In the late '70s, my parents moved to Victoria, British Columbia, with $250 in their pockets. I was born shortly after, right around the time Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington — a coincidence, I’m sure.
My mom is now a retired RN, but when I was little, she was new to the nursing profession. She decided the best way to get experience was to travel the world as a contract nurse, so my childhood was a series of moves based around where my mom got work.
Over the next few years, I would live in 22 different houses (and several hotels) and attend more than a dozen schools across the southern U.S. and Canada. I spent almost two years living in a First Nations community in Northern Alberta. Despite all the moving, home base was always Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (my parents’ birthplace and the home of the rest of our family). That’s the place I still call home.
Spending my childhood traveling definitely had ups and downs, but those experiences shaped who I am today. Looking back on it, it's clear that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Here are a few of the things I learned that a traditional childhood wouldn't have provided:
1. The world is full of people who are different. Fundamentally, we are all one as citizens of the world.
I once lived in a place where I was the only white, English-speaking child. It didn’t stop me from making friends. I spent my formative years immersed in different cultures, learning different languages, beliefs, and customs. I learned quickly that there are dozens of roads to the same destination, and that, at heart, we are all the same. I learned to respect and embrace differences instead of fearing them. I learned empathy and to appreciate the struggles of others.
2. We are part of nature, and she is part of us.
I've seen polar bears stroll through town and watched crocodiles slither through a riverbed. I've seen the northern lights. I've lived near the ocean, in the mountains, and on the fringes of a cornfield. I learned about the environment, and the species that inhabit it, by experiencing them. That gave me a connection to the earth that has never faltered. I have a deep respect for the natural environment and our place in it. These are things you can’t learn from a book or in a classroom.
3. The status quo does not have to be the status quo.
In large part because of my upbringing, I have terminal curiosity. I get bored when I’m not learning or experiencing new things. I do contract work so that I never do the same thing two days in a row. I’ll jump in the car to travel to a town I haven’t visited, even if it’s only two hours away. I have a bucket list a mile long and many more places I want to see. Being on the move for so long can make it hard to sit still, but it’s also taught me to challenge myself with new experiences — to never let myself stagnate.
4. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.
Once you’ve walked into a dozen classrooms knowing no one, or explored a new town on your own, it makes talking to strangers easy. It’s helped me in job interviews, in my public relations career, and in my relationships. I can talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere. There's no end of ways to start a conversation that come in handy.
5. I can handle myself in any situation.
I can’t count the number of times I've been nervous walking into a new school or moving to a new town. As an only child, I had only my parents for companionship. But every time I succeeded at a new challenge, from making friends among a bus full of strangers to training my first horse, I gained confidence in myself and my ability to do things on my own.
While I'm fortunate to have a great group of friends and family members, I'm also happy on my own. I take responsibility for my successes and my failures.
My childhood may have been full of adventure, but that didn't quench my desire for it. Although I have more responsibilities now, I plan to keep traveling for as long as I can.
If you’re considering a trip or a move, do it. Don't worry about the consequences to your relationships. The consequences will be more severe if you stay in a life that isn't satisfying for you.
It doesn’t matter whether the adventure you're considering is a visit to a town two hours away or an intercontinental backpacking trip. It will change who you are in the best ways possible.