11/20/2015 03:13 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2016

6 Things We Learn From Backpacking

I have always been comfortable throwing myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe more comfortable out of my comfort zone than in it.

All my life, I dreamed of traveling, I hungered for the big world waiting for me out there so when I finished school at 18, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to throw on a backpack and see and experience places I had spent so long dreaming about.

I worked long hours in various jobs in between trips to fund my addiction and then would set out, sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend, to backpack for anywhere between one month to six.

While my family was completely supportive of my traveling, others had more hesitant reactions. Maybe some believe that extended travel while young puts a person at a disadvantage in terms of missing out on a proper education. This could be true but at the same time, we can learn so many life altering lessons from traveling with open eyes and open hearts.

I would love to share the top 6 things that I believe that intensive periods of travel can teach us!

1) We Discover More Fully Who We Are

Traveling takes us from the security of the known to the excitement of the unknown. Put into new situations, we can learn to see ourselves in a different light. Each trip we take has the potential to teach us and mold our characters and thoughts. We become comfortable with who we are and our place in the world. Outside of the routines and habits of daily life, it is possible to discover more fully what we genuinely feel, think, enjoy, or dislike. Travel gives us room to stretch and grow.

2) We Learn How To Relate To Others

The beautiful thing about backpacking is the extraordinary variety of people we encounter along the journey. The lessons they can teach us are so valuable. These connections can be brief or they can last a lifetime. Through these interactions with others, we can learn so much about human nature, different beliefs and ideas, cultural practices, and the value of friendship. Hopefully we can learn to respect and appreciate the differences and similarities that tie us all together.

3) We Learn Gratitude

As we move through the world, we learn a deep appreciation for the things in our own lives that it can be easy to take fore-granted. Our families and friends, our homes, the possibilities we have. We learn to be thankful and to cherish ourselves and feel a deeper empathy for those around us. We learn to meet others in the place they are without expectation. Along with this, we discover that along with a friendly smile, perhaps the most important words we can learn in a language are "thank you".

4) We Learn To Let Go

Traveling teaches us the art of letting go gracefully. The bittersweet mixture of joy and pain that accompanies so many experiences along the way. To travel is to experience transience. We soon learn that the very beauty and joy of traveling is its impermanence. So we learn "carpe diem", to love those we meet and then to let them go their way. To fully live the things we experience but with the understanding that these things are temporary and to cherish the richness they hold due to this very reason. There is a possibility we also learn what it means to let go of ourselves. To those ideas we hold tightly about who we are, the unnecessary things we cling to that we believe define us. Personally, extended travel inspires me to let go materially as well. We can discover how little we need to live a life of joy and richness.

5) We Learn We Are In This For Life

Once we begin to see and experience the freedom of backpacking for ourselves, it becomes impossible to imagine a time when we won't want to travel. There is a common expression about "getting the travel bug out of ones system" but often the more of the world we come to know, the more we want to experience. Getting to know the world and the people in it becomes our unfinished business and lifelong passion.

6) We Receive A Wonderful, Well Rounded Education

In real time, we learn history, current events, language, customs, and alternate ways of thinking. We see art, hear music, fumble around with foreign money, and talk to locals, visit famous and not so famous sights. We learn love, compassion and empathy for the people we meet along the way. We hopefully learn to see their humanity and the beauty in all of us. Our hearts open wide and take so much in that we feel ourselves growing and learning and loving more and this is a great education indeed.

This isn't an exhaustive list and I have purposely left out the more practical things we can learn in favor of the things that speak most deeply to my heart...maybe to your heart too?

Do you have wanderlust too? I would love to hear what would you add to this list!

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