It’s hard to believe that today is my six year anniversary of leaving my office job in New York City to pursue my love of travel. I can honestly say that when I set off for my world adventure in 2009, I had absolutely no clue that in 2015, I would be able to say that I have lived in Istanbul, Phuket, and Hong Kong, traveled to over 20 countries in that span of time, amassed enough memories to last several lifetimes, and have had the honor of sharing it with an amazing audience and community through my blog. And all the more unbelievable that I’m still able to pursue this dream!
The last six years of my life have a been an incredible and humbling learning experience. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I returned to New York City and my life of “normalcy” (you know: bills, daily chores, etc.) that I truly began to understand how much I had learned from my experiences and how much of myself has changed because of my travels.
Here are the top travel lessons the last six years have taught me:
Making friends and connecting with people is an easy thing to do. Contrary to fears of being alone, during a majority of my solo travels, I have spent more time with new friends and travel buddies than actually alone. Oftentimes, I might just spend an afternoon or an entire day with a new friend; other times, I have spent weeks traveling and forging intense friendships with complete strangers. Having the opportunity and the openness to make new friends every single day is something that I will always cherish.
I am far more capable than I previously thought. It’s extremely common for people to fear the unknown, especially when it comes to travel and being placed outside of our comfort zones. Being a woman and traveling on my own, I was really nervous about where my adventures would bring me. I questioned whether I would be able to hack it on my own and to be honest, many times I didn’t think I would. Thankfully, I pushed through the fear and anxiety and discovered that I am indeed strong, independent, and capable. I can do anything I put my mind to and let me tell you, that feeling is downright empowering!
Less is more when it comes to packing. Take a look at the photo immediately above. It may not look like much, but you have no idea what I packed into that black roller. This was my first longterm backpacking trip so while I had packed most of my clothes and shoes into my actual backpack, the roller was for what I naively considered were “miscellaneous essentials:” bottles and bottles of shampoo and conditioner, hundreds of tampons, bottles of vitamins, tubes of toothpaste, sunblock, and everything but a kitchen sink. At the time, bringing all these things made sense to me, but looking back and remembering how cumbersome and frustrating it was to wheel that absurdly heavy and ridiculously unnecessary suitcase around, all I can do is shake my head.
I don’t really care about the icky stuff. Traveling in a lot of third-world countries forced me to come to terms with my fear of germs, dirt, cooties, and other gross stuff. After a couple weeks, I found out that it’s just not realistic to constantly wash my hands and rid myself of any bacteria I feared might be hanging around. I also discovered that I wasn’t going to die or get sick if I allowed myself to be a little dirty once in awhile. Now, my germaphobia is (mostly) in check and I can get on with my travels without constantly running to the closest sink.
Being open to possibilities leads to great things. Saying “yes” to as many opportunities as possible can pay off in amazing ways. For example, I remember not being particularly interested in doing a camel safari when I was in Jaisalmer a few years ago. After an afternoon of cajoling from three travel friends I had met, I agreed to join them and two other boys on a three day, two night safari into the Thar Desert near the Pakastani border. This turned out to be extremely fun and beautiful experience; one that I’ll always look back on with fond memories. And those two other boys who were also in our safari group? I became fast friends with them both and the three of us ended up traveling for the next three weeks together into the Indian Himalayan region. Now, whenever opportunity comes a-knockin’, I always throw the door wide open because you just never know what great things are waiting to happen.
Just go with the flow. Some things are just out of your control and no amount of worrying or anger is going to fix it. I cannot tell you how many times things have not worked out for me for various reasons. I have missed domestic and international flights. I have had my passport and wallet stolen. I have been stranded on a muddy Cambodian jungle road with chickens squawking in the back of a bus. I have gotten myself lost on a motorbike at night in the middle of torrential monsoon rains. All anyone can do in those situations is take a deep breath, figure out what needs to be done in light of the new delays or frustrations, and either take care of it or let it get taken care of. Losing your cool only makes things all the worse and really, you should be savoring every moment. Even the inconvenient ones because things will work out. Eventually. And by then, you’ve got a great travel story to share.
My fear of gravity will never change. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I am not a jumper. It doesn’t matter from what height either. If it’s a jump followed immediately with a drop, oh heck no! I’ve tried to be brave. I’ve tried to be daring. Believe me, I’ve tried to overcome this fear, but I will never jump. Never. Once, in Grenada, I stood at the top of a 10 meter/40 foot waterfall for HALF AN HOUR trying to convince myself to jump. I didn’t. I made my local guide walk a difficult 40 minute hike through mud to get back down. I guess I prefer my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.
Travel is a perfect chance to see what we are capable of on our own. These travel lessons I have learned are invaluable to me, the way I see the world, and the way I react to it. That has been the best thing about the last six years of my life and I would count myself incredibly lucky to be able to continue doing this for another six more years.
Do you have a travel lesson you’d like to share?