If you’re new to this site, you’re probably wondering, “What’s this Traveler’s Mindset thing all about?” Today, I’m going to let you in on the full story. The beginning of the Traveler’s Mindset started 12 years ago, here in the United States. Since then, it’s taken me to 25 countries all over Europe, Asia and as far as New Zealand. I’ve had hundreds of adventures, met thousands of exciting people, and have unlocked the key mentality that lets me keep on riding the wave of exhilaration, no matter where I am in the world. Sound exciting? Well, let me tell you a secret…
The most exciting, exhilarating, adventurous experiences you can have in life are not exclusively for the ultra-wealthy. You can have adventures too. But you have to start with your mentality…
Your mindset, your Traveler’s Mindset, is THE essential key to unlocking a life of adventure.
Four years ago, I left the U.S. I left because I wanted to get out.
Out of the Midwest, where I’m from, and out of the country. I’m from Wisconsin, and growing up, my brother and I didn’t have cable television and we weren’t allowed to play video games, so our options were to play outside in blizzards or read a book. (I chose books.)
One of the first books I remember reading was a thick book of Greek mythology. My father gave it to me when I was about 7 and I’m pretty sure his thought process was something like, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer? No, no — that’s way too violent, way too scandalous. I’d better have her read Greek mythology instead.”And that book made me curious. It made me want something different than the American dream…Something different than the college degree, the job, the paycheck, a big house and a nice car. It was stuck in my mind… I wanted adventure. New discoveries in far-off lands…exhilaration…you know what I’m talking about — maybe you’ve experienced that desire for adventure, too?
But maybe you’re hesitant to travel, especially abroad. See, recently I got curious about the numbers. I had a feeling that not too many Americans traveled outside the country…but was it really an issue?So I googled it (of course). And – according to the esteemed folks at the Census Bureau – last year, only 38% of U.S. citizens had passports valid for international travel…and we’re talking farther than Canada and Mexico.And I wondered, why? Friends who really wanted to travel would ask me how I did it, and I would ask them what was holding them back.The same two reasons always came up…they’d say:
“I’ve always wanted to see the world, but… I can’t afford it.”
“I have so many things on my bucket list, but… I just don’t have the time.”
Do those reasons sound familiar?
If they do, I wonder, if you took an honest look at yourself, are time and money the only things holding you back? See, I’m willing to bet that they aren’t. Today I’m calling you out.
Maybe you’re scared. Maybe you’re afraid of the unknown.I think you might be, because I was.
I wasn’t a traveler; I didn’t have a traveler’s mindset. And I’m writing this to convince you today that having that traveler’s mindset is the key to having adventures everyday, to connecting with exciting people around you right where you are, and to living a life on fire.
Leaving the U.S. & Seeing the Matrix
At the age of 14 my parents put me on a plane alone and shipped me off to Munich, Germany. I was more than nervous. I couldn’t sleep the night before the flight, and I was physically shaking as I walked onto the plane. I barely knew the relatives I would spend a month with. I had no idea what lay ahead.I arrived in Germany, met my relatives…and realized that “thank you” and “Gesundheit” could only get me so far in communication.But we found ways around it, mostly through smiling, doing charades, and sharing food – those classic ways that people of different cultures connect. They made me feel accepted, and it was exciting!
Then my travels took me to new places. Late one night, near a town on Lake Garda in northern Italy, my cousins, their friends and I were biking down the mountain. And for me at age 14, to go out alone at night in Milwaukee without parental supervision was unheard of…We were on our way to the nearest gelato stand for the best Italian ice cream, I was riding on the back of my friend’s bike, and I looked up and saw all the stars…
I felt so connected – to the world around me, to my friend, to living life to the fullest, to that exhilarating moment. So I let go of my friend’s waist, so I put my hands up, she kept pedaling and we coasted down that tiny, Italian road… with the breeze, and the stars, and the smell of the lake.
I realized, “Wow, this is freedom!” and in that moment, I was the closest that I had ever been to experiencing the adventures and the excitement that I had been reading about during my childhood.
I had become a traveler. I realized that I could have those adventures, too. It was simply up to me to seek them out, and make travel possible. From that point on, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to create a life in Europe and see new places. And it was that deep curiosity that led me to learn languages, so I studied German, French and Italian.
Now I know you might be thinking, “Well, that’s all great, but I don’t speak any other languages and I really don’t have the money to travel.”Well, what’s interesting is that back then, my languages weren’t that good, and I didn’t really have much money either…so I looked for opportunities.
I applied for the Fulbright grant and taught English for a year in a town of 10,000 people.
I worked in a communications job in Frankfurt and during those two years I went all over, couchsurfing in dozens of cities across Europe for free. And I didn’t stop there. I went as far as New Zealand and Southeast Asia, and before I knew it, I had traveled to 25 countries.
The Reality Check
I have to tell you the truth. Somewhere along the way, I actually found myself feeling apprehensive. I had this fear of returning home to the US. See to me, the United States was a place of routine, a place where people were workaholics, where they only cared about their paychecks, and where all people talked about was the latest episode of reality TV. I was afraid that after 3 years and 25 countries and enough exhilarating memories to last a lifetime that I would get back, and all the adventures would be lost. You probably know what I’m talking about… We come back from a week vacation and all of a sudden we’re back in a rut. We settle back into our routines, we complain about the things we’ve always complained about: our jobs, the government, the weather…
Not only that, but we compare the memory of that vacation – the newness, the excitement, the discovery – to our routine and feel even worse about our everyday lives. So I started thinking, “How can I find a way to stay in this frame of mind?” Stay with me on this one…What if, instead of feeling disappointed or unmotivated after we get back from a trip, we could actually feel even more energized and ready to take on new challenges and adventures in our hometowns?
And what if, instead of feeling isolated or anonymous, we had the tools to connect and engage with people around us, not only abroad?
Staying in the Traveler’s Mindset
I thought back to my travels.Back to when I felt scared and helpless – like this one time when I was alone in a cab in Bangkok, Thailand at night.
My taxi driver stopped the car in an alleyway, got out, and started talking to the only people on the streets — men — while I waited nervously in the car…thinking that I’d be kidnapped…
When I felt scared and helpless, I asked myself: Where are my boundaries?
And…how can I be more open? What was it about the borders in my mind that I had constructed that made me suspect the driver didn’t have my best interests at heart?
Where did my suspicion come from? Where did my fear come from?
Turns out, the taxi driver was simply asking those men for directions.
I thought back to when I felt stupid (it happens a lot when I travel) – like that time I took a metro ride miles in the wrong direction, out to a suburb of Paris…
I asked myself: How can I be courageous?
And even though I felt stupid, I turned to the man next to me and asked about ways to get back into the city. One simple question turned into a whole conversation full of curiosity about my hometown, Milwaukee, and Cameroon, where he was born.
And instead of feeling frustrated that I had gone the wrong way and wasted time, I stepped out of the train with a smile on my face, new knowledge in my head, and gratitude for that real, human connection. See, at home, we start thinking that there’s some sort of rule. It’s a rule that I think keeps us from connecting with the people around us. It’s not the traveler’s mindset. We start thinking, “this is how I see the world” or “this is just what I always do”.
Today, I invite you to shake up your routine.
There’s a stranger near you, right now. If you’re at home, or at work, there’s someone you don’t know within a hundred feet from you.That’s a person — a human being — with a whole slew of life experiences, with skill sets that you can learn from and grow from…and they can learn and grow from you too.
All you have to do is start the conversation.
If that sounds scary, don’t worry. You still have a few seconds before I’m going to ask you to do exactly that…Now, I’m not that kid anymore who felt confined to the adventures of a Greek Mythology book. I’m a world traveler with my own passport to adventure…
And the best part? I’m never bored, because I know that the next interesting person is just a conversation away. And you and I? We’re not confined to getting a buzz from what we see on movie theater screens, or in video games or at amusement parks. See, happiness, real connection, and adventure? It’s all right where we are.
We can seek out opportunities to be more open. To be more curious…
And to have the courage to shatter boundaries that separate us from the people around us, right in our own hometowns.
When the next stranger crosses your path today, after you finish reading this post, ask them the first meaningful question that comes to mind. It could be as simple as, “If you could do anything without time or money as obstacles, what would it be?” Feel a little scared? Or maybe…you feel pretty stupid doing that?
You can choose openness. Choose curiosity. Choose a more borderless mindset.