When I was 20-years-old, in the fall of 2014, I studied abroad in Scotland for three months. On the first day of our “orientation” there, our resident director, Patty, said to us, “Don’t be a tourist; become a traveler.” I remember thinking, “What the hell does that mean and how do I do it?”

Spending those three months in Scotland, I learned how to do that. I found out what she was talking about. And I’ve carried it with me everywhere I go.

Knowing how to travel is a valuable skill to possess. Here’s how I became a traveler.

My uncanny ability to make anywhere feel like home…

They say that home is where the heart is. During my time abroad, I developed skills that improved my ability to observe and pick up on social and cultural cues. I know how to live in the space I am given so it feels like home and not like I am an invader in someone else’s.

and I feel sentimental when I leave…

When I travel, I take it all in. I make that place my home, whether it’s Scotland for three and a half months, San Francisco for a week, Colorado for four days, or Canada for just a weekend. I leave little pieces of my heart everywhere I travel because I connect in a personal way to the places I go. It’s hard to leave sometimes.

because I connect in ways tourists don’t…

Tourists are there for the pictures. They often are there for very specific reasons, with little to no wiggle room. They’ll return home in a week and tell their family and friends about it, but then they’ll return to normal life. I am there for the experience. I want to meet the people of that community. I want to learn new things, new skills, and gain knowledge. Then I want to go home and apply it to my everyday life and future travel plans.

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton

and my skills have increased…

The best skills I’ve gained are spontaneity and adaptability, which are both good skills to have, especially the latter. Things never go as planned when traveling. You’ll learn to think on your feet, and fast. When the subway breaks down and you’re three and a half miles from where you need to be, what do you do? You figure out a Plan B and go. Maybe that plan B is the bus system, maybe that Plan B is finding a shortcut. You figure it out.

and I never plan…

One weekend in October 2015, I up and left to Niagara Falls. The only thing we had planned was our flights and hostel reservations, which we booked the week before we left. We had no means of transportation between the airport and hostel (which was a good 30 miles or so), nor did we have any plans for anything else. We simply went with it. We did whatever we felt like doing and we got away with it because we had nowhere we had to be. Airports don’t stress me out. Maybe my flight will be on time, maybe it will be cancelled. I’m sure there’s an adventure to be had here, too. Straying from the path makes good stories and lessons learned. As Lao Tzu once said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

….I prefer to walk…

Nine times out of ten, I will prefer to walk. I will always give the local bus system, subway system, and other modes of public transportation a try as well, because I employ my logic skills when trying to decode a new system. I will never take a taxi. Taxis are the easy way out. I prefer to walk because it allows more opportunities for interaction with local people and I can take in much more. I can stop whenever I like and take a closer look if I want. In fact, most of my time traveling is spent walking. When I look back, I think “Oh my, I just spent 8 hours walking aimlessly around Toronto,” but it won’t feel like that. It feels like much more. It’s exploring; learning a new city.

and it’s made me a better person…

When you travel the world, you see how others live. Some may have it better, and some may have it worse. It doesn’t change the situation you are in, but it makes you appreciate the life you have. It might even be a wake-up call. Once, while in Manitou Springs, Colorado, I was sitting down by a river reading a book and I noticed an elderly man sitting by himself further down the bank. I asked if I could sit with him and spent the better part of the next hour or so talking to him about his life. When we parted ways, he thanked me because he sat by that river nearly every day, and no one ever offered to sit with him or talk to him. It made me realize that our actions have the power to have a positive effect on other lives, and we should exercise that power.

it frustrates me that I can’t always put my experiences into words…

I will often have an experience while traveling that I can’t explain. I just can’t put into words what I’ve learned or how it empowered me. I can’t explain the feeling. It just makes me feel…so alive. Like I just uncovered a hidden part of the world. Part of me wants to share that with the world, but part of me wants to tuck it away for myself.

and I’m always looking forward to my next adventure.

I have a list of places to go, things to see, and people to meet, most of which I don’t even know exist yet. But I’m excited to find them.

Originally published on Thought Catalog.

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