Education can be a contentious subject. It’s something we all recognise we need but wish we didn’t have to go to the trouble of getting. We hear the endless pleas to safeguard the education of current and future generations, and listen to experts wax lyrical on what needs to be changed in our education systems. We all know education is important.

But education can often be expensive. We spend lots of money on ourselves and others, especially our children, to ensure that they get the best education possible. We go to the best schools with what we consider the best education systems, hoping against hope that as a result we’ll get a leg up in lifeh. Sometimes we do. But what if we could get more out of something other than a formal education?

Some people see travel as an expensive luxury.

That’s not entirely untrue. It takes money to move around, and sometimes a lot of it. But if we looked at travel a little differently, we might find that it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a holiday to the beach. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s something beautiful about getting lost in the culture and life of a place, in the people and the sights and sounds. We’re a little insulated from these things on holiday, when we want to protect our peace of mind at all costs.

Things happen when we expose ourselves to things foreign and new. Think of Dwight D. Eisenhower. During World War II the German autobahns enabled the Allies to quickly and efficiently transport forces where they were needed, helping them to victory. As supreme commander of the Allies Eisenhower found partial inspiration for the US Interstate system, born a few years after World War II ended, in the German autobahns.

Today the United States has the second-highest mileage of highways in the world.

So Eisenhower wasn’t exactly volunteering to go fight World War II so he could see some highways. That’s beside the point I’m trying to get across: that travel is often synonymous with exposure.

Exposure can show us what’s really important in life. When we travel and see people living on far less than we would even imagine surviving on, in deplorable conditions, we understand how blessed we are. We see how fortunate we are to be living as we do. We see the silliness of being greedy and wasteful, and the importance of giving back and helping those in need. When we travel and see orphans scavenging in dumpsites for scraps and families separated or decimated by war, disaster, or other calamities, we remember to hold the people we love close and not take them for granted.

We often hear that experience is the best teacher, and it’s hard to argue with that. So many things are second-nature to us because there is a wealth of experience behind them. Travel could get us acquainted with things that are foreign to us. We could learn how to be more creative and resourceful. We should end up learning how to handle people from different cultures and backgrounds. We’ll probably have to learn how to fend for and stand up for ourselves, because travel can also teach us how dark and dangerous the world can be. And because travel usually requires some preparation it can teach us to be better prepared for things, including things not going according to plan.

In the process of travelling and learning, people change. Their perspectives and views change. Their opinions shift and their beliefs are shaken. They become more open-minded. They adopt ways of life and habits from the places they’ve been and the people they’ve met, sometimes better ones than those they had before. People who’ve spent time in Germany would probably find it hard to shake the punctuality bug, for example.

But they also see the world more for what it is, and that includes its bad sides. They get to see that maybe the grass isn’t greener on the other side. They get to appreciate what’s good about the places they are from, the things they do well. And they can take the good with them and leave the bad behind. Win-win.

People’s standards and expectations may also rise after travelling, and they may want more out of life for themselves. They may also expect and demand more of others, and push them to be better. Again, win-win?

Sometimes when we think about travel we agonise over the destination and try to fit in as many sights and activities into a cramped itinerary as possible. But travel doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as walking out your door. You don’t have to go far to receive an education through travel. Sometimes there is something new to see and learn in your own city if you look hard enough.

Travel can be scary.

There could be any number of valid reasons people would be scared to walk out their door. It takes them away from home. It’s riddled with uncertainties. It takes people out of their comfort zones and puts them in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. It may cause them to challenge beliefs they hold strongly. It may make them take a hard look at themselves in the mirror. They may leave home and come back changed, and we all know how much we love change.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo quotes his uncle Bilbo, who said that “it’s a nasty business going out one’s door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” Sometimes you’re swept off to places you don’t want to go to and that you don’t like, but that’s part of the adventure, part of the education.

Go ahead and take that first step out of your door, whatever door that is and wherever it is. Travel may not be your favourite thing in the world, but try and have a positive attitude about it and the adventure you’ll be on. Attitude sometimes really is everything, even when the thing you’re facing scares you. We’re told that there is wealth in getting an education, and travel may be its richest source.