Love inspiring travel experience stories?
Then you’re in the right place!
Grab a snack and your favorite beverage and get ready to settle in, as you’re about to read some truly inspiring travel stories about life-changing trips.
In this roundup, some of my favorite bloggers share their best travel stories.
You’ll hear about travelers embarking on sacred pilgrimages, growing after a first solo female travel trip, deeply connecting with locals on the road, and getting out of their comfort zones in ways that completely alter the course of their life.
And if you’re looking for a unique travel experience, you’ll likely find it in the short stories about travel below.
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On that note, let’s dive into the inspiring travel stories.
1. Travel Experience Stories In South America
My travel story takes place in South America, back when I used to travel solo for months at a time.
I was in my mid-20s, and even though I’d backpacked Europe, Southeast Asia, and China and had studied abroad in Australia, the mix of intense excitement and nerves I had leading up to my South America backpacking trip was different.
And despite family and friends warning me that South America wasn’t a place for a solo female traveler, it ended up being my best trip ever.
There are so many interesting short travel stories and unforgettable travel experiences woven into this trip, like:
- Getting invited to have dinner with my Brazilian plane seatmate and her grandma
- Having a group of complete strangers on Couchsurfing take me out for dinner and dancing on my birthday in Mendoza
- Attending a small house party in Argentina and learning about the tradition of mate
- Getting stuck on a broken-down bus and having an impromptu language exchange with an elderly woman in Peru
- Having a love interest back home break up with me via text, and then experiencing the kindness of strangers as a woman in my hostel who I barely knew treated me to ice cream to cheer me up
- Having a romance with a hostel mate in Ecuador and then traveling through the country together
- Living in a giant treehouse with a group of strangers during a solo trip in Brazil and spending our days exploring hiking trails and swimming and our nights drinking and exchanging stories about traveling
- Taking a 4×4 from Chile to Bolivia across the Siloli Desert to see otherwordly sites like rainbow lagoons and train graveyards in the middle of nowhere
- Experiencing some of the world’s most incredible natural wonders, like Iguazu Falls, Torres del Paine, the Amazon River, Uyuni Salt Flats, and Perito Moreno Glacier
At times the trip was also challenging, from dealing with long bus rides and car sickness to flipping over my bicycle handlebars in Peru and getting my body (and ego) badly bruised.
But, I was okay.
In fact, I was more than okay, as the trip showed me how independent I could be and what I was truly capable of. It also showed me the beauty of immersing yourself in cultures different than your own and connecting with locals who want to share them with you.
Years later, when people ask what my best travel experience has been this is the trip that comes to mind.
-Jessie from Jessie on a Journey
2. Traveling With An Open Mind
Many people think of travel as an experience and rightly so. Sometimes, however, you cannot choose the places you travel to.
This happened to me in 2019.
My husband found himself posted in Brunei for work.
Three months pregnant meant that I had a choice:
Either stay with him in Brunei for three months before returning back to India or remain in India, alone.
I chose the former. Not because of my love for the country but because I wanted to be close to him.
Brunei had never held any appeal to me. Whatever research that I pulled off the Internet showed me nothing other than one beautiful mosque.
The flights in and out of the country were expensive so traveling frequently out was not an option either.
I was engulfed by a sense of being trapped in a remote place.
Needless to say, I reached Brunei in a pretty foul mood. I think one of the things that struck me the most even in the midst of that bad mood was the large swaths of greenery that surrounded us.
Mind you, we were not staying in the big city but as far away on the outskirts as you could imagine. I’m not a city girl by any stretch and the greenery eventually soothed my nerves.
It took a week, but I soon found myself interacting with people around me. Fellow expats and locals all went out of their way to make me feel comfortable.
The more comfortable I felt, the more we explored. We trekked (yes, while pregnant!), we joined the board game community, and we enjoyed the local cuisine.
Three months later when it was time to leave, I found myself reluctant to say goodbye to the warmth of the country I had called home for a short while.
I think that my time in Brunei taught me a valuable lesson:
Don’t judge a place by what others say or a lack of information.
Sure, you may not always like what you see, but there will always be something that you will like. You just need to look hard enough to find it!
-Penny from GlobeTrove
3. From Half-Day Hiker To Walking Holiday Enthusiast
I’ve always enjoyed walking but never in a million years did I imagine I’d end up walking over 200 kilometers (~124 miles) in 10 days, become a fan of walking holidays, and end up developing self-guided hiking routes in Portugal with a local tour operator as part of my business.
The shift from being someone who was content with an easy three-hour walk to an experienced multi-day hiker began with a brief taste of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrim trail through Portugal to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain.
Back in 2013 I did a guided one-day hike along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Camino, north of Ponte de Lima. It’s also one of the most challenging sections so it was hard work, but the views from the top of Labruja Mountain made the climb worthwhile.
My guides were so enthusiastic about the thrill of arriving at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral after the challenges of day after day on the Camino that I began to think I might want to give it a go, despite not being religious.
Fast forward a few years and I set off from Barcelos with a friend of mine to follow the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.
Apart from suffering from chronic back pain, I thought I was quite fit but nothing had prepared me for how utterly exhausted I would feel at the end of each walking day.
This was truly a slow travel experience, as we were averaging about 20 kilometers (~12 miles) per day and by the time we reached our hotel, I would barely have enough energy to get cleaned up and find food before collapsing. I had envisioned plenty of sightseeing but that ended up being minimal.
Quickly, I realized the moral of this unique travel experience:
The Camino was all about making the most of the journey rather than the destination.
For me, that was quite a shift in thinking as I am usually all about getting to where I want to be as soon as possible so that I can start exploring. It was, perhaps, also my first step on the path towards mindfulness.
I will never forget the sense of achievement and progress at the end of each walking day, and the relief and pride I felt when we finally made it to Santiago de Compostela.
We met people who had walked the Camino several times and I can totally understand how it can become addictive.
-Julie from Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
4. A Story About Traveling & Its Ripple Effect
Tucked away in far eastern Indonesia is a tiny archipelago of islands called the Banda Islands.
Apart from world-class snorkeling and some crumbling colonial buildings, the Banda Islands are mostly forgotten and would be described as a backwater by all accounts.
However, the Banda Islands are possibly the main reason that I am who I am today.
Well, the Bandas are the original Spice Islands.
Nutmeg used to grow on this tiny group of islands alone and nowhere else. The Dutch colonized Indonesia and promptly became the owners of islands where money grew on trees.
The only problem was that Indonesia was so far away that they needed a halfway stop to and from Indonesia.
That’s where my travel experience story comes in.
The same Dutch East India Company that traded in spice set up a halfway station at the foot of Table Mountain to break up their long journey. As a result, my Dutch ancestors arrived in the southernmost point in Africa, and generations later we are still there.
When I visited the Banda Islands, it dawned on me how something happening on the other side of the world can ripple out and affect people on the other side of the planet.
And I’m not the only one!
The spice trade was so important to the Dutch that they even traded a tiny island in the Banda archipelago for a much bigger island…Manhattan.
Yes. That Manhattan.
Before visiting the Banda Islands I never really knew about this part of my history.
Along with the spice that the ships carried back to Amsterdam, it also carried slaves. These slaves, more often than not, ended up in Cape Town.
Just like my European ancestors, they too became a part of Africa and added another shade to our beautiful Rainbow Nation.
It was in the Banda Islands that I realized how much of my culture, food, stories and even words in my mother tongue, Afrikaans, actually originated in Indonesia.
Because of these tiny islands, I am a true mix of Europe, Africa, and Asia. While I always thought I knew how all things in life are somehow connected, I didn’t really grasp it until my visit to Indonesia.
This could have been a resort travel experience story, as I went to Indonesia to swim and snorkel and relax on the world’s best beaches. And while I did get to do that, I also learned a lot about who I am as a person, my people, and my country…on another continent.
My visit to the Bandas has sparked a fascination with Indonesia, which I have visited seven times since. I’m already planning another trip to this spectacular country!
-De Wet from Museum of Wander
5. Awakening My Spirit In A Costa Rican Cloud Forest
In February 2017, I was just coming out of a decade of mysterious chronic illness that had shrunk my world.
And one of the things that finally helped me to resurface during the previous year was an online Qi Gong course I stumbled upon:
To the casual observer, Qi Gong looks a lot like its better-known cousin, Tai Chi — the ancient art of moving meditation — but it’s actually energy medicine for healing.
In fact, it’s commonly used in Chinese hospitals.
My daily practice that year made such a difference for me that I dangled a reward for myself:
If I stuck with it all year, then I’d head to Sifu Anthony’s annual retreat in a cloud forest in Costa Rica the following February.
And I did! It was my first trip out of the country for more than a decade.
Just like that, I booked a solo trip — something I hadn’t done since I was an exchange student to Europe 30 years earlier — to San Jose where I met up with a dozen strangers and Sifu Anthony, our Qi Gong master.
We boarded a tiny bus and rode up, up, up around carsick-inducing curvy mountain roads into a magical cloud forest jungle where we finally arrived at The Blue Mountain (“La Montana Azul”) for a weeklong Qi Gong retreat.
There were no Internet or distractions here — just delicious organic vegetarian meals made with love and shared with the community under a gorgeous open-air palapa.
There were also colorful tropical birds singing in the jungle, as well as the largest arachnid I’ve ever seen in my gorgeous (but also roofless) room for a little extra adventure.
I’d felt a little energy movement during my year of online practice, but during that week on The Blue Mountain, my body began to really buzz with Qi — life force energy — as I Lifted the Sky, stood in Wuji Stance, and practiced Shooting Arrows.
I felt electrified and joyful.
And that was when everything changed for me.
At home, I had a successful career as a freelance writer, but I decided during my week in the cloud forest that I wanted more from life.
I wanted to explore the beauty, diversity, nature, and culture in every corner of the world.
And I wanted to share this intoxicating joyful feeling of life-giving freedom and adventure with anyone who wanted to come along for the ride.
Shortly after that, at age 53, I launched my travel blog.
Dreams really do come true. They are just waiting for you to claim them.
-Chris from Explore Now or Never
6. From Rome With Love
This wasn’t the way I wanted to see Rome.
Sure, I was happy to spend Christmas in Rome and stand in awe of the city’s many iconic attractions. But, life wasn’t meant to turn out like this.
I was supposed to go to Rome with my mom back in 2012; however, life had different plans, because a week before our trip, I got a double kidney infection. A condition that required a week of hospitalization.
Although I was annoyed I had missed my trip, it wasn’t the end of the world since I was fine and everything seemed okay…until my mom developed a cough.
A cough that later became a heartbreaking diagnosis of stage four ovarian cancer.
My mom spent the final months of her life in chemo, desperately trying to fight a horrific disease so that she wouldn’t let her family down.
And she didn’t.
Instead, she showed us how to never give up on life, even if it was a losing battle.
So, when she eventually passed away, I booked a trip to Rome.
Sure, it wasn’t the trip I had hoped for. But, I knew that as her daughter, it was my job to live enough for the both of us.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Was I an anxious, sad, angry mess of a person?
Absolutely. I was still getting used to a world that my mother wasn’t a part of.
And honestly, you never get used to that world. You just deal with it because you don’t really have a choice.
But I also knew that I wanted my mom to live on through me and that I didn’t want to live a life where the haunting phrases “should of,” “could of,” and “would have” swirled through my head and ate away at my happiness.
So, I went. I packed a boatload of tissues, sobbed my heart out, and attended Christmas mass at the Vatican.
I also threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, walked through the Colosseum, chowed down on gelato, and spent two weeks doing all the things my mom and I had wanted to do.
And that’s when it hit me. I had never gone to Rome alone because my mom had always been there with me. Maybe she wasn’t physically there, but I thought of her and felt her presence every minute of every day.
Her presence also reminded me that life isn’t about the things we buy or the money that we have.
It’s about making memories with the people we love; people that never really leave us since they are constantly influencing our lives in countless ways.
And after my trip to Rome, I finally knew that my mom would always be there because she had forever changed my life in the best possible way.
-Kelly from Girl with the Passport
7. Studying In Finland
One of my major life-turning points happened during my exchange studies in Finland.
Until then, I was studying at a university in Prague, had a part-time job at a renowned management-consulting firm, and thought I was on the right path in life.
At the University of Economics where I studied it was notoriously difficult to get on an Erasmus exchange trip abroad since the demand was huge. Everyone wanted to go!
Regardless, I decided to sign up early for my last semester, just to see what the process was like to be better prepared for applying again in a year.
I did make it through all the three rounds and surprisingly got a spot at a University in Turku, Finland! I was ecstatic. The success brought its own challenges, but once you set your eyes on the goal, nothing can stop you.
And I had the time of my life in Finland.
I met the most amazing people, traveled a ton, partied a lot, and bonded with friends from all over the world.
Given I was one of the few people there who really needed to pass all her courses and additionally write her thesis, I managed to run on an impossible sleep schedule of four hours per night. But I made it!
My studies in Finland opened up my horizons, too.
The summer after, I wrapped up my life in Prague and went on to study in Germany and China. The whole time I traveled as much as possible, often going on solo adventures. It was only a matter of time when I’d start my own travel blog.
My Finland adventure led me to a life of freedom made up of remote work, travel blogging, and plenty of traveling. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. And it gave me one of my favorite true adventure stories that I can now share with others.
-Veronika from Travel Geekery
8. How Cuba Changed My Life
One of my favorite inspiring stories about travel takes place in Cuba.
I visited Cuba in February 2013 and it changed my life — and I like to think it did so for the better.
Interestingly, I expected a completely different country and was compelled to write about it when I got back home.
But let me tell you more.
I read copious amounts of blogs and travel diaries to prepare myself for the trip to Cuba so I thought I’d go in with a fairly good idea of what to expect. Each and every post I read spoke of marvelous landscapes, pristine beaches, crumbling but charming cities, and welcoming locals.
All of it was true, in my experience — except for the locals.
I didn’t find them so welcoming. At least, not genuinely so. They only seemed to welcome me as far as they could get something in exchange: money, clothes, pens, soap, you name it.
Each and every day in Cuba was a challenge to avoid the scams, to avoid being ripped off, to fight off each and every attempt of people trying to take advantage of me. I usually managed, but it was exhausting and it left a sour taste in my mouth.
Once I got back home I felt the urge to write about my experience — not for other sites or papers as I’d often do. This time I was afraid I’d be censored.
So I opened my own blog. With zero tech knowledge, zero understanding of online content creation and SEO, I started writing and telling people what they should really expect during a trip to Cuba.
I’d put up the occasional post, but continued with my usual job.
At the end of the year, my contract as a researcher in international human rights law at the local university ended, and I decided to stop pursuing that career for a while.
I packed my bags and left for a long-term trip to Central and South America. I started writing on the blog more consistently and learning, and eventually took my blog full-time, turning it into a career.
As of today, I have never looked back and have no regrets.
The one thing I’ll do, as soon as I can, is travel to Cuba to say thank you — because it changed my life in a way nothing else has ever done.
-Claudia from Strictly Sardinia
9. A Short Travel Story About Finding Inner Peace In Patagonia
Life in London is hard.
Life in London as a gay single brown refugee is harder.
Juggling between work, my passion for traveling, and the prejudices that I dealt with on a daily basis eventually took their toll on me and I reached a breaking point.
The fact that I couldn’t return home to see my family and being away for them for almost nine years was enough to hammer in the final nail in the coffin.
I almost had a nervous breakdown and in that moment of desperation, which I knew would define the rest of my life, I took a month off and headed to Patagonia.
It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. The 36 hours it took me to get to El Chalten from London were tiring but Patagonia blew me away.
On my first day there I did a 28-kilometer (17-mile) hike which included a steep mountain climb. It was incredible how moving through the forest helped me clear my mind. And as I stood in front of Laguna de Los Tres, the rain and clouds gave way to sunshine and a rainbow.
I felt at peace.
The countless hikes, great food, and the warmth of locals in Chile and Argentina helped me get back in my skin and find the peace I was missing in my heart.
Nature is indeed the best medicine when it comes to stress relief and I won’t be coy about hugging trees to speed up the process (it did).
Patagonia was life-changing for me.
The beauty of nature struck me at each point and every time I thought it wasn’t possible to beat the view, the next one did just that.
I came back a changed, resilient, and most importantly, a happy person.
-Ucman from BrownBoyTravels
10. Looking Inwards & Making Connections With Strangers
It was decades before I traveled solo for the first time in my life.
This trip — a six-day escape to Colorado — was the first trip that was not for business or family reasons but just to travel and discover.
As I prepared for it, I had a strange feeling of excitement and nerves at the same time. I had all sorts of thoughts and doubts:
Would it be fun?
Would I be bored?
Would I stay in bed all day or would I bounce with excitement to do the next thing?
I wasn’t sure. Little did I know that it was going to be a memorable journey of self-discovery.
As a good wife and mom, for me travel is always about the family; always thinking of who would enjoy what. It’s about family time and bonding. It’s about creating memories and travel stories together. It’s all so wonderful.
But on a solo trip who would I connect with? What would I say?
Well, I found that I got to do anything I wanted!
Usually when I travel with my family, if I feel like going on a drive that’s not on the itinerary or getting a snack no one else is interested in, we simply don’t do that.
So it was weird to just go do it. Really, that’s a thing?
As for making connections, it was so easy to meet locals while traveling and also to connect with other travelers. Honestly, I had conversations everywhere — on planes, while hiking, in restaurants, in the hotel lobby.
It was quite an eye-opening experience to meet a mom of 18 kids and hundreds of foster kids, a cookie baker, a professional photographer, a family of Fourteener hikers, and an internationally ranked marathon runner.
The inspiring stories I discovered were amazing and nothing like my wonderful safe life at home.
In terms of travel safety, I got to go rock climbing, solo hiking, driving up a Fourteener, eating alone.
And it was all fine. Actually, it felt surprisingly normal.
It was was just me, my SUV, and my backpack for a week. Most of all, it was a breath of fresh air that I didn’t know existed.
It’s wonderful to be back home and know that possibilities are endless and there is so much more out there to explore and be wowed by!
-Jyoti from Story At Every Corner
11. A Solo Hike To Find Connection
I have traveled solo many times, but I admit I was a bit uneasy booking my trip to Colombia. In part, due to the country’s dark past. But also because I desperately wanted to do the Cocora Valley hike, and if I’m honest, I was terrified.
This hike is located in the Coffee Triangle, an area recognized for its beauty as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It features both rainforest and a stunning green valley speckled with cartoonishly-tall wax palms rising 200 feet or more.
It’s incredibly beautiful.
It’s also a long hike and quite challenging — it generally takes between six and eight hours and there is a steep area with over 3,000 feet of elevation within a quarter of a mile.
I wasn’t in hiking shape, so I was a little concerned. But, worst of all for me were the seven dodgy-looking suspension bridges.
I’m terrified of heights.
And, I’d be going alone.
I decided to go anyway and I met an incredible woman on the bus to Salento, the town near Cocora. She was also traveling solo and we agreed to hike together.
The town is a backpacker enclave and we met up with a small group of people all traveling solo. As the days passed, our group got larger and it was such a magical experience.
As much as I love city travel, this small town won my heart.
My new friend and I set off on the hike and met two other women who were nervous to do the hike. We all went together.
When we got to the first suspension bridge, I paused. I was embarrassed to admit my fear, but the bridge swayed widely and there was nowhere to hold onto.
When they realized how out of my comfort zone I was and how scared I felt, everything changed. Instead of me dealing with it alone, they were all there to encourage me.
One crossed the bridge to encourage me from the other side and they stayed off of it to limit the sway. Crazy enough, I not only crossed the seven suspension bridges, but I also crossed one an extra time when we went the wrong way on the trail.
I did it!
I was prepared to be blown away by Cocora Valley’s beauty, but what I wasn’t expecting was what a life-changing travel experience my time there would be.
-Sam from My Flying Leap
12. How A Pet Sitting Travel Experience Led To A Passionate Career
We wanted to go to the Caribbean but didn’t know much about the islands or how we were going to afford it.
By chance, a friend of ours in Australia mentioned “pet sitting” and that it is something you can do all over the world.
We quickly created an account on a pet sitting website and began searching for options. There were only a couple of sits available in that part of the world, but we tried our luck, sent a request, and to our surprise landed a three-month gig in a beautiful house in the US Virgin Islands — with an infinity pool overlooking the British Virgin Islands.
A month into our sit, we had explored the destination pretty well and so had a lot of time on our hands. We managed to secure another sit in Grenada, so our year was going to be taken up with Caribbean pet sits.
Inspired by a Canadian couple that had previously stayed at our Grenada housesit, we decided to start our own travel blog. We began by writing about The Virgin Islands, highlighting the beautiful beaches and funky bars.
But for every photo of a beautiful beach there were 10 photos of trash.
It was hard to ignore the plastic pollution issue, especially on such pristine and remote beaches. So, we began to share photos of the trash we saw and how much we could pick up on our daily dog walks.
The more we looked into plastic pollution, the more we realized the severity of the global plastic pandemic. From that point, we used our platform to create awareness and highlight ways to say no to plastic and travel plastic-free.
We changed our daily routines, our way of living, and even our diets to accommodate more organic foods and little to no plastic packaging.
It’s been over three years now and we continue to do what we can. This journey has led us to some amazing places, working with great conscious brands and even organizing a country-wide beach clean-up campaign in Grenada.
Our aim now is to keep on going.
We love connecting with like-minded people and love the shift over the last few years that brands have made towards creating more sustainable products and services.
It’s been an amazing few years that was sparked by a conversation about pet sitting. Who would have guessed?
-Aaron & Vivien from The Dharma Trails
13. Learning To Slow Down The Hard Way
On Christmas of 2017, I was born again.
We like to spend our Christmas holidays somewhere warm abroad, and that year we chose Uganda.
Nature, wildlife, and sunny days were a blessing when it was so cold and dark in Europe. Life was beautiful, and we had a rental car and a busy schedule ahead to explore the country.
This is where this short travel story turns into one of my more scary travel experiences:
At Murchinson Falls National Park, we had a car accident.
I lost control of the car, and it rolled over, destroying windows, chassis, and engine.
But we were alive! My right arm was severely injured, but we managed to walk to our lodge, not far inside the park.
In the lodge, I was happy to learn that there was a pretty decent American hospital in Masindi that was just a one-hour drive from the lodge. Moreover, one of the lodge’s guests was a nurse who cleaned the wound while we were waiting for the taxi from/to Masindi.
The hospital took care of us, and after a couple of injections and stitches, I was ready to head to our new hotel in Masindi; however, my wound required daily dressing and more injections, so we were asked to stay in town for a few days.
Masindi is the kind of place where you may want to stop to buy some food or water, but that’s it.
The town’s highlights were the market and our daily visit to the hospital, so we ended up looking for the small things, chatting with the medical staff, the hotel staff, the people in the market, and learning more about their customs.
We learned to slow down the hard way.
When we were allowed to leave, we took a road trip south through the country to see something else. We did not care about our travel bucket list anymore — we were alive, and we wanted to enjoy Uganda’s unique nature and its people.
In the end, our Uganda trip was not about the places that we saw, but the people that we met. It was travel for experience vs sightseeing.
I hope to revisit Uganda one day, with a stop at Masindi for some food, water, and maybe something else.
-Elisa from World in Paris
14. A Cycling Trip To Remember
During the summer of 2019, I cycled solo from London to Istanbul. This huge bicycle tour took me 89 days and through 11 countries.
As you might expect, it was a challenging yet incredible journey, which saw me pedal along some of Europe’s greatest rivers, pass through some of its best cities, and witness some of its most beautiful scenery.
It’s becoming more and more important for us to think about the impact that travel can have on our environment. This was the inspiration for my bicycle tour; I wanted to find more responsible ways to explore the world and avoid flights where possible.
I discovered that bicycle touring is one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel, as using nothing but a bicycle and your own pedal power you can carry everything you need while covering surprising distances each day.
The simplicity of life and the sheer amount of time I spent cycling alone gave me a lot of time to just think. This really helped me to come to terms with some personal problems rooted in my past and, as a result, I arrived solo in Istanbul with newly found confidence, independence, and liberation.
Cycling across the entire European continent may seem like an impossibly daunting task, but I assure you, it will make you feel like a new person, just like it did for me.
-Lauren from The Planet Edit
15. How The Caribbean Shaped Me Into A Fully Sustainable Traveler
One of my first international trips as an adult was traveling around the Caribbean.
I checked into my hotel in Jamaica and asked for a recommendation for a local place to eat. The receptionist told me that under no circumstances should I should go into the town because it was really dangerous, but that — to my luck — the hotel’s restaurant offered wonderful Caribbean food.
I pondered my options:
Did I really want to spend all my time on the beach without getting to know a single local?
I was a very inexperienced traveler and very young, but there was only one answer to my question:
Absolutely not. I was not going to be visiting a new place and staying hostage in a hotel chain. So out I went.
The poverty hit me in the face. After only seeing fancy resorts, the reality was hard to swallow.
A few locals approached me and were super curious as to what I was doing there alone, since most tourists didn’t go there.
I told them I was interested in meeting them and experiencing their culture. And just like that, I was embraced.
We met more people, had some food, and then we danced the night away. They had so little, yet they wanted to share it with me. They wanted to make me feel welcome.
And they undeniably did.
The next morning all I could think about was how all the money most tourists spend goes to big corporations. The locals have to be thankful if they get a job that pays minimum wage, while foreign businesses earn millions.
I have always been environmentally conscious, but this trip made it clear that sustainability goes well beyond nature and wildlife.
It’s also about communities.
From then on I always look for locally owned accommodation, eateries, guides, and souvenirs.
Sustainability, with everything it entails, became a motto for me and changed the very essence of the way I travel.
-Coni from Experiencing the Globe
16. Lessons From My Students In Peru
One of the most life-changing trips I’ve ever been on was a volunteering experience in the stunning city of Cuzco in Peru.
I spent a month there teaching English and Italian to a group of local adults. And even though my time there was short, the travel experience was so humbling that it changed my outlook on life.
My lessons took the form of active conversations, which essentially turned into a massive multilingual cultural exchange between me and my students. Hearing my students talk about their lives — and realizing just how different they were from mine — made me look at my own life with a fresh new perspective.
One person spoke about the three years he spent living in a jungle with his dad, where they fed off of animals they hunted in order to survive.
Another student told me about her ultimate dream of mastering English so that she could become a tour guide and have a more stable future.
For me, these stories were a reminder of just how small I am in this world and how much we can get consumed by the small bubbles we live in.
Most of all, my students showed a passion and appreciation for life that I’d never witnessed before.
This is true for the locals I met in Cuzco in general. The quality of life in Cuzco is very modest; hot water is scarce and you learn to live with little.
But the locals there do way more than just that — they spontaneously parade the streets with trumpets and drums just because they’re feeling happy, and their energy for the simple things in life is incredibly contagious.
It was impossible to not feel inspired in Cuzco because my students always had the biggest smiles on their faces, and the locals showed me again and again that simply being alive is a blessing.
I went to Peru to teach, but ended up learning more from my students and the locals there than they did from me.
Ever since I got back from that trip, I made it a goal to slow down and not take the simple things in life for granted.
Every time I get upset about something, I think about the Peruvians in Cuzco parading their streets in song and pure joy, and I tell myself to stop complaining.
-Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
17. Braving Travel With Chronic Pain
Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful city with a prominent cathedral positioned centrally within the city.
While the historical cathedral attracts numerous visitors, even more well-known is the route to Santiago de Compostela, Camino de Santiago –- the world-famous pilgrimage route that has a plethora of trailheads and ends in Santiago.
Home to locals, students, English teachers, and those on a spiritual pilgrimage, personal conquest, or a great outdoor hiking excursion, Santiago is a magical city.
My introduction to Santiago de Compostela doesn’t begin on the pilgrimage route, yet ends with a spiritual awakening analogous with those other unique pilgrimage stories.
It was my first solo trip abroad teaching English in Spain, a country that’s always been on my travel bucket list. A small town outside of Santiago was selected as the school I’d be teaching at for the year.
Unknowingly, this teach abroad program chose the perfect city for me to live in.
A year prior, I suffered a traumatic brain injury that left me unable to function normally and complete average tasks. Migraines, headaches, and dizziness became my body’s normal temperament, a hidden disability invisible to the naked eye.
Braving travel with chronic pain was the first lesson I learned during the trip.
The vast green outdoors and fresh dew from the morning rain enlivened me daily and reminded me about the importance of slowing down so I could enjoy traveling with my hidden disability.
I also learned to stop often for daily tea breaks and to embrace the long lunch hour, siestas, with good food, company, and a nap to rest.
Meeting locals, indulging in local food, and learning Spanish allowed me to connect deeply with the beautiful culture of Santiago. After all, my dream was to travel to Spain, and I more than accomplished that dream.
Difficult or not, I learned to own my dream and I was more than surprised with the results.
Who knew that a year after my injury I’d be traveling the world with chronic pain, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.
-Ciara from Wellness Travel Diaries
18. A Blessing In Disguise
2020 has been a wild year for all of us and foreign students in China are no exception. As soon as the malevolent virus began to make its rounds in China, our university sent us home for “two weeks.”
However, within a short time, countries began to shut their borders and these “two weeks” turned into months, a full year even.
Crushed by the burden of online lectures and virtual labs, my boyfriend and I packed our bags and caught one of the first flights to his home country of Pakistan.
I had always been an over-ambitious traveler. I believed numbers were everything — the number of countries I visited, the number of hours I spent on a plane, the number of international trips I took in a year. These numbers were what defined me.
My feet were constantly itching and I never liked to spend more than a few days in a place before heading to the next country. Revisiting a place felt superfluous to me.
That’s why I was hoping to spend a month or two in Pakistan and then continue to check new countries off the list — after all, my online classes finally granted me the freedom to “work on my numbers.”
But as is usually the case in 2020, things turned out quite different from what I had expected. Borders remained closed and worldwide infections stayed rampant. At this point, I have already spent nearly half a year in Pakistan.
During this peculiar time, however, an amazing thing happened:
My mindset about travel started to change and I began to look at my long stay in Pakistan as perhaps my most valuable travel experience ever.
I may not have visited dozens of countries like in previous years but my experiences were deeper than ever before.
From trekking to one of the world’s tallest mountains to sharing tea with heavily armed officers at nearly 5,000 meters altitude to exploring hidden beaches in the most secluded regions to spontaneously being invited to village homes, my adventures in Pakistan couldn’t have been more incredible. They opened my eyes to the sheer diversity of many countries and completely transformed my idea about traveling.
It took me nearly a full year of heavy restrictions on international travel and a few months in one of the world’s most fascinating countries to give up on my superficial ideals and become a more mature traveler.
This time will always have a special place in my heart.
-Arabela from The Spicy Travel Girl
19. What The River Taught Me
My travel story takes place in the summer of 2017 — the final summer before I graduated university — as it continues to play a significant role in the person I’ve become.
When I say that, people ask me if it was the portion of the summer I spent solo backpacking in Europe. And to their surprise, it wasn’t. It was actually the latter portion of the summer where I stayed closer to home.
For July and August I worked as a canoe guide leading whitewater canoe trips on remote rivers in Canada. It was here that I got to canoe the powerful and iconic Missinaibi River, a river that continues to influence me all these years later.
The Missinaibi River flows from the powerful Lake Superior to the even more powerful salty waters of James Bay. Here, I led a group of eight teenagers through dozens of whitewater rapids over 500 kilometers (~311 miles).
With no cell service for 25 days, we were forced to disconnect from anything other than the river.
During this trip I learned two important lessons:
First, I learned to be confident in my own abilities as a leader and problem solver.
There were a few rapids where my campers’ boats flipped and I had to rescue the campers and the canoes. One rescue saw two boats flip on a mile-long rapid. It took six hours to make it down the rapid, and during this time I managed stuck canoes and crying campers.
And while this was one of the most difficult rescues I’ve done, I was amazed at how calm I was throughout it. I gave clear directions, prioritized effectively, and kept my campers safe throughout the entire experience. Following the rescue, I had a newfound sense of confidence in my abilities.
The second lesson I learned on the Missinaibi was the power of disconnecting from society and connecting with the people around you.
A wild river commands all of your attention. Each day, you and your group must take down camp, load canoes, paddle up to eight hours while navigating both rapids and portages, get to a new campsite, set up camp, cook dinner, and go to bed.
And without the distraction of technology, your attention has nowhere else to be. You focus on the river and your teammates.
As someone who had wrestled with anxiety and depression prior to this summer, I felt at total ease on the trip. Now I seek societal disconnection and human connection as much as I can.
Sometimes the most profound, life-altering trips are the least expected trips closer to home.
-Mikaela of Voyageur Tripper
More Short Travel Experience Stories
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