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/essays/on travel and relationships

There's a story I read once, about how a very successful businessman (the owner of Fiji Water, if I recall correctly) received what he called "the best lesson of my life" from his father in the early 50's. His father said,

Son, you've finished high school now and the rest of your life is in front of you. What you do next is your choice, and I have two offers for you. I can either give you $10,000 cash right now, or I can fund a year of travel. The catch is, you travel alone. Let me know.

The young man pondered the options and chose the year of travel. Later in life, he realized more and more how that year, and how traveling alone, had been a far bigger jumpstart to his life and career than $10,000. By traveling alone, he was forced to constantly get out of his comfort zone, be in new situations, and meet new people. Some of the connections he made along the way lead to important business endeavors later. Others became lifelong friends.

I think travel is one of the most effective catalysts for personal growth. In my own experience, leaving Romania for Belgium and Silicon Valley in my early 20's enabled me to reconsider some of my deepest beliefs, and be free of influences that prevented me from achieving my potential. I stopped being religious, I started dating with no intention of getting married (which my family wasn't really okay with), and I started a career in IT that ultimately led to a job at Yahoo! and then Google.

I mentioned dating because when you date someone long term, you can grow together or you can grow apart. If travel changes you and you don't do it before you settle down in a marriage, chances are that travel bug will catch up with you. More and more people travel alone (24% in 2015, up from 15% in 2013!), and around half of them seem to be married or in committed relationships, according to the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study. (Unfortunately, the study didn't follow up those attached travelers to see how many of them remained with their pre-travel partner a year later.)

So get that personality-altering long-term travel craving fulfilled, and crystallize yourself, so to speak, before embarking on a long-term relationship you'll want to keep. Of course, you can travel with your partner, but as we've seen in the beginning, the growth potential will be reduced. On the other hand, long-term travel with your partner will stress your relationship, which is a catalyst as well -- you'll grow together, or apart, faster.