How World Travel Made Me Tough
I stood, dusted off the sand, and walked over to where I had left my purse. I didn’t panic when I didn’t find it right away; it happened to be the exact color of the pearlescent sand on Metzitzim beach in Tel Aviv. But after a few minutes of searching and even digging through the sand, panic set in. It was 3 a.m. on my birthday, I was traveling the world, and my purse was missing—my purse, with my cellphone, wallet, and my and my friend Jil’s passports.
It was our last night in Israel after traveling the country for a week, and we had gone out dancing for my birthday. Jil got tired and headed back to our room to sleep, but I opted to walk to the beach with some friends we made that week at our hostel. I’ll never forget creeping into the dark room, waking Jil up, and telling her our passports were gone. It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.
When it comes to traveling, an accurate rule of thumb is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If I am mentally prepared to be uncomfortable when traveling, then I am able to be more mentally resilient.
After some panic, confusion, and anger, we set to work figuring out what we needed to do next. With my work badge in hand (the only form of ID I had left), we spent the wee hours of the morning filing reports at the police station, filling out emergency passport applications at the U.S. Consulate, and having terrible photos taken for said passports.
We were hungry, tired, and pressed for time trying to make our flight home that day. We each had our moments of mini breakdowns from mental fatigue, emotional stress, and physical exhaustion, but we toughened up, got our temporary passports, and somehow made our flight.
I’ve never considered myself to be particularly tough. I’m soft-hearted and sensitive. I have a bad habit of taking things personally, and I don’t take well to criticism. Traveling has toughened me up mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I grew up as a competitive swimmer, and any year-round swimmer can attest that training is tough physically, but arguably more so mentally. I developed a decent amount of mental toughness from dealing with strong competition, grueling practices, and heartbreaking setbacks. I developed drive and determination that made me confident in the face of adverse circumstances, or at least made me stubborn enough to push through them. Swimming gave me the confidence and mental fortitude to travel internationally for the first time, on my own. And traveling has only strengthened that mental toughness.
Difficult situations can arise when there are culture or language barriers. You make mistakes, but developing mental toughness allows you to learn from those mistakes. When it comes to traveling the world, an accurate rule of thumb is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If I am mentally prepared to be uncomfortable when traveling, then I am able to be more mentally resilient.
Traveling can be physically exhausting. Between jet lag, marathon train rides, or lugging around a 30-pound backpack, you become physically tough. I enjoy being physically active so hiking, biking, and swimming are all welcome activities when I’m traveling.
How World Travel Made Me Tough.
The most physically tough I’ve ever had to be while traveling was a weekend in a Brazilian rainforest. In the south of Brazil lies Sebui, a reserve in the Atlantic Forest. I spent a weekend there with a small group from my university. Each day, we hiked miles into the rainforest, climbing up ridges covered in wet leaves, balancing on rocky ledges covered in mud, and sliding down hills covered in lush, damp foliage.
Our reward was swimming at the waterfalls we hiked to. The hiking was exhausting and took physical endurance, and I often found myself bringing up the rear of our group because I’m clumsy and went slow as to not slip and fall off a cliff. That weekend encouraged me to become physically tough so that I could enjoy the rare and beautiful sights I could only experience by getting out and getting dirty hiking through a Brazilian rainforest.
Grit is often an overlooked and undervalued characteristic, but I argue that it’s one of the most important things one can have.
Traveling involves leaving people you love. Sometimes it’s only temporary, sometimes, you leave not knowing if you’ll ever see them again. Not even necessarily romantic love, but those with whom you’ve bonded, developed respect for, and grown attached to on the road. Traveling has made me emotionally strong and has also strengthened many of my emotional ties. Some of the people I love most in the world live thousands of miles from me, and I see them only a few times a year (if I’m lucky).
I’ve found that traveling with a friend will either strengthen your bond or break it. You see the best in the other and the worst, and they see the same in you. Our travels through Israel and the stressful situation of having our passports stolen forced Jil and I to work together, provide support under duress, and compensate for each other’s weaknesses, but we became better friends for it.
Of all the things traveling has made me—independent, curious, adaptable—tough is the one I’m most proud of. Grit is often an overlooked and undervalued characteristic, but I argue that it’s one of the most important things one can have. Traveling will make you a stronger, tougher person. So go out, explore the world, and get tough.