How travel can change you for life

There was a young Argentinean doctor, a part-time rugby player and a full-time scholar, who would go on to become one of the world's most famous travellers. 

This doctor had already undertaken a solo journey of his homeland a few years before he and a friend decided to take a break from their medical studies in Buenos Aires and just travel for a while, this time to ride a motorbike from their home in BA to as far as the machine would take them. 

The things you were once interested in can suddenly seem quaint, or weird.

They made it to the northern tip of South America. Along the way, that young doctor would be transformed from a wide-eyed adventurer to cold-blooded revolutionary. His journey into the unknown would culminate with the overthrowing of a government, with worldwide infamy, and with death at the hands of his captors deep in the Bolivian jungle. 

That young doctor was, of course, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Marxist revolutionary, Cuban rebel, doctor, banker, guerilla, and T-shirt designer's dream. He was an anti-capitalist who became a brand, a humanitarian who became a killer. In short, he had an abbreviated but fascinating life, and it all began with that journey on a motorbike with his college friend.

Much has been made of his "Motorcycle Diaries", the notes Che took on that trip with Alberto Granado, and it's surely one of the ultimate examples of the transformative power of travel. Che was fundamentally altered by the things he saw and the people he met on that trip, so much so that the entire course of his life was changed. 

There aren't many of us who could claim to have had such a drastic difference made to their lives by a mere holiday – fewer still who will wind up with a gun in their hands, going to war for an oppressed foreign people – but surely anyone who's ever left home in search of adventure could relate to the tale of Che and Alberto. 

Travel changes you. You might not set out with the idea of it, and it might just be something small that's altered, but there's no doubt that the change is there. And the more you see of the world, the more it will transform you.

Ever been on a grand journey? Ever ditched your job, or taken a sabbatical, and gone out to see the world? You might have made your way through Africa, or seen Asia by rail, or battled your way through the sub-continent, or driven across the US, or backpacked around Europe. And you would have come home a different person.

The very act of seeing the world causes you view it differently. The things you were once interested in can suddenly seem quaint, or weird. The things you used to care about – the material things, most probably, all of the toys and gadgets you once modelled your dreams on – can seem suddenly inconsequential. 

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Travel will change you in so many different ways. It probably will make you more confident. Once you've dug yourself out of seemingly impossible holes, when you've communicated in a foreign language, or navigated foreign streets, when you've outsmarted scammers or been comprehensively fooled by them as well, you can't help but carry yourself with a little more authority. 

Travel will make you more of a risk taker. It will make you more adventurous. 

It might change your political outlook, or it might reconfirm those things you already believed in. It might bring about a change of career, or it might convince you to try harder in the one you already have. 

Or the changes could be smaller, less significant. Maybe you'll just return home with different taste in clothes, or new ideas about food. Or, like me, you'll suddenly decide you like Latin American music and punish your houseguests with it every time they come over. 

But the changes will be there, and they will be different for everyone – even if you're sharing the exact same journey. Alberto Granado, who was a party to all of those experiences in South America with his friend Che Guevara, didn't become a revolutionary, but was instead inspired to dedicate his life to medical practice. Still, he was changed.   

And that's what it's all about. As a dedicated traveller, it's hard not to be fascinated by Che and Alberto's journey. On the back of that motorbike both men seemed to find what every global wanderer is looking for: a true purpose, an answer to the question of where they should be, and who they should be. 

That's a change that should inspire us all.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

See also: 10 lessons you'll learn from living overseas
See also: 19 travel destinations that could change your life
See also: The best books that will inspire you to travel

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