14 Lessons That Travel Has Taught Me

Going Somewhere

After two years and eight months of traveling, I’ll finally be returning home. In just a few hours, I’ll only be a plane ride away from finishing this wonderful, amazing, and crazy journey. It’s a bittersweet feeling. A part of me is actually looking forward to settling down, getting back into routines again, having a regular group of friends around, perhaps getting more serious about having a relationship with someone. Overall, having a place to call home–something I’ve really been craving for the last few months. At the same time it saddens me that a life I’ve grown so accustomed to–constantly being on the go, seeing new places, meeting people from all over the world–is coming to an end…for now.

Originally this trip began as a one year gig working and traveling around New Zealand. Way back then I would have never guessed that it would have evolved into this adventure of nearly three years that literally took me around the world and back, but I’m so glad it turned out the way it did. I would have never imagined going to the places I did, seeing and doing the things I did, meeting so many incredible people and making the friendships and relationships that I did. It makes me feel so incredibly lucky to have lived these past few years the way I have.I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Along the way I also did a lot of learning. About myself. About different cultures. About the way other people live. About the world and getting a better idea about how it works. Things I could have never learned in any classroom. Here are just a few of the lessons that travel has taught me.

Killarney National Park

1. Traveling solo is the best way to travel.
A lot of people thought I was crazy when I told them I was traveling the world on my own. Their biggest concern was how I was able to deal with loneliness. While it’s true that loneliness does come time and again while you’re traveling alone, I found myself more often than not surrounded by people and making new friends constantly. This was generally the case because there are actually a lot of other solo travelers looking for the same thing you are–companionship. When you travel solo, you’re more likely to reach out to other travelers to make friends to avoid being lonely than you would if you were traveling with friends. As much as I enjoy taking trips with friends, I actually prefer being on my own. The other benefit of traveling solo is the freedom that comes with it. You can do what you what when you want.

2. It broadened my perspectives.
Before I started traveling, my world view was basically limited to my experiences and knowledge of living in the US. But once I got out there and started meeting new people and experiencing new cultures and understanding the different ways people perceive the world, my own perceptions changed as well. Everyone has a story to tell and it’s amazing the things you can learn from them. Things I cared about before no longer mattered to me and things I didn’t care about before have become things I care about. I feel much more comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone to try something new. It also fueled my desire to continue growing and learning as much as I can.

Angkor Wat Monks

3. The world isn’t that scary of a place after all.
With all that we see and hear in the media these days, it’s no wonder why so many people find the world to be a scary, dangerous place and are sometimes prohibiting themselves from traveling abroad out of fear. It’s actually quite the opposite. In my experience I’ve felt just as safe being overseas as I would be at home–sometimes even safer! There is always the risk of getting robbed or getting sick wherever you are in the world, so it’s important to always play it smart, use your wits, and follow your instincts. Generally, you’re just as likely to have something bad happen to you abroad as you would be in the perceived safety of being at home.

4. Spontaneity is a good thing.
When I first started traveling, I had everything organized and had set up itineraries during my first few weeks. That soon quickly went out the window as I found it easier and more exciting to just go with the flow. If you have time and flexibility while traveling, take advantage of it. You might fall in love with a place and might want to stay longer than planned. Or you might hate it and will want to leave earlier than planned. Or you might even meet someone somewhere along the way that you want to travel with who’s worth changing plans for. You can’t do that if you stick with your plans all the time. Outside of traveling, I think spontaneity is a healthy thing even at home. While routines naturally develop when you have a job and are living the “normal life”, being spontaneous and stepping out of those routines every now and makes life more exciting. It helps you to live in the moment.

Hmong Family

5. You learn about different cultures.
Traveling exposes you to a vast variety of things–different ways of living, different thought processes, different sceneries, different beliefs, different cuisines, different languages. The more you travel, the more you begin to understand why people do what they do or think the way they think. It makes you appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of the people in our world.

6. It taught me patience and the importance of being flexible and adaptable.
Since I’ve started traveling I’ve learned the importance of being flexible and being more adaptable. Whether it’s having your flight cancelled, having to undergo a 15 hour bus journey, having your ride breaking down along the way, or being thrown into a new environment where you don’t know the local language or customs, you have to be patient and willing to adapt. With all the mishaps that inevitably happen at one point or another during a long trip, you just learn to accept change and go with the flow. In the end, you always manage and find your own way to make things work out.

Kala Patthar Summit

7. You discover how capable you actually are.
When you travel, oftentimes you’re pushed beyond the limit of your comfort zone. In a lot of ways, traveling challenges you mentally and socially. Being in a foreign country alone can be a daunting experience, and it’s never any easier when you don’t speak the local language. Sometimes you’re even pushed to your physical limits, like I was while trekking in Nepal to Mt. Everest. It’s not until you actually start facing these challenges that you can learn how capable you really are. Unless you want to be a lone wolf, you have to interact and introduce yourself to strangers and force yourself to become more social. Other times mishaps will occur (and trust me, they will happen) that you’ll have to deal with—canceled flights, missing the bus, crappy weather, sudden illness, losing your belongings, etc. It’s not until you actually experience these things that you’ll find it easier later on to embrace change and the unknown. You become less afraid of things you might have been afraid of before. You become more independent. You can discover skills and talents you didn’t know you had. Most of all, you become more confident with yourself and you’ll discover you’re made of.

8. Look up from your phone/computer and pay more attention to the things happening around you more often.
This is something I struggle with and really want to keep working on, but during my trip there were several times where I didn’t have reliable internet service and had to accept being unplugged for a short while. When I was in Nepal, for example, I went 2 weeks without WiFi. Since no one else on the trek had internet access either, we spent more time talking like normal human beings do and playing card games together in the evenings without feeling the urge to check our messages constantly. It feels liberating to be “off the grid” every now and then. There’s a lot that we potentially miss out on when our eyes are always glued to our phone screens.

Dunsborough Family

9. Family comes in all shapes and forms.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the family I was born into. We still agree and disagree on things like any other family, but regardless I still love them. But I also think family can be more than just the people you are related to by blood or marriage. For me, family can be anyone you can trust and rely on–people who accept you for who you are without judgement and will be around when you need them most. I was lucky enough to have a few “families” consisting of people from all over, especially during the times when I was taking a break from traveling and working; places where I was settled long enough to establish longer-term friendships. While I was generally very happy while traveling, life still has its usual ups and downs and I’m thankful I had people I could count on to get me through it all.

Bayon

10. How to love and be comfortable with being yourself.
Since I started traveling, I’ve grown to be more confident and comfortable with being myself. In the past there were a lot of things about myself that I was unhappy about and was quite self-conscious about what people thought of me. When you travel, you’re not hindered by some of the social barriers or expectations that you may believe people back home may have of you. Travelers in general also tend to be an open-minded bunch. I feel like most people I meet while traveling are less likely to judge. In this type of environment, I felt I could really be myself and express myself in ways I may have been uncomfortable with back home. Nowadays, I really just don’t care what people think about me as much. I’ve learned to be happy with being me.

11. Travel taught me to think on my feet more and be more creative.
Life on the road doesn’t always go as smoothly as we’d like it to. I’ve missed buses, had flights cancelled and missed connections, I’ve been stuck in the middle of nowhere as the sun was going down without a place to stay, I’ve fallen ill a few times, and have encountered countless other mishaps. When things don’t go as planned, you’re forced to use your wit and think on your feet more. Oftentimes it’s easy enough to fix, other times it requires more patience and a greater need for the acceptance of change. In the end it all comes down to quickly making up a new game plan and carrying on. Over time you just get used to it and you eventually stop sweating the small unfortunate things that happen in life sometimes.

Ring of Kerry

12. You learn to enjoy the simple things.
Living out of a backpack for the past two years, I’ve gained a better sense of what I actually need to live and what things I can do without. I’ve come to realize that you don’t really need a whole lot to live off of to be happy. Just ask anyone who has ever been to a third world country–the happiest and most generous people always seem to be those with very little. Investing more in life experiences have become more of a priority for me than focusing on material goods because they’re life-lasting.

13. You become fiercely independent.
To go off a bit more with the previous point I made above about growing in confidence, traveling solo also made me become more independent. When you’re on your own you have to find ways to take care of yourself and when there an issue along the way you have to rely on your instincts and solve problems by yourself. When I left home for New Zealand, I was going to a place where I had no friends or prior connections, no job lined up, no idea where I was going to live, or where I was going go. I started from ground zero. Having done that successfully gave me a deep feeling of self-fulfillment and confidence.

The Days

14. You also learn that you can rely on others.
At the same time, I’ve found it so essential to network and reach out and work with other people to survive as a solo traveler. You can’t do everything by yourself, something I personally find hard to admit sometimes since I tend to be the kind of stubborn person that doesn’t like to ask for help. Aside from avoiding loneliness, you can learn and benefit so much from people you meet on the road. As travelers, we’re always sharing information with each other regarding our experiences in places we’ve been–what to avoid, what to see, tips on how to save money, etc. Even though I was a solo traveler, I usually teamed up and traveled with others because, for one, it’s much more enriching to share an experience with someone else. Secondly, it also helped to keep costs down as we would share accommodation, share a taxi ride, or even buy groceries and make our own dinners together and split the price among everyone. Plus the friendships you make with people you travel develop strongly even after just a short time—bonded together by shared memories and experiences.

Traveling teaches you so many things. While the plan is to settle down somewhere for now, I will still always travel as much as I can. Maybe not for as long as I did on this big trip, but my goal is to go to at least one new country every year and to never stop learning from those experiences.

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3 thoughts on “14 Lessons That Travel Has Taught Me

  1. Hi Stephen, Loved the “14 Things” you learned as a solo traveler! Such great insight. I’m sure you’ll do very well when you take that enthusiasm into the next phase of your life. Fair warning, though, now that you have experienced the world the “itchy feet,” will never go away! I think your goal to see one new country per year is an excellent idea. If you can fit it into your schedule, try checking out Rick Steves’s travel classes in Edmonds. He also has an excellent travel library. His specialty is Europe.

    • Thanks Roseanne! I know the itchy feet won’t go away, I’ve only been home a few days and already daydreaming about the next trip! Love Rick Steves’s stuff! I actually applied for an internship there a few years ago, didn’t get it unfortunately since at the time I didn’t have any experience with traveling in Europe. Should try again 🙂

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