Enjoy the brilliant benefits of travel - while we still have time

Liam Heitmann-Rice with friend Yvonne in her apartment in Cologne. Photo: Liam Heitmann-Rice

Liam Heitmann-Rice with friend Yvonne in her apartment in Cologne. Photo: Liam Heitmann-Rice - Credit: Archant

Day-to-day life resembles walking along a familiar pavement in thick sandals.

It is very comfortable and you know where you're going. Travel, however, that occasional foray into the unknown, is more akin to walking across sand in bare feet.

It feels lovely between your toes, but isn't particularly stable.

Yet by traversing unsteady terrain, you eventually acquire a stronger sense of balance.

One of the leading motivations to travel is the aura of mysticism it offers, that promise of adventure in seeing new places, eating new food, and engaging with new people.

When confronted with unfamiliar surroundings, where we are required to absorb exciting and bewildering stimuli, it is surprising how effectively we can orientate ourselves.

Over the Easter holidays, I spent a week in Berlin with my friend Jack Lewis, a fellow University of East Anglia student. Something of a last hurrah before completing our degrees, it was a memory lane return to Berlin and an opportunity to escape the regulated world of revision timetables and assessment deadlines.

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Reflecting on those I had met on this trip, I was enchanted once again by the wonderful experiences and conversations I shared with them. Travel, for me, is an experience coloured by words and feelings whose vibrancy persists long after the paint dries.

And Jack said: "When you do make new friends while travelling, it makes you realise the many ways in which people are fundamentally similar, no matter their culture. I have met people who had the same concerns as me - money, relationships, and family - but we also bonded over the TV series or books we both liked."

Finding common ground when exploring foreign lands, he said, makes you "more confident when meeting new people, and more willing to embrace difference but also to find similarities".

One particularly affecting journey for Jack was through the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where he had travelled during a year abroad in the US for his American Studies degree.

"I stayed in a hostel in Waikiki and spent my days hiking and visiting Pearl Harbour, while sharing a room with eight people, including an 18-year-old German backpacker and a 50-something mature student from Nebraska," he said.

"I learnt the best travel experiences were the ones where you feel completely free and are ready to embrace new foods, places and people."

Another friend of mine, Yvonne Kreckel, also owes much of her personal development to travel. Heading to America as an au pair at the age of nineteen, she left "a very hard and demanding youth, coming from a family of devoted workers".

"In America I learned what it means to be responsible for one's own deeds and thoughts," she said. "I was loved and trusted by this family of strangers, and the strength I gained in America made me who I am today: a teacher of English, philosophy and drama trying to teach responsibility and ways of becoming independent to my students."

At a later stage in her life, she travelled to Totnes, in Devon, "hardly knowing anybody there".

"I stayed for three weeks and made an incredible amount of friends in a time when I struggled with my life and marriage. I still have some of those friends I've made and I'm very grateful."

It was because Yvonne left Cologne for my hometown that she and I became friends. It was over the bar of the pub in which I worked that she and I got talking - I overheard her speaking German and exercised my own scant linguistic ability, and from there we quickly became closely acquainted.

This grew into a true friendship during the three-month internship I undertook in Germany last summer, which was, by happy coincidence, based in Cologne.

With the Brexit deadline delayed until October 31, we in the UK have at least a little while longer to enjoy the EU.

I would urge you to jump at that chance and step out, venture far, meet, eat, drink, dance, absorb, record, and engage with our European neighbours as we navigate the unknown.

The journey may be fraught with uncertainty, but if you keep walking ahead, you'll find your feet acquire a stronger sense of balance in the process.

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