By: Sara M., PA (ASCP)
“Travel will give you what you expect of it, yes. But travel, unlike anything else in life, has the beautiful ability to also give you benefits you didn’t expect.”-Mark Manson
As a traveling PA, you end up in places you’d never expect to be!
My experiences of traveling the US for work these last few years has changed my outlook on life significantly. Traveling has a certain feeling of excitement, this tip of your tongue feeling you can’t quite put into words. It’s anticipation, nervousness, and joy, kind of wrapped up, waiting to burst from your chest. But most importantly, it’s learning. Learning about all kinds of things you would never have expected, not only about the locations you visit, the people you encounter, but most important, what you learn about yourself in the process.
Traveling for work has some obvious benefits. One, there is literally someone else footing the bill for your flights, housing, car, and food. In addition to that awesomeness, you get to be in a place long enough to do all the things you want to do, without feeling rushed. Most of the contracts are about three months long, which means you have weekends free to travel around. In larger cities, this means you can fit in all the sightseeing, museums, art galleries, tours, zoos, and parks in a timely manner. In smaller cities, I like to attend local events, such as live musical performances and comedy shows, visit local breweries, and discover hiking trails. The only downfall? You do all this amazing stuff alone.
So, the very first thing you learn is to be okay with being alone.
As I travel from state to state and job to job, I’ve had to overcome my discomfort of being alone most of the time. I go to all the major tourist destinations alone. I buy a single ticket and attend events and concerts alone, I eat the best food in the most fancy places alone. It probably sounds sad to most people, but being alone often allows me opportunities to reflect on myself and my never ending struggle to improve myself. I’ve learned better communication skills, how to tell others my story in return for a bit of their knowledge, often freeing me from reverting to my need to be introverted. If you met me now, you might call me an extrovert, who makes friends instantly, everywhere she goes. But I’ve learned to push myself into that.
When I first started traveling, it took concentrated effort to talk to random strangers. I felt self-critical, often thinking: who would want to chat with me? How can I make friends in a big city where I don’t know anyone? Would they think I was a lonely, weird, or desperate if I just started a conversation with them? But when you make the effort to come out of your comfort zone and engage those around you, you very quickly realize everyone else has those same thoughts and self-doubting fears. I started to make friends easily, usually talking about my job as a Pathologists’ Assistant, which most people find endless fascinating. I ask them questions about themselves and actively listen, engage in their stories and try to find common ground. It also allows me to meet those I would have normally never spoken to. I once met a 92-year-old from Germany in Palo Alto, who wrote a book on how diet affects those with certain autoimmune disorders. I met an airline pilot in Atlanta, who explained to me that turbulence is just like a boat bouncing on waves, which made me less scared to fly. I met a college professor in Duluth who inspired me to write again after years of neglecting my favorite hobby.
Exploring a new city is always an adventure
I remember walking into my first traveling temp job, having only spoken to one person on the phone briefly before that. I was thinking, “okay, just smile and pretend you are okay.” I thought it was useless to make friends there because I was only going to be there for three months, so what was the point of making a connection to anyone there, when the chances of me seeing them again were slim to none? But I could have never imagined how truly wrong I was.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to establish true, lasting friendships with at least one person or more in each place I’ve traveled. It just takes opening up and talking about yourself and making the effort to attend events with co-workers outside of work. In fact, it makes me feel even more included and better about myself, knowing I have these amazing, close friends scattered all around the US, so when and if I ever return to that area, I have something there to look forward to, someone to make me feel like even though I’m far from home, I’m close to family.
I’ve learned how to be more compassionate for others who are not as lucky as I am, and more empathetic to those in need. I call it “small efforts in large places,” like buying food for a random homeless gentleman in San Francisco who was asleep on a public bench, volunteering at a shelter for cats awaiting adoption in Fargo, and donating hygiene products to a women’s shelter in St. Louis. I make these little extra endeavors, to leave something good behind in any place I’ve been fortunate enough to visit.
I’ve learned how to be a minimalist, as I can’t travel with more than what I can carry. This has helped me learn better financial planning, as I’d rather have that money to invest or put into savings or retirement, because I no longer buy random stuff I don’t need. I’ve learned how to stay mentally resilient and keep myself busy in a massive city with nothing but strangers, and learned how to fall in love with each place I visit, no matter how big or small, because each new city has some wonderful things to discover. I’ve learned the patience that comes from delayed flights and broken-down cars, and to let go and let life happen when plans fall through. In fact, I often try not to plan too much, as watching life unfold naturally is more enjoyable. I’ve learned how to appreciate the moments with those I meet and connect to along my travels, as my time with them is limited, so being in the moment and being present is an essential skill to have. I learned how to speak more directly, for that exact same reason, because to connect deeper, you must express yourself honestly. I learned how to reconnect with my longer lasting friendships as my time home with them is all too short as well.
I learned how to ignore the wrong adage: “if they don’t call you, they don’t care.” Wrong! Everybody gets busy! It’s up to you to make the connection stronger with your loved ones. I often call random friends out of the blue to talk for hours, to help me feel that very connection to people when I struggle with the loneliness of traveling. Lastly, I’ve learned how to keep moving forward with my chin up, after falling for a man in St. Louis, and realizing things were not meant to be.
And right now, I’m teaching myself how to be more vulnerable by writing about my traveling experiences on public platform.
Traveling for work can be a fantastic life choice, but the unspoken rewards far outweigh the superficial bad experiences. Traveling makes you a better person, it makes you see outside of your own small world that’s too easy to get lost in and appreciate more deeply the familiar roots of your home when you get back there.