travel experiences and not a list of destinations… you get to pick the destinations that fulfill those travel experiences because it’s the experiences that matter.  It’s these experiences that will change your life.  For the better.  Forever.  In fact, if everyone could go on these ten trips, the world would be a better place.

  1. Spend time in a really poor country… to learn to be appreciative for what you have and to realize that money doesn’t equal happiness.  In fact, many of the poorest countries I’ve been to have the happiest people – certainly much happier than the people I encounter day-to-day at home.  You might say you already know all this, but the magnitude of this experience is so much more impactful when you’ve witnessed the impoverished conditions that are commonplace in many parts of the world.
  2. Live with a local family… to experience the country’s culture firsthand instead of just reading about it or hearing a guide talk about it.  There’s something eye-opening about living with a local family – maybe it’s the awe that they are welcoming a stranger into their house (just how trusting are these people?) or that you have access to people who can tell you what it’s really like to live in XYZ place, or that you now have to manage living in the same type of living quarters (cramped?  roomy?) and situation (is there hot water? what’s up with all the insects here?) that they do daily and which is likely the opposite of what you’re used to.  Whether or not you have the best “local family” living experience, you’re guaranteed to come out of it with a different perspective on your own life and a deeper appreciation for all types of people and cultures.

    (Photo from here)

    (Living with a host family in Brazil; photo from here)

  3. See one of the wonders of the world. There’s no doubt that with today’s technology we’re so advanced we can send people to space, instantly communicate with counterparts half way around the world, and build buildings half a mile high into the sky.  But, it’s even more amazing and humbling to witness what civilizations were able to build hundreds and thousands of years ago without modern technology! Humans are ingenious creatures and nothing makes that point more poignant than standing in front one of the wonders of the world (whether it’s still standing or in ruins).

    (When you see the Great Pyramids in Egypt, you have to wonder, "how did they built that?")

    (When you see the Great Pyramids in Egypt, you have to wonder,
    “how did they built that?”)

  4. Witness animals in their natural habitat… to not only be in awe of the creations that inhabit earth but to learn to not be afraid of them.  Growing up in the U.S. I saw animals caged up in zoos which left an impression that animals are somewhat “less than human” with wild unpredictable behaviors.  After seeing animals roam wild on a safari, I realized that in reality they mind their own business and keep to themselves as long as they don’t feel threatened (much like us!).  If we respect them, we don’t have anything to be afraid of, and as much as they are part of our ecosystem, we should care of them, appreciate their beauty, and let them roam freely.

    (Traveling through Africa, we

    (Traveling through Africa, we’re the visitors in buffalo territory – not the other way around.)

  5. Travel somewhere frigidly cold…to marvel at human adaptability.  You might not want to live in a place like Siberia or Greenland or anywhere else that spends most of the year in sub zero temperatures, but someone calls that place home.  And that “someone” has figured out a way to adapt to their environment in a way that we never could imagine.  Besides marveling at our ability to adapt, some of the most gorgeous natural scenery is found where the temperatures are less than ideal – think a peaceful sea with floating icebergs, glacier lagoons, frozen lakes, and mountains capped with virgin snow.  If you don’t think you’d find that incredibly beautiful to ooh and ahh yet, it’s just because you haven’t yet witnessed it in person.

    (Even though it

    (Even though it’s summer, tiny icebergs dot the fjord in this village in Greenland.)

  6. Witness natural phenomena. While we’re on the subject of mother nature’s allure, let’s also incorporate travel experiences to see more of mother’s nature’s natural phenomena as there are tons in this world – the northern lights, geysers, hot springs, thundering waterfalls, grand canyons, and otherwordly rock formations, just to name a few.  These things make our world uniquely beautiful and the coolest thing is that there are natural.  Witness enough natural phenomena and your appreciation for our world skyrockets as well as your desire to help protect what we have.

    (Photo from Wikipedia)

    (Aurora Borealis; Photo from Wikipedia)

  7. Go someplace the media portrays negatively…because the media often reports what’s sensationalistic instead of what’s realistic.  Obviously, do your research before you go to make sure you’re taking necessary precautions, but there are many places in the world that the media portrays negatively and yet, when travelers visit, they have nothing but great things to say about their experiences there (“the people were so friendly!”, “the country was so beautiful!”, “the locals were so curious about us!”).  Also, use that as an opportunity to show the locals, who likely have little interaction with travelers (or Americans), that we’re not how their media portray us either.  We’re better than that.  We’re friendlier than that.  We’re more loving than that.  A little interaction goes a long way to bridge differences and break down stereotypes and nothing does that better than venturing outside of your comfort zone with an open mind.


    (Sana’a, Yemen. We’re warned against travel to Yemen, but I’ve actually heard good things about the country and its friendly locals from the folks adventurous enough to visit this country. Photo from Wikipedia.)

  8. Go to a country with a different political stance than your home country… to learn that there are pros and cons to every political system.  Contrary to what your home government may want you to believe, there is no one “best” political system and countries with differing political beliefs have their own reasons for why they choose to operate in the fashion they do – and there are pros and cons to that decision just like there are pros and cons to our own democratic system in the U.S.  One of the blessings of traveling is the realization that there are many ways to do the same thing – some of which may lead to better results than we have at home and others which could actually benefit us if we’d only take the time to see how well the solution has worked in another country.  Imagine how much better things would be if everyone kept an open mind and shared and adopted the solutions that work cross-culturally.

    (Tucked away in the Himalayas, Bhutan

    (Tucked away in the Himalayas, Bhutan’s political views are as different as they come and yet the country is one of the most peaceful.)

  9. Go to a country where the predominant religion is different from your home country… because learning about another religion is the best way to spread religious tolerance in this world.  While every religion is based on its own set of beliefs, they are all about teaching people to be peaceful and kind.  If people could see that countries with drastically different religious beliefs than your own are filled with loving and welcoming citizens just going about their day the best way they know how, then perhaps our world would be a better place. We could see that focusing on our similarities brings us so much closer than focusing on our differences and take that learning with us wherever we go.

    (Istanbul, Turkey, where the Muslim call to prayer rings five times a day and can be heard throughout the city.)

    (Istanbul, Turkey, where the Muslim call to prayer rings five times a day and can be heard throughout the city.)

  10. Travel to a recently war ravaged country… to see the destruction that war brings.  Hearing about a war going on abroad barely registers an emotion in people nowadays – we’re so removed from that we’re more concerned with what’s showing up on our Facebook feed or that meeting we need to plan for at work.  But, those everyday details pale in comparison to seeing the destruction that war brings and how it really impacts the lives of innocent civilians who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Add to that, hearing the stories of people who lived through the war and remarking at their resilience.  These are the people who truly know to be thankful for life because everyday is a good day now.  Being in their presence, you can’t help but gain a new perspective on whether war is really necessary (there must be better ways to solve problems)… and yet be inspired by their ability to pick up and rebuild sometimes over and over again.

    (This building in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovenia, still has bullet holes from the war 20 years ago.)

    (This building in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovenia, still has bullet holes from the war 20 years ago.)

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Mark - June 5, 2014 - 3:23 pm

Great write up! are those your photos of the northern lights? dangggg!

I’ve got 5 and 6 to do still.. iceland, and.. iceland. 😉

but agree on most of them.. wonderful experiences!

Ingrid - June 5, 2014 - 10:49 pm

This is a great list! You’re absolutely right… it’s the experiences that matter! I would also recommend living in a foreign country if possible… spending an extended amount of time in one country is quite different than a short visit 🙂

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