10 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Traveling

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Image via monkeyatlarge

Travel isn’t just about seeing new cities and discovering new landscapes. Many times, the physical journey leads the traveler on an internal journey, as well. From my experiences backpacking solo, volunteering abroad, living with families in other countries and being open to new adventures, I’ve learned a lot about life and my own capabilities. While I could write a list of 100 life lessons I’ve learned from traveling, I’ve narrowed it down to my 10 most important.

From traveling, I’ve learned…

How To Be Very Open Minded

Getting to experience unique cultures is one of the best parts about traveling. Actually, getting to meet people who are different from ourselves is one of the best parts about life. When I tell my non-traveling friends about the customs, traditions, dress, foods and living situations I’ve encountered abroad, many of them shake their heads in terror. A more enriching reaction, however, is to immerse yourself in the culture and learn about it instead of looking from the outside in. Thanks to how open-minded travel has helped me become I’ve gotten to have many unforgettable experiences, like doing a homestay in Ghana, teaching English in a Thai village, eating guinea pig in Ecuador and dancing in a traditional ceremony in China.

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Image via Alan Cleaver

That Having A 9-to-5 Job, Getting Married And Owning A House Isn’t Everything

I’m in my mid-20s, meaning now is the time all my friends are talking about how they must soon get married, buy a house and get settled with their perfect office job. When I talk of my plans to have a nomadic lifestyle for as long as possible, their usual reaction is, “But, when will you get a job and get married? Don’t you want to buy a house? You can’t travel with children, you know.”

Just because my job doesn’t confine me to an office or have traditional hours doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Moreover, owning a house isn’t something I want — ever. And, it is definitely possible to travel with children. Lastly, I do want to get married, but hopefully to someone who has the mindset about travel and seeing the world as I do. I’ve found deep happiness doing what I do, and just because it doesn’t fit the traditional mold of what a person’s life should look like doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

Being Patient Can Give You A Positive Outlook In Any Situation

Traveling can be frustrating. In many cultures, being prompt is not important. This means, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting around for buses, trains, food, tours, taxis and people to show up to meet you. While this can be aggravating, the less you let it stress you the more you’ll enjoy your trip. Think about it. Say your bus in Peru is running an hour late. You can either sit there and be angry, or you can take the time to write in your journal, look through your guidebook, go through photos or sample a new food in the station. By being patient and keeping a smile on your face, your general outlook on life will be more positive.

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That Happiness Is Appreciating What You Have And Not Pining For What You Don’t

One trait I’ve noticed in many of the “poorer” countries I’ve visited is the people actually seem happier than in the United States. That’s because these people aren’t constantly looking for material possessions to bring them joy, but instead place value on things like family, health, food, dance and tradition. Life is about finding happiness with what you have, not pining for what you don’t. The truth is, if you just keep wanting you’ll never have everything you desire, because as soon as you get something you “want” you’ll just keep wanting more.

To Take Pride In Every Task I Take On

It’s funny to me how many people in the United States view waitressing as a college job to pay off loans or McDonald’s as a place you work only out of desperation. In many other countries, everyone from the street sweeper to the company CEO takes pride in their job and is regarded with respect. Your job is only as lowly as you allow it to be. By taking pride in what you do, even if it’s as simple as fetching coffee, you’ll be more fulfilled and feel like you’re serving a valuable purpose (because you are!).

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How To Appreciate All My Relationships

When you’re around your friends and family all the time, you can take these people for granted. Being on the road most of the time, you begin to appreciate these people a lot more. When you’re out of money and living on crackers your parents waking you up early for Sunday breakfast won’t seem to annoying.

That I Really Am Capable Of Anything I Set My Mind To

The first time I set off go on a solo backpacking trip, I was 21. I was originally supposed to have four other girls going with me to Europe, but they all bailed last minute. I was dead-set on going, however, and didn’t want to give up the trip of a lifetime just because I had nobody to go with. Although I was nervous beforehand, once I got to the continent and began using my problem solving skills, crossing cultural barriers, making plans despite language differences and maneuvering my way from Ireland to Greece without any major issues, I realized I truly am capable of anything once I set my mind to it. Now, I confidently go on at least one major solo backpacking trip each year.

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Image via Images_of_Money

How To Be Smart With Money

When traveling, it’s imperative to be smart with your money. Everyday you’ll be shelling out for accommodations, food, tours and transportation, so unless you won’t to go home with an empty bank account, you’ll need to become budget-savvy. Taking local buses, grocery shopping, staying at hostels or CouchSurfing and searching for free tours or do-it-yourself itineraries can help you save a lot while still giving you a worthwhile experience. Luckily, after getting into the habit of being smart with money abroad, I’ve been able to bring the skill home. Before making a purchase, I first ask myself if there is a cheaper option. Then, I analyze whether the more expensive option is something I really need, really want or just desire for the time being.

There Is No Day But Today

If there’s something you want to do, do it now. Is there a destination you want to travel to? A site you want to see? An experience you want to have? The world is changing rapidly, as are you, and just because you can do something today doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it tomorrow. Do it today.

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The World Isn’t As Scary As Most People Think

Granted, there are many terrible things that happen everyday, and you shouldn’t trust everyone meet. That being said, people seem to think every country that isn’t westernized is a war zone. Traveling through Ghana, Morocco, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, I was constantly being told how dangerous it was, especially for girls traveling on their own. The truth is, while I heard a few stories of pickpocketing and theft, I didn’t encounter other backpackers who had had any life-threatening problems. You can’t base an entire city or country on one story you hear or a negative stereotype. There are many wonderful, interesting people to encounter all over the world.

10 Comments

  1. Great words. I can attest to the fact you can travel with a child. I’m in mid-30s and my wife and I believe travel with our son is an educational experience that is as important — and sometimes more important — than what he gets in school. We’ve been married since graduating college and while we are homeowners and have settled into jobs, we also are somewhat nomadic. My wife is a freelancer and hates the idea of ever being tied down to an office. Whether one travels constantly or only takes a few weekend journeys here and there, the important thing is for people to get out and experience the world. If more Americans traveled internationally I think we’d be more accepting of others.

    1. @Lance- I couldn’t have said it better myself! And that’s great to hear you and your wife have been able to travel with a child. I don’t have children yet but it gives me hope to see others having the kind of family life I envision for myself one day 🙂

  2. Love this article. Though, ahem, in my 50’s now, when I was in 5th grade my dad (aeronautical engineer) and mom (psychologist) took we three children to Europe for 3 months November through January. What a marvelous, life-enlightening trip. Had homework throughout but experienced first hand customs, foods, traditions, and opened the world to an insulated family living quite comfortably on Long Island. As a young adult, alas, med school and kids by 25 I wasn’t able to indulge my wanderlust as extensively as I’d hoped. We did spend at least a month a year on a big trip, often with an historic theme here in the US.(CA missions, the pony express, extended stays w/volunteer work in Mexico.) Once in college they had opportunities to backpack through various places and we had the luxury of time. It’s never too early to learn about all that’s around here and expose ourselves/others to as much as possible. Never postpone anything: too many say “I wish I had done _____________ but now they’re gone/unable to enjoy multi-generational experiences.” We all make choices with our income no matter how modest. Have a hope jar, wish list, and look to your local resources for free, enrichinig times. The more we experience the better people we become. Congrats on a lovely post which is but a fraction of lessons learned and how you are an amazing human.

    1. @Wendy- “The more we experience the better people we become” <-- really love that insight. It's so true. It's funny, I'm so cheap when it comes to clothes and accessories and things like that. But when it comes to travel, taking classes, and actually going out and doing things I'll spend anything because I always feel like you can't put a price on experiences.

  3. Great article! Traveling really is one of the best forms of education out there. Before we moved to Taiwan I was honestly very nervous about hardly knowing the local language and moving to the other side of the planet from where I had lived for 21 years. Just finding food became a challenge of epic proportions. I especially agree with your last point. Maybe we are spoiled in Taiwan but everywhere we have been we find, more often than not, people love to help. The friendliness of the people we have met abroad is always what leaves a lasting impression on me. Thanks for sharing your lessons!

    1. @Dan: Thank you for the inspiring comment. I’ve definitely had some nervous moments before big backpacking trips, and then once I arrive I wonder what I was so nervous about. When you’re faced with a challenge you can usually find a way to overcome it. Funny enough I’m in Taiwan right now! Staying at the Howard Plaza Hotel Taipei.

  4. Amazing lessons Jessie, MANY of which, if not all, I had while traveling for the first time. I used to be such a closed off person, didn’t appreciate the moment I was in at that time, couldn’t make connections with people for a damn, and didn’t know the value of money.

    Just in that first trip abroad to New Zealand it gave me some many things to appreciate and so many lessons.

    Looking forward to more!

    1. @Ryan- I feel exactly the same. The first time I really traveled (ie not as a relaxing vacation) I felt I started my journey to becoming a more open and well-rounded person!

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