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I have the secret to the one thing you absolutely have to do when traveling anywhere. Can you guess what it is? No, it’s not finding cool souvenirs. Or, taking a photo of you jumping in the air by a major landmark. (I’m not dissing. I’ve done it a time or two.) It’s not trying a new food. And, it’s not making sure to get off the beaten path—although that’s a must too. When traveling, the one thing you absolutely have to do is…bring back a new way of doing something to your life at home.

A journey shouldn’t just be about going somewhere new; it’s equally important to bring back something new with you. A new custom. A new tradition. A new lifestyle. Traveling gives you a new way of seeing the everyday. You can’t help but encounter something different when you travel, and many of those eye-opening experiences can enhance your life back home.

On a recent backpacking trip to Sweden, I learned about the country’s cultural tradition of fika. The basic idea is that friends get together regularly to have coffee and a small treat, like cake or cookies. While the food is definitely a big part of the custom, it’s more about pausing during your day to enjoy time with friends. Coffee is definitely a regular part of my everyday life. (Probably too regular a part.) But, rarely do I just sit and enjoy a coffee with friends consistently. It’s more of a once-in-a-while-when-we-can-find-time kind of thing. Too often I’m going nonstop. The idea of taking time to just stop and savor a cup of coffee with friends is appealing and something I plan to do regularly now.

That’s not the only travel experience that made its way into my everyday life. When my sister returned from a study abroad trip to Costa Rica, she made me breakfast with scrambled eggs, rice, black beans and avocado. I would never have thought to combine those ingredients, and now it’s one of my favorite meals. Multiple trips to England made me enjoy the simple act of having a cuppa. Exploring Copenhagen reminded me to ride my bike more often. I love that so many of my favorite things came about because of my travels. And the memories they bring me every day really are the ultimate souvenirs.

But you have to be open to those new experiences, or you’ll miss them. It’s easy when traveling to scope out the elements that remind you of home and not try anything unfamiliar. I’m talking about going to Starbucks instead of a local coffee shop. (Please don’t say you hit up the McDonald’s either.) Or, it could mean not going to a new place because you’re afraid of the language barrier. When you embrace the differences of the new location you’re visiting, you’ll be more exposed to the experiences that will change your life.

Obviously you won’t want to recreate all of your travel experiences when you get home. Eating scorpions and peeing in a hole like I did in China come to mind. But with every journey, you will experience something different. And with every journey, there will be something so awesome that you’ll want to slip it into your everyday life at home. 

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image: adventurejournalist