Why Travel Makes You Cool

I started getting emails about my long-awaited return to America before I had even booked a ticket.

“Want to come visit me in Colorado?” “We should go to a baseball game!” “Will you come wedding dress shopping with me?” and everything in between was asked of me. I no longer wondered how I’d fight boredom during my 25-day American sojourn.

Coming home after 20 months meant I was suddenly popular. Everyone was quick to pat me on the back and say, “Well done!”, invite me out to eat or to their pools and give me gifts. Traveling and living abroad for the past few years has made me cool in the eyes of the people I grew up with, drank with in college, even babysat! Travel has made me cooler than I was in high school (and I had plenty of friends).

Travel gets you free stuff.

My buddy Nate called me the other day to offer up Cubs tickets. I glady accepted, eager to see my boys in action and not one to turn down anything free. As it turns out, Nate paid for my ticket, paid for a few drinks at Wrigley and provided excellent company for a Cubbie “W”. But he isn’t the only one buying my time with booze and baseball – my mom has jumped at the chance to buy me clothes, friends picking up my meals, my sister surprising me with my favorite iced coffee while I staved off jet lag. Even my parents fight for my time, and we live under the same roof!

Free stuff, American style

Likewise, I get free things all of the time in Spain. Having a couchsurfer meant an invitation to a bullfight, and coworkers buy me coffee. But my favorite is enjoying a beer with a local, struck by my confidence to move abroad by myself, astonished at my fast andalu accent. I learn more sitting in bars, popping olives in my mouth and swigging Cruzcampo, and talking to sevillanos than I do by studying. Apart from free drinks, I get free advice, free history lessons and plenty of free compliments.

Free stuff, al estilo espanol

Travel stories trump any other anecdote.

Remember that friends episode where Joey starts every story with, “Once, when I was backpacking through Europe…”? Yeah, I’ve got tons of those vignettes. Since I started my adult life abroad, it seems that I can only share stories from my time living in Spain. Oh, you went to the state fair? Cool because I love corn dogs, too, but my state fair involves flamenco dresses and horse carriages, not hog calling and deep friend butter.You have a new boyfriend? That’s great! Is he a fighter pilot like mine? Oh, no?

My fair > your fair

Having lived in Europe for four years and traveled to 27 countries, my life experiences are enriched, punctuated by special meals, amazing views and more castles and churches than one could possibly remember. Discovering places I never thought I’d see, like China, equates to my friends’ finding a great new Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood they call home. Travel makes me the cool storyteller, relating everyday life as if it were exotic (and it sometimes is).

Travel makes you independent.

I moved out of my childhood home at 18 years and three days. As I near 26 and mourn the end of my “youth” status in Europe, I find it hard to believe that I’ve been out of my house for nearly a third of my existence. Moving to Spain was a step I needed to take for myself, to test my limits and shake up my already-high confidence. And it was scary. I always say that in Spain, I’m either giddily happy or really, really depressed – moving abroad enhances both highs and lows. I suffered greatly when a friend’s mother passed away yet still smile when I think how far I’ve come since arriving wide-eyed to Triana.

Spain makes me sonreir

My parents sent me a card on my 25th birthday last August, touting that my independence characterizes me far more than my other personal characteristics. Even Spaniards in their 30s, many of whom are starting families or settling into a career, see me as wise beyond my years. I’ve always relied on just me – until I moved to Spain. Sure, I’ve had to do everything from open a bank account to talking my way out of a noise ticket in another language, but being away from America means I’m in a time warp, caught somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

If anything, travel has made me realize I’m just one person, and I can’t do it all myself. It’s ok to ask for help, even if it’s just for directions.

Has travel made you cool in any ways? Or are your friends sick of your stories of shearing llamas in Peru and catching strange illnesses in India?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. I totally know you mean about the anecdotes. Sometimes I kinda feel like a big douche, but I would begin every story with “In Spain…” and I sort of hated myself because, after study abroad in college, everyone hated THAT person. But ya know, that was my life for the past year. And you’re even more like that – your life for the past 4 years, right? It’s like, what else are you supposed to talk about but Spain?

    • That’s what happens when you only did obnoxious things in college, though it’s always fun to relive those years with your favorite drinking buddies! Sometimes my stories start, “One time in X country…”, so it’s not just Spain. Cait Dolan and I actually turned on sevillanas at a family party of mine the other day, and tomorrow is my birthday party and I may bring a sevillanas DVD.

  2. I hope I get this treatment upon my return in December. And I agree, when this is your life, and people want to know about your life, what else can you tell them? Some people are just jealous they didn’t do it :)

  3. Mooch!

  4. It definitely makes you cool in the “Here for a limited-time only!” sense ; when I ws in Philly for three weeks, everyone was scrambling. And I’m not gonna lie, I did get some free meals, drinks, and box tickets to the Phillies from it too hehe. I do try not to annoy people too much, but like you say, it is your life, what else are you supposed to talk about?

  5. Travel definitely makes you cool! We do have stories that no one else has! Most of my friends at home WANT to hear all about it. However, all I want to talk about is their work week at the law firm or how their kid is doing in pre-school. :)

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