Travelling challenges your sense of self. It pushes you, it punishes you, it rewards you, and it often has moments better in retrospect.
Sleeping in a bush in Budapest because you didn’t have a couch or a tent sounds like a fun story when told after the fact. Maybe prompt it a bit saying there’s better places to sleep. Maybe say it causally to make it funnier. But while you are there, and you realize that you really don’t have a place to sleep and the hard stone of the streets is the most comfortable bed you have, it’s not funny. It’s terrifying the first time
I had another hitchhiker, a girl mind you, tell me that after the first time it’s not so bad and you get used to it. I told her I didn’t believe her. Then I promptly texted her after Budapest and told her it was surprisingly comfortable. She laughed. I laughed. Then I remembered how terrifying it was to have a strange woman laugh and talk to herself while walking past you at 5am on the other side of your bush. I stopped laughing. She laughed harder.
But learned; I learned Budapest from a side most never see. I saw how the streets breath at night, how people survive in the city, how it feels in that place and time to not have a home. It gives perspective many never acknowledge. You have a different view of the people living on the street when you find out they are simply out on their luck and sleep how they sleep.
Tourism pushes you about as much as you push the grocery cart to get to the last chocolate bar at the check-out before someone else does. You have to put in some kind of effort to get there, but you’re still just stuffing your face and paying too much money to do it. This isn’t supposed to be just a rip on tourism (that’s another article) but I am saying that tourism doesn’t teach you anything or help you develop as a person.
Don’t let my one example of Budapest stop you from jumping headfirst into something with no plans of where you’re sleeping and whatnot. I loved every moment, having the freedom of being able to sleep anywhere, go anywhere, any time is invigorating in a way you can’t get in “normal” day-to-day life.
You always have to get back home for class tomorrow, or work, and can’t stay out too late because you have to get up early. Weekends may be small tastes of this freedom, but you still have the rubber band pulling you home. Not knowing where you’ll sleep, not knowing who you’ll meet, where you’ll get your next meal, its a freedom of the road.
When you are away — traveling with no plans, no limits — you could go from thinking, “I’ll go to Prague next from Nuremberg,” to having an extra 3 week unplanned excursion from one conversation with one unexpected individual on the road. Literally able to change the country you are going to the next day on a whim.
Going somewhere and being a tourist, you aim to see certain famous monuments, you take tours, you pay a boatload of money to see things that have been perverted from cultural icons to something to take pictures of and give the Starbucks next door a profit.
Tourism does not teach you about the world’s cultures and people. It shows you the representation that brings in money, it shows you what you expect to see. Traveling shows you the other side of the curtain, behind the stage. The pains, the passions, the problems, the joys. The good and the bad, you truly learn about the world around you and it’s people.