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  >  Blog   >  How Traveling has Completely Changed my Brain

Posted: April 2, 2017

Author: Marie Elena


So I’m sure if you are like me and the idea of a peaceful morning is sitting on the porch perusing engaging travel blog titles, you’ve bound to come across countless articles about how travel has “changed someone’s life” or “fixed his or her…(insert nasty habit here).” Although travel may not “cure all” or be a magic solution to a problem (but it might be!), the way you think about things absolutely can be the answer! Travel, I will attest to, indeed can change your thinking, if you allow it. Therefore, by some scientific law ( I was never good at those), you might indirectly have the keys to change what you’ve always wanted to in your life!

Since I’ve allowed myself to pursue my own passions of travel, I have left unfulfilling jobs that took advantage of me and began new ones that I have never loved or been appreciated at more. I have stopped obsessing over trivial inconveniences of life and started focusing on what’s important (such as how low the peanut butter jar is or when I’m going to have cheesecake next!). I’ve started my own business and blog, for which I would have never had energy in the past. I’ve started nourishing my body and mind and listening to that inner voice and I can honestly say that I’ve pretty much changed my life all around. Travel has changed my life experiences and thus, my thinking about the world. It has gradually changed my approach to life, and at this point, it has nearly completely changed my brain!

This was an ACTUAL sunset I took while on a walk in Carlsbad, New Mexico. If you notice, there’s even a little boat off in the distance! I mean, come ON! I’d add a little “#nofilter” tag, but I don’t do those.

All of a sudden I’ve been called an “inspiration!” Me! The same girl who has lost about 800 phones, broken about 600 cameras, gotten lost on her own street, eaten an entire cheesecake in grad school (not one of my prouder moments), managed to have security called on her at the San Diego Zoo, tripped over countless nothings in public, once barfed in a bowl of ramen noodles, and has had the same 250,000 mile car with a crackling door covered in bumper stickers for the past 13 years! 

Yeah! That’s me! I sound like a great example, right?! Well, in the past few months, I’ve had friends and readers reach out to me for advice about everything from travel to how to change on a personal level. I may not have the answers to all of these questions, but I think the more I travel, the closer I get. Those other blog titles you’ve been perusing on your porch might actually be pretty accurate!

A few days ago, I returned from a month long solo trip around the southwestern US. I came back appreciating the struggles even more than the days that went “according to planned” (but really…did they ever?). I stopped caring what others thought of me. I stopped being glued to technology for once (but cameras don’t count, right?). I started taking in my environment and learning about the people around me just by listening. I became more outgoing and suddenly found myself caring more about the personal well-being of strangers (I’ll tell this story later on!). I stopped obsessing over things I couldn’t change and best of all, I stopped even worrying about them in the first place! I started appreciating home cooked meals, those mini packages of peanut butter, individual servings of cheesecake from the grocery store, free coffee, laundry facilities, a night of sleep over four hours, miniature bottles of shampoo, wall outlets, and actual paper maps (you were right, dad!)!

 Like I mean…the man REALLY likes maps and tour books.


I think I first knew I wanted to write a blog on how traveling has changed my thinking and my life when I was sitting on an overnight Greyhound bus last Tuesday. My phone had been stolen about two hours prior. I had just gotten ripped off by a taxi driver and shunned by someone I believed to be my former Japanese hostel-mate. I had just been hit on by a really strange man having a 23 hour layover at the airport (at least I got a free beer out of it!). Oh, and I had absolutely no idea how I would get to where I needed to go the next day or even where that was (and I was phone-less, remember?)! I had made a ridiculously guache and awkward entrance to the bus with all of my bags resembling a familiar badly played game of Topple. Apparently there were no checked bags allowed in the storage bin down below on this bus. Like I needed one more thing to go wrong!  Other passengers stared at me with invalidating judgement on their faces.

I gracelessly plopped down next to an older gentlemen, around the age of 60, whom I’m pretty sure had early onset dementia. By 3am, he was was still audibly and verbosely repeating stories to me as I shared my Alpaca blanket from Peru with him. What? He was cold! I had my headphones plugged into my half working 10-year-old iPod listening to 15-year-old music and I just stared out the dark window occasionally passing a glance around all of the lucky sleeping passengers thinking “What did I get myself into?!”

In an instant, I suddenly realized that I was exactly where I wanted to be. This was exactly why I traveled. I didn’t WANT a “normal life”, whatever that meant. I didn’t WANT to be story-less. I wanted strange things to happen that change me for the better. I WANTED absurd stories to tell when I’m older (just hopefully not to a stranger 30 years younger than me on a Greyhound). I realized I wanted to earn my life lessons through experience and not Netflix (Netflix is still awesome though!). Everything that was happening was exactly what was suppose to happen and no matter what, it was going to turn out. I smiled after all that I’d been through that night and closed my eyes as my neighbor brought up his “younger years in Las Vegas” for the third time in an hour.


This was right after I made my way off the bus early that morning in Las Vegas. I was one hot mess! This was my entire disorganized life after I made it to a random hotel way north of the city. But in the midst of it all, I was able to hijack a WiFi password, get some work done, steal some free breakfast and coffee, and pull myself together (I even changed clothes!)! See? Things did turn out!


Allow me to introduce myself, in case you don’t already know me. My name is Marie and I have my own hit TV series called “Breaking Falls.” Kidding! Actually, if you’d like to nominate me for a TV show, I wouldn’t be angry. I’ve come to terms with the fact that nearly 100% of the events that take place in my life are straight out of a sitcom. Essentially anything you can imagine that is awkward or an untimely coincidence, probably is occurring to me as we speak. Literally just one minute ago, I went downstairs to get a plastic spoon out for yogurt and the entire cupboard of plastic cutlery and paper plates flukely avalanched out onto my head as the side of the box sliced my finger open. I promise you that ACTUALLY happened!

Now that you have an image of my ongoing mishaps in your mind, I will continue with my stories. About 18 hours later, after all of the ordeals from the previous night were over, I sat in the Las Vegas airport awaiting my second consecutive night of no sleep on my red eye flight home. I had a bowl of butternut squash bisque, a Heineken beer, a journal, several bags of disorderly dirty clothing, a few crumbled up Nutri-grain bars, a lifetime of memories, and a bag of souvenirs next to me that I had only managed to break and not lose. Score! I was ridiculously content. I knew I had to write a blog post to share some of my experiences and insights that I’ve gained resulting from my travels out west. I can’t even begin to remember them all, but these are the lucky few that made it to one week later as I write this post. Enjoy!

 See? Airport soup and beer. I may have lost my phone, but I still had a half-working “granny camera” to take pictures. It didn’t break completely until I landed in Ohio. Shwew!


Memory 1: 

I had a weekend in Las Vegas and learned just how “unfancy” I really am…and that’s totally OK!

I will spare you the details of Sin City. Aside from gambling, drinking way too early, more gambling, accidentally buying a $50 glass of wine, somehow convincing a limo driver to take me and some friends on my first limo ride for just $15 (I guess it all evens out!), almost fainting at the dinner table because of exhaustion, and enduring the constant 35 degree cold while having battles with my best friend over the thermostat in our hotel room, I realized some interesting things about myself. I realized I am an untamed-takes five minutes to get dressed for the night-can’t tolerate- sugary- fancy- drinks kinda girl! All I wanted to do was put on my sweatpants and a hoodie, walk around and explore until my feet gave out, and grab a cold brew and dessert at a local pub!

Not to say I don’t have fun no matter where I am, and I certainly did, but for the first time, I was OK with feeling out of place! I embraced it, actually. I actually did burpies on the hotel room floor as I impatiently awaited the other girls to strategically select an outfit that was just right for the occasion that evening. I would have probably looked a lot more presentable had I taken the time, but I had a rather small suitcase of at least eight-year-old clothing, which had grown increasingly crumpled and was now exploding out of my suitcase. I wondered how I ever had managed to fit it all in to begin with. The odd selection of clothing I chose was to be lugged around for a month to follow, so my options were limited anyway! I realized I was just comfortable in my own skin, for the first time in my life. I grew up being picked on every day in a Catholic school (What?! Not everyone’s teeth grow in straight!) and it took me a REALLY long time to stop worrying so much about my appearance. I’m a wanderer with a malfunctioning wardrobe, and  I am 100% OK with that!

Lesson Learned:

Feel comfortable in whoever you are. If you feel different, it doesn’t mean you have to act awkward or estranged. Be comfortable being immersed in whatever with whomever and allow yourself to have fun! Different doesn’t mean bad. It’s what makes life interesting!


This is a little collection of my “unfancy” self. Notice the curling iron/brush contraption that was stuck in my hair for hours. This was a MAJOR sit-down-on-the-toilet ordeal! Also, the picture that looks like me trying to warm myself under a heat lamp outside…it is a picture of me trying to warm myself under a heat lamp outside. So many memories!


Memory 2:

My FIRST Greyhound Bus experience (yes, there was another BEFORE my last one!) taught me to take in all that surrounds me, don’t panic, and be OK with knowing things will eventually workout somehow!

No matter what is going wrong right now, eventually, there will be a solution. Let’s say you get a flat tire on the way to work. A few hours later, you won’t be there. You’ll be somewhere else. Think about it! Have you ever seen someone not holding up a sign for money stranded day after day along the side of the road? Eventually, whatever the ordeal is, it will be over!

OK so I was never stranded, but I ALMOST was! I had departed from my Scottish taxi driver, whom I chatted with for a very long time in Las Vegas on the way to my Greyhound station. I was taking a night bus to LA to visit family for a week. Before I even got onto the bus, I engaged myself in some pretty unorthodox reciprocations with the vending machine in front of anyone looking for entertainment. We won’t go into that one!

On the bus, I sat next to another interesting soul from Hawaii, who was interested in showing me every picture he had ever taken of his travels and hikes on his Instagram. He actually had a hand gesture he used to quiet my  “carrying voice” every two minutes (basically any time I said anything at all). Supposedly this would save me from getting into trouble! I wasn’t paying too much attention to my phone battery thinking there would be an outlet at each seat. I forgot I was not on a European train. I was hoping I would be able to find my aunt, who would be picking me up upon my arrival, once I reached my destination.

Well, my phone did die and I was informed that there were only limited outlets on the bus (all of which were in one location and occupied). OK, no big deal, right? Remember. It’s me!

I got to the LA bus station late at night. It was cold, windy and desolate. The station was massive. I had a month’s worth of luggage and my computer, which I was lugging up and down what must have been mile-long hallways as bums from the street approached me every five feet. Where was the centralized pick up area?  I was keeping a keen eye out for an outlet. ANY outlet. What was worse was there were PHANTOM outlets. Yes, PHANTOM outlets. These are wall outlets which look 99.9% similar to a real outlet but are replaced with two small holes where the prong slots SHOULD be. Does anyone know what these are?? If you do, please inform me!

So no phone, no outlet, no idea what time it is, no way to contact my aunt, and my surroundings were getting more and more sketchy by the minute. I spotted what appeared to be a pay phone. “Hours of Operation from 8:00-5:00pm” it said. Great! Another mirage!

I approached two security guards standing together doing absolutely nothing except eating Fritos. The conversation went as follows:


Me: “Do you know where I might be able to find an outlet? I am just trying to find my family and my phone is dead.”

Guard: “Ma’am. There are no outlets in this building” (she said this in a tone that sounded like I had just asked her to give up her first born child).

Me: “Is there possibly a phone I can use? I need to find my family.”

Guard” “No.”

Me: “Is there ANYTHING you can do to help me?”

Guard: “No.”


I approached two other security guards who LITERALLY said “I cannot help you.” I wanted to cry. I was exhausted, anxious, and cold.

Suddenly, out of the blue, another security guard approached me at the other side of the building. He apparently thought I was somebody else and asked “Did you just get off the Amtrak?” I informed him that I did not. It was clear I was not who he was looking for. He followed his question with “Well where are you going?” I will spare the entire long story, but he basically was on his way out the door and allowed me to use the phone in his office. I just had HAPPENED to arrive seconds before he completely locked up. I also HAPPENED to have my aunt’s number memorized. Who memorizes phone numbers these days??? I called her and was able to find her. I don’t know how I knew her number when I’ve never called her a day in my life. I also don’t know who the man was or why he talked to me. All I know is his name was Eric. I asked him. I told him that he had just saved me. To this moment, I really believe he did.

When I got to my aunt’s condo, after my long night and long weekend in Las Vegas, there was a comfortable five-star-resort looking bedroom awaiting my arrival. Bottles of water and a private TV were all set up for me. Wall outlets were everywhere! It had been a LOOOOONG day, but before going to bed, I thought again…”This is why I travel. Think about everything that happened today!” I went to bed peacefully.

Lesson Learned:

Things will always work out in the end. Stay calm and keep at it. Don’t allow negative thoughts to take over you.

The end of that long crazy day! I somehow made it through the weekend alive and wound up here with my wonderful family!


Memory 3:

That day I spent at a Korean sauna!

I had the chance to visit a Korean sauna with my business advisor, whom I finally got to meet in LA. She was nice enough to take me to one of these. In case you are not familiar, a Korean sauna is a place where everyone wears matching uniforms (or is walking around completely naked in the locker room). You wander around entering several different hut-looking structures of varying heats. The huts have straw roofs and each hut is themed and named differently. Some huts are hotter than others. I can’t really remember what most of the obscure Korean names were except for the “salt room,” which was the most normal-sounding. I thought I was going to pass out after the first room, so my suggestion is to NOT go into the hottest room first because you think you’re doing yourself a favor! Once I was out of that room, the rest of the rooms were just relaxing. There was also an ice room for the very end to further confuse your body.

It was a great experience going to the Korean sauna and definitely not an everyday thing (at least not in Ohio). I highly recommend going to one if you need a good sweat or just want to relax and are always cold like me! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I learned how to use chop sticks at lunch there! It took almost an hour to teach me and I’m pretty sure I could never replicate this amazing feat. I tried it anyhow! Coordination may never be something I fully master.

Lesson Learned:

Try anything and everything you can! Get out of that comfort zone and just do it! But no matter what it is, bring water…and a backup fork.

This was such an interesting experience! I didn’t even faint! Also just look at those mad chopstick-using skills (the struggle was REAL).


Memory 4:

Because I had the audacity to follow my dreams and change jobs, I was able to spend time with family and friends that I hadn’t seen in years and may not have seen for a LONG time to come.

Value your family and friends. Don’t just talk about going to see them…actually do it! Because I gave up my “normal job” and pursued teletherapy after all these years of talking about it, I was able to visit family and friends that I hadn’t seen in ages. For me, this is especially important after the death of my mom. I don’t want to lose the only family I have any more than anyone else does. I don’t want to lose years worth of built up friendships all because I was “too busy” or “stuck in Cleveland.” How many of you are guilty of making the statements “We should get together sometime!” or “When you come out this way, we should…” Now how many times does this actually happen?

Before making it a priority to travel and reconnect with long lost family and friends, I was doing the very thing I just said not to do. I can’t believe how long it took me to realize that people in my life are more important than said excuses or (insert logistics problem here) due to “inconvenient timing.”

As I traveled, I spent time with my mom’s side of the family. I took a day trip to Seal Beach with my aunt and watched the sunset. I had 9 consecutive Mexican food meals with more family. I caught up with one of my best friends in the world AND was able to meet his significant other. I saw one of my closest friends from grad school and she stocked me up with healthy food to take on the road AND gave me my first home cooked meal and taste of home life in weeks. I made even better friends with someone else with whom I had only previously been casual friends. I got to look at photo albums of my mom before she died and share laughs and tears with my her sister right before I departed solo again on another overnight bus. To top it off, I spent a full week with the most amazing father I could ask for just traveling, hiking, eating cheesecake, and seeing the world together.

You really never know when you might not see those family members or friends again, so don’t let whatever excuse you think have keep you away.


Lesson Learned:

Make it not a possibility but a priority to spend time with friends and family.

This is a small collection of my memories from my remote work locations and adventures with loved ones over the past month!


These are some old photos my aunt and I got to share from right before my mom died. We looked at the album about an hour before I departed on my next overnight bus. I didn’t even know this album existed. It meant so much to be able to see us all together. It was then I realized just how much I had been missing my family.


Memory 5:

The time I threw granola bars out the window!

OK this is totally not how it sounds! Since I have been on the road, I have suddenly had this new high desire to help others. I mean not like I didn’t before, but it has become a necessity now. I may have partially learned this from my dad, who is always kind and caring and is constantly striking up conversation with complete strangers (usually embarrassing ones about me, but still!). Well, on one particular day, I was driving my rental car as I followed two girlfriends in the car in front of me. We had just come from a baseball spring training game and were headed to Scottsdale. I was sitting at a red light when a man with a sign caught the corner of my eye. Now! Mind you, I’m not a fan of giving anything to strangers holding up signs. In fact, I don’t think I ever even had up until that point!

Well, I had the time to actually read the sign which read “Traveled a REALLY LONG way and I am hungry.” I suddenly felt compassion for sign man, possibly because I, myself, was traveling a long distance. I was usually starving too, but mostly that was because I had exhausted my snack supply or I didn’t want to take valuable sight seeing time to eat. How fortunate was I that I had a huge bag of snacks in my car? I don’t know if he ACTUALLY wanted drug money or not, but he said he was hungry. If he was lying, I was about to lose two mushy granola bars that had been sitting in the 100+ degree Phoenix heat encompassed in my car. If he was telling the truth, he got a hold of two (mighty tasty if I say so myself) chocolate raspberry granola bars, which may have lasted him until his next meal. Who knows?! I didn’t know the situation, but what did I have to lose? I tossed them out the window and drove away. The world may never know what became of my lost little buddies.

When I told my husband  and others back home about my good deed, I usually received the response of “why?” or “you shouldn’t do that.” Well…why not? We are so quick to look the other way to those in need, but we don’t have to!

Furthering this trend, I also found a lost airplane ticket on the floor when I was walking to my gate at the Las Vegas airport. I spent about 20 minutes wandering to gates trying to find the owner of the ticket. Why I felt it was my duty to return this careless man’s ticket, I’m not sure! But I couldn’t let him lose it like I had just lost my phone! There was apparently another one of ME wandering around somewhere and we couldn’t have that! I had to do all I could to track him down!

Lesson Learned:

Don’t assume the worst in others. You never know when you might need the favor returned.


And speaking of snack supplies, I bought St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes and forced my friends to eat them with me! Sorry, sign guy. You aren’t getting these!!!


Memory 6:

All of the new friends I have made from around the world

I think a lot of times, we are taught to keep to ourselves and mind our own business. Put the phone away if you’re by yourself at a restaurant. Since when did we become uncomfortable looking in the general direction of up or straight ahead?

Why must we immediately frantically reach for our phones when our friends leave to go to the bathroom at a restaurant? Actually, why must we do it WHILE they’re sitting there and then have the phone sitting out on the table the whole time just IN CASE someone more interesting might text us? I mean really. Just observe this next time you’re out!

Call me old fashioned. I swear we are all going to have crimped necks when we grow old from the constant downward positioning of our heads as we peruse our Facebook newsfeeds and Timber-snap-twit-tumblagram (like can we make this a thing and just combine them??). Blasphemy. I know. Sorry!

Now I’m not saying you should go around butting into everyone’s’ conversations to tell them the life story of every dog and baby you’ve ever known (ahem!), but a few comments or observations made to a stranger at the right time can go a long way! Again, I may have learned this from my dad, whom if you remember from one of my earlier blogs, just loves to tell my entire life story along with the fact that he indeed qualifies for a “senior pass” to every poor unsuspecting soul with whom he happens to cross paths. Just don’t do that and you’ll be good!

If it says anything at all, my random blabbing to strangers, at one point, got me both my husband and my best friend. The more I travel, the more social I tend to become. I realized that being out on the road alone as a social individual can be tough. The best remedy for this is to make new friends, even if they are only for that day. Maybe you’ll see them again or maybe not, but you were meant to cross paths with these people for some reason or another. During my solo travels in Flagstaff, I met friends from all over the US and even from London and Switzerland. In Phoenix, I met an entirely new lively bunch and even attended a trivia night and partook in a musical jam session playing the piano within minutes of meeting these strangers! Meeting people makes life interesting and you never know who just might be in your life forever. 

Suddenly, upon returning home, I joke with strangers like I would with old friends and I’ve become even more social than I previously was, which may or may not be a dangerous thing!

Lesson Learned:

Be present in where you are. Your phone can wait! Talk to others and allow new relationships to form. You just never know what might become of them later. Not to mention, it’s fun and reaching out to others can teach us a lot about ourselves and even other cultures and points of view! It will help you grow as a person. It’s one big positive bundle of rewards just for speaking up!


This is a collection of all the wonderful people I met! I even encountered a woman named Marie Elena spelled exactly the same way as my name! She was even named after the same obscure song. Like… come on!


Memory 7:

The entire month when I learned to appreciate my environment with no one around to influence what I thought about!

I’m not going to bore you with the list of places that I visited, but between California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona,and New Mexico, I have never appreciated my surroundings more. I’ve climbed cliffs and mountains with limited water only to be rewarded with the amazing views and sunsets. I’ve seen the most amazing natural formations and canyons that one could every possibly hope to observe. I’ve seen what is argued to be the eight wonder of the world known as the Carlsbad Caverns and experienced the weirdness that is Roswell, New Mexico. I’ve endured sub zero temperatures as well as temperatures that were so hot they forced my phone to go into warning mode and shut down. I’ve become acquainted with hole-in the wall towns and restaurants, the extremely weird laws of Utah, strangers trying to sell me their phones, and taxi drivers so friendly they took 15 minutes to try to convince me not to tip them (it didn’t work). I’ve experienced the wide open road with nothing for miles and miles and the urine-scented buses which captured the attention of my nostrils for more nights than I care to admit. I can honestly say, there is SO much out there to take in. Combining your positive and negative experiences into something you just call “adventure” is the key to being happy and just looking at life like one big journey!

Lesson Learned:

Treat every day like you are traveling. Look around you and appreciate where you are. Observe the people, the feel, the sounds, and the smells. “Life is about the journey and not the destination.” I actually bought a journal in Flagstaff that has this quote on it and I like it. I couldn’t agree more! When plans get disrupted, make new ones. When you are lost, find a new route. When you you can’t find cheesecake, well… then keep looking. There has to be some somewhere!

 Like really. Finding mini cheesecakes can be a monumental task sometimes…but where there’s a will, there IS a way!


This is a collection of irreplaceable memories and adventures. Enjoy every moment of every day! You only get one of these journeys, so make it a good one!


Allow your experiences to shape your thoughts and your brain. Don’t allow your brain to shape your experiences.


Want to make travel more possible? I did some homework for you! I want to help you see the world like I’ve been able to! Happy adventuring! Now don’t lose your phone, sanity, or underwear!


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