It’s hard to believe it’s only been a little over 4 months since I left – 5 if you count Arkansas. Surely I’ve been traveling for years, right? I’ve done so much. I’ve learned so much!
For some people, 5 months may not seem that long, but I’ve learned more about myself, how capable I am, and what I need to be happy in these last 5 months than I have in the past 5 years.
If you ever want to fast-track your personal development, travel solo. Hopping on a plane will get you further than years of therapy.
This trip has accomplished everything I needed it to. I’m returning home a different person than I was when I left. I have a fresh perspective; a new understanding of what life can be. I have seen the life that I want, and I know what I need to do to make it a reality.
Here are a few reflections on what I learned from my first long-term solo trip:
1. As a general rule, people in the world are really nice. Although a few stereotypes do hold up, most people want you to have a good time in their country and will go out of their way to help you out. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of total strangers who have welcomed me into their homes, fed me, given me change for the bus, or patiently written out detailed directions. Faith in humanity: largely restored.
2. Stepping off a bus, train or plane in a new country with nothing planned and no expectations is exhilarating, but little basic research ahead of time can save you loads of money. If you know where you want to go, learn about shoulder seasons & how to book a cheaper flight. The more you save, the longer you can travel.
3. Traveling slowly is always better. You can’t really experience a destination in two days and you’re likely to get burned out trying. It’s easy to get addicted to moving from place to place, but your biggest expense on the road is going to be transportation. When you find a cheap place to stay, take a little time off from the frantic rush to see ALL the things!
4. There are all different kinds of friends on the road: Drinking buddies, short-term travel pals, and people you’ll stay in touch with for years. This is also true in life. Learn to tell the difference & appreciate each one for who they are.
5. Having an extension cord or power strip automatically makes you the most popular person wherever you go.
6. You have no idea just how creative you can get until you’re in a sticky situation. I bet you didn’t know that you can fix a sandal with a pair of tweezers. Or open a bottle of wine with a shoe and an allen wrench. You will basically become MacGyver.
7. After awhile you’ll start to miss the weirdest things, like cheap, greasy Chinese food or having ice in your drinks.
8. Travel teaches you more about love and loss than any relationship. You’ll fall in love over and over again with people, places, and lifestyles, only to have to say goodbye.
9. You are more capable than you realize. You will never know how true that is until you’ve been thrown far out of your comfort zone.
10. Pack light. You never know when you’ll want to go off the beaten path. In fact, you should make it a point to go off the beaten path a few times.
11. There’s only one right way to travel, and that’s your way. Travel is a deeply unique and personal experience. There’s no such thing as a must-see or must-do. If you’d rather sit in a cafe and people watch than go see the Eiffel Tower, do it! Don’t travel on someone else’s agenda.
12. You will discover far more amazing things by sitting down and having a drink with a local than visiting a tourist office. Certain places are hyped up because people are getting paid to do so. For example, tourists come from all over to visit the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland (the Cliffs of Insanity for fellow Princess Bride fans). However, almost no one knows about the Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal, which are actually 3 times higher and even more impressive.
13. Always have a cocktail or two before checking your bank account. Always.
14. Free walking tours are a wonderful way to explore a city and learn its interesting history without getting totally lost or overwhelmed. Do remember to tip your tour guide, however.
15. On that note, a good pair of walking shoes will be your most valuable asset.
16. Don’t count on paradise being…paradise. It may turn out that a certain destination doesn’t live up to your expectations, or the energy just doesn’t vibe with you the way you thought it would. On the flip side, you might totally fall in love with a place that wasn’t even on your radar.
17. Be flexible. Having everything rigidly planned out ahead of time is a sure way to miss out on finding hidden treasures or having a truly meaningful experience. The best part of travel is letting it take you to unexpected places.
18. You can’t see everything. You can’t go everywhere. At least not on one trip, so don’t even try. Getting caught up in checking things off your travel bucket list is a good way to burn out and rapidly deplete your bank account. Just appreciate the experiences you DO get to have and let go of the ones you miss. Or save them for later. 🙂
19. Travel does not have to be expensive. Depending on where you go, you can often travel for far less than what you would spend on rent and living expenses back home. It’s easier to save money to travel than you might think. All it takes is a little prioritizing.
20. If you can afford it, travel with phone service. It will save you so many headaches and make life in general so much easier. If you’re in the US, get T-Mobile. Alternately, just pick up a cheap SIM card if you’re going to be in a country for awhile.
21. Nothing makes you more ashamed than realizing you know less about what’s going on in your own country than the rest of the world. Most of the travelers I’ve met know eons more about America’s foreign policy than the average American. That’s because other countries regularly show news from around the world, not just the things that directly affect them.
22. Generally speaking, most places in the world are just as safe – if not safer than – America. When I first started planning this trip, I can’t tell you the number of people who responded with “just be careful.” In actuality, a little common sense goes a long way.
23. Long-term travel is not an extended vacation. Sure, I post pictures of myself on a beach, but that’s because no one wants to see pictures of my hair after a 16 hour bus ride. Planning out the logistics of your trip takes an extraordinarily large amount of time and energy. When you’re not out sightseeing or making new friends, you’re researching your next destination, making reservations, buying tickets, etc…and if you’re trying to blog and grow an online business while traveling? Yeah, “downtime” soon becomes a thing of the past.
24. The point of quitting your job to travel isn’t to do nothing; it’s to do something else. Sitting around doing nothing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Most people have the need to do something real, something that brings value to the world. Drinking mojitos on a beach is great for a day or two, but after a while it gets really boring.
25. Remember to unplug. Your Facebook friends will be just fine if you don’t post the picture of that amazing cathedral until tomorrow. Or the next day. Even if you are working from the road, travel blogging, or building a business, every now and then, just relax and be a traveler.
26. Window seats are the best, unless you have a friendly seat-mate or a neck pillow.
27. Traveling teaches you to talk less and listen more. A lot of this comes from only understanding a few words here and there, but after awhile you realize how many pointless things come out of your mouth of a daily basis.
“It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
28. Deferring your happiness to the future is never worth it. “The most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
29. Nobody likes a braggart. Don’t be that person who can shoot off a rapid-fire list of how many countries you’ve been to in the past 6 months. And don’t try to one-up other people’s travel stories. Travel should be something that changes you, not something to brag about.
30. It’s surprisingly hard to find time alone when you’re traveling solo. You are never actually alone. But seek it out when you can – it’s the key to your sanity. I never knew how much I’d come to value long bus rides where I get to just sit and read a good book.
31. Staying in hostels will show you the best and the worst in people. I’ve shared amazing memories with amazing people, and I’ve also met people who were obnoxious, dirty, rude and mean.
32. Every country in the world has their own version of the drinking game Kings/Circle of Death. The most fun comes from combining everyone’s rules and letting chaos ensue.
33. You will make mistakes. Sometimes they’ll be costly, but they will be the best way to learn. Some people will see you as a walking dollar sign and take advantage of you just because you’re foreign. Don’t regret the mistakes you make, just learn from them.
34. Making the ‘wrong decision’ is better than making no decision. Stop over-thinking and just DO. Seriously. We often think our way out of doing everything that’s worth doing. Learning how to get out of your own way and just live is the greatest lesson of all.
35. You will never truly appreciate something until you don’t have it. After taking cold showers on beaches for more than 2 weeks, I’ll never take a hot shower for granted again. And there’s nothing like sleeping in budget hostels to make you really, REALLY appreciate your own pillow.
36. There’s a big difference between being independent and being self-contained. I used to think that because I lived alone and paid all my own bills that I was independent. Ummm, no. I would never have gone to a movie or sat down at a restaurant by myself. Now I don’t wait for anyone else. If I want something, I go for it!
37. Less is more. The more you own, the more it owns you.
“Collect memories, not things.”
38. You can’t please everyone. This was a tough one for me, a reformed people-pleaser. But the truth is, no matter how hard you try, someone out there is going to disagree with you, or dislike you for no apparent reason. Sometimes you’re going to offend people. As long as you’re not being an a**hole, just do what you love and try not to worry about other people’s responses.
39. Worrying is the most pointless thing you can do. Plans WILL fall through. Buses won’t show up. Flights will get canceled. You will lose things. And you know what? You’ll figure it out. Stop worrying about the worst that could happen – sometimes it turns out to be the best!
40. There is no shame in going home. Sometimes it’s just time. When you start getting irritated at little things and new destinations don’t seem quite as exciting as they used to, go home, recharge your batteries, and head back out into the world! Adventure is lifestyle, not a destination.
To me, travel hasn’t been about sightseeing or eating amazing food from around the world (although I’ve definitely enjoyed both). It’s not even about the people that I meet, although they have inevitably shaped my trip and made it the life-changing experience that it was. To me, travel is simply about going somewhere and letting it teach me.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from travel?
This post is linked up with the ever fabulous #SundayTraveler, which can be found via Chasing the Donkey or any of the other awesome hosts listed below: