“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill, travel writer and founding editor of Outside magazine

One of the blessings of globalization and affordable travel is the friends you make from all over the world. People with completely different backgrounds find each other through common interests, and thanks to the internet, can easily stay in touch.

For those who choose to embrace all that travel offers, there’s a lot to be gained, as MJ Sacco—who has been to 30 countries in 29 years—shares in this podcast episode, part 2 of our conversation. (Listen to part 1)

If travel’s taught me anything, it’s taught me that although the world can seem like a very depressing place, especially after a long and cold winter, I’ve learned that a long and happy summer is a short flight away.”—MJ Sacco, Travel the World with MJ Sacco

Life gets depressing sometimes. When it seems like it’s been raining for a month straight, you’re cold and achy and long to do something more exciting than play boardgames on a Sunday night, travel can seem like the perfect escape. But, how to get there? And what will happen to you out there?

Traveling makes you grateful for the little things

In 2015, I embarked on my first overnight bike trip. I hopped on a ferry to Washington and rode a few hours to a state campground. It was beautiful, sunny, and I shared the bike path with many fellow happy cyclists.

When I made camp for the night, which really just means I’d tied a string to either end of my tiny A-frame tent (no poles means it weighs hardly anything, which is a plus on a bike) and then tied those strings to trees to keep the tent from collapsing, and heated up green tea on a portable one-burner stove, I noticed that the campsite across from mine looked well lived in. Like someone had been there for a while.

Shortly after, a straggly man stopped by to say hello. He seemed friendly, though maybe drunk or on painkillers. I thought about moving my tent to a campsite at the other end of the campground where happy families were roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. It seemed like too much effort and so far away.

An hour later, as I was building a campfire (that I could very well do on my own, thank you), the man came back demanding that I let him help me build my fire. He brought newspaper and extra firewood, all of which I didn’t need because I was exhausted and ready to go to bed as soon as it got dark. As he stooped over to light some newspaper, he nearly stumbled right into the firepit. He could hardly speak. I kindly asked him to leave and immediately wondered if that would work or just make him angry. Thankfully another camping cyclist showed up just as things got uncomfortable, which scared the lonely inebriated guy away (I later found out it was crack he was on, thanks to a very loud cellphone conversation he was having at about 2 am). The other cyclist camped right beside me, and though we hardly said a word to each other, I felt safe and in good company.

I did another bike trip later that year, to an island only accessible by ferry. After a full day of cycling, and having to kindly ask someone to vacate the campsite I’d reserved (there were no other spots, otherwise I wouldn’t have cared), I settled in to my A-frame tent as it started to rain. It rained harder than it had in months. In my attempt to lighten the load on my bike, I left behind the tarp—the forecast called for clear skies. Within a couple of hours, my tent and everything in it was under a couple inches of water. I was soaked. I had a ziploc baggie that I put my phone and wallet in to keep them dry, but absolutely everything else got soaked.

There was nowhere to go. It was 3 in the morning in the middle of nowhere. No hotels would be open and I couldn’t afford the ones on the island anyways. I grabbed my panniers, a book and my bike light, left my bike and tent in the rain, and went and shivered in an outhouse for 3 hours. Every half-hour I’d get up and jump around to stay warm. I’d purchased a lemongrass-scented room spray earlier that day at the local farmers market that came in handy—there was no flush toilet. As soon as it was light, I wrung out all my stuff and biked back to the ferry to go home. I was dirty, wet, and smelly, but okay. They had hot coffee on the ferry.

Traveling makes you grateful for little things, whether it’s a stranger who offers unspoken companionship or the only covered building during a deluge. While either of these trips could have been bad experiences, I recall them both fondly because they made me feel more confident in myself and the world around me.

Travel lightens the load and makes you thankful for home

Two things that really stood out for me when talking to MJ were that travel has taught him to do what makes him happy and also makes him value his home. Let’s unpack that a bit.

It’s not just travel that makes MJ happy, it’s the people he meets. When he speaks about travel, rarely does he talk about the artistic details on the ceiling of a great cathedral. For him, it’s the people that make it most worthwhile. It’s helped him develop compassion towards others, and taught him to never judge someone based on the story he’s made up in his mind about them. Often people traveling alone are lonely, and what better way to make them feel better than to introduce yourself first. Meeting new people, who have no idea what your background or baggage is, allow you to be who you want to be (which is usually who you really are).

Seeing new places and how other people live can also make you very grateful for home. No matter how much your small town sucks, you’ll come to realize how privileged and lucky you were to grow up somewhere where your basic needs, and then some, were met.

You can be grateful, humble, and compassionate without traveling, of course, but it’s impossible to really understand the world without seeing some of it for yourself.

What did you think about this interview and where do you want to go? Let’s chat about it on Facebook!