Travel has been my life since I was 18 years old, it has left an indelible mark on my soul and forever altered the way I live my life.
From the first, mildly chaotic solo trip to Paris at 18, I was hooked. Being alone in a busy city scared, thrilled and challenged me in ways that were utterly intoxicating.
Since then, I have built my life around travel. I have solo backpacked around the world, worked abroad, studied abroad and volunteered abroad.
“Live with no excuses and travel with no regrets”Oscar Wilde
Travel life lessons
Some of my many travel experiences include living in a hammock in the Australian outback, working as an activity instructor in America, running volunteer youth programmes in Europe and studying in Denmark.
I’ve also had many travel adventures over the years. I’ve hiked through remote, national parks in Cape Verde and travelled by train across Russia in the winter.
Along with Scuba-diving off Thai islands, road-tripping across Canada, getting lost in rural Bosnia and sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar in Palestine.
What travel has taught me
Through my many years of travel, I like to think I have accumulated a few life lessons along the way.
Admittedly, travel has always had a certain naval-gazing quality to it. There’s nothing more self-indulgent than ‘finding yourself’ in a beach bar in Goa.
If you can gently put aside all the boxed-wine-fulled, ‘what does it all mean?’ musings, there are still are a few genuine lessons to be had from a life on the road.
Here are some of the more tangible and life-altering lessons that I have learnt from travel.
Kindness is a universal language
One of the most important travel lessons for me is that the world is not as uncaring and scary as you might imagine?
I have experienced countless acts of kindness from strangers whilst on the road.
Everything from people sharing food in hostels, to giving me a ride when I was stranded, or providing shelter during a cyclone.
Time and time again I have been humbled by the acts of generosity and friendship I have experienced when travelling.
I now strongly believe that the world is as you see it. If you view it as a place of possibility and kindness, it will be reflected back to you.
Travel is the best education
Travel education comes in many forms. Sometimes we learn about a new culture and sometimes we learn that floating on a bamboo raft on the Mekong river whilst intoxicated, is a terrible idea.
I believe that travel expands your mind in so many ways. It exposes you to new cultures, faiths and cuisines. It also teaches you to think on your feet and adapt to new situations.
Whilst ‘the world is a classroom’ is the sort of gaudy wall sticker I’d expect to see alongside ‘Live, Love, Laugh’ paraphernalia, there is still validity to the statement.
That’s because travel can help put the world into context and deepen understanding of history, art and culture.
It’s one thing to read about the Siege of Sarajevo, it’s quite another to actually touch the bullet holes that still scar the city.
No one wants to hear you play the ukulele
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that in every ‘chill-out area’ in hostels around the world, there’s a beaded-bracelet-bro, dressed in elephant trousers, who needs you to listen to him play the ukulele.
Using a hand-painted guitar as a replacement for a personality can be tempting when we are ‘finding ourselves’ on the road.
It is vitally important, however, to resist that urge when travelling and indeed, in life.
Look, I appreciate that strumming Jack Johnson whilst wearing a rainbow headband might seem like a short cut to friendship?
Honestly, though, everyone just thinks you are a bellend trying desperately to establish hostel dominance.
Instead of picking up a ukulele/bongos/harmonica, try having a conversation with the other humans around you. It can be nerve-wracking but cheap wine will help with this process, I promise you.
You can create lifelong friendships
The people you meet when travelling will become an inherent part of your experience.
The incredible sights, horrendous bus journeys, drunken nights in beach bars, all become part of shared experience and unique bond with your travel companions.
I have been fortunate enough to meet some exceptional people during my years of travels.
The sort of fascinating individuals to build blanket forts in hostel dorms and invent ‘golf ball Olympics’ in a dusty bar in Australia.
There’s nothing quite like childish, drunken antics in a 28-bed dorm room in Queenstown New Zeland to form an unbreakable bond.
And in the case of my Kiwi experience travel buddies, all get banned from the Nomad hostel in Queenstown.
Many of the people I have met on my travels are still my friends to this day. I’ve had them at my wedding, gone to visit them, travelled with them and talk to them regularly.
It’s honestly pretty awesome to have people who share my love of travel and who don’t get bored of me droning on about my travel experiences.
Travel helps you to become a problem solver
If you are a millennial, chances are that your problem-solving skills have been somewhat hampered by helicopter parenting.
Many people from my generation have become reliant on parental help and advice on a range of everyday things, due to a lack of challenge and wild overindulgence from parents.
Everything from how to change a lightbulb, [no idea], when to get the car serviced? [the 12th of never]. How to make gravy without lumps, [some kind of voodoo] and having to have a variable rate mortgage explained, [Still no idea].
Travel forces you to think on your feet and problem solve on the fly. When things go wrong on the road, it’s a lot harder to automatically seek parental help from 2000 miles away.
It can be hard to convince yourself that boarding a bus to the wrong side of Cambodia is character-building at the time though.
I promise you that overcoming challenges on the road really will help you in the long run though.
Figuring out how to budget when travelling, how to get from one destination to the next, how to negotiate a different culture and language.
These are all ways of inadvertently building your life skills and problem-solving abilities.
Love on the road should probably stay on the road
When we are in the zen of travel our emotions can be heightened. Sunsets seem dreamier, food tastes fresher, possibilities seem endless.
So enraptured with travel vibes [and cheap wine], my friend Siwan once became convinced that she had ‘met Jesus’ on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. She hadn’t, it was just an unkempt man in sandals.
With your feelings dialled way up, it can become easy to convince yourself that a scruffy German called Wolfgang, with a mere $12 to his name, is “the one”.
High on cheap cocktails and moonlit walks on the beach, is a sure-fire way to get swept up in the moment and make starry-eyed plans to “meet in Paris”.
The problem with travel romances is when you actually meet up away from the beaches, or the mountains, or the frenetic energy of a busy city, it can all seem a bit beige?
There’s even a study that explains the science of holiday romance that looks at the “interpersonal closeness” that happens when we travel.
Researchers believe that may be the key to forming meaningful connections with strangers.
So see, your burning love is not ‘one in a million’. It’s the inevitable outcome of sharing a cramped hostel dorm room with other human beings.
Sure, there are success stories, I worked with two people in a kids camp in Florida who had a holiday romance and are now married with a kid. They are very much the exception though, not the rule.
The rest of us should probably leave that travel romance as a rather delicious, rainy Tuesday memory, rather than trying to pursue it away from the palm trees and sunsets.
You learn to manage your expectations
It’s important to manage your expectations when you travel. If you’re aiming to have a perfect vacation with the most Instagrammable experiences, you might end up disappointed.
This is especially true if you are going down the ‘budget backpacker’ route.
You have to accept that hostels will be noisy, bus journeys will be long, other travellers can sometimes be tedious and there are a lot of travel scams out there.
It’s also important to remember that most travel websites, bloggers, Instagrammers, magazines and videos will always show you the best parts of a destination.
You have to book your trip with this in mind and manage your expectations accordingly and try to find joy in the small things.
I have been to many places I’ve disliked, I’ve had disappointing food, I’ve had typhoon-like conditions on a hiking trip. I’ve been sunburnt, I’ve also met insufferable people in hostels.
Do I regret any of these trips? Not in the slightest because by discovering what I don’t like, I now know what I do like in a destination and travel experiences.
All the little travel fails and misadventures all add to the rich tapestry of our adventures and they all have meaning for a variety of reasons.
The minute you let manage your expectations properly and let go of the idea of the perfect trip, the better your travel experience will be.
You’ll find that you can easily shrug off cramped hotel rooms, rubbish swimming pools and sad buffets and find the joy elsewhere in the trip.
We chat about why travel isn’t perfect on Episode 3 of the Travel Goals Podcast. Subscribe now and listen to all the previous podcast episodes.
Subscribe to the Travel Goals Podcast now!
You start to appreciate experiences over material items
Once the travel bug has bitten it can become all-consuming. For career wanderlusters, chasing the next trip becomes your new normal.
I was, fortunately, not brought up to endlessly consume and to crave expensive items. This has allowed me to save money for travel over the years and pursue incredible experiences instead of things.
Research has proved time and time again that a new car, a new house, designer handbag or expensive watch will ultimately not make us happy.
Experiences not things
Once you have slummed in a dingy hostel in Vietnam, sipped chai in a 3rd class train carriage in Sri Lanka and slept under the stars in the Australian outback, you start to realise that you treasure these moments more than a £300 pair of shoes.
If you go down the backpacker route, you have to carry what you need on your back. This is a great exercise for realising just how little you need.
It turns out that you can, in fact, live without 17 pairs of ripped jeans, a £400 Apple watch and designer trainers.
No one will care about the things you own on the road, they will only be interested in you, where you came from and where you are headed.
Recognising that travel is a privilege
You can always spot a newbie traveller by the amount of “We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.” type quotes that they share on social media.
No matter how many beaded bracelets you wear, you cannot escape the fact that travel, is a luxury, consumable item, largely enjoyed by people with wealth and privilege.
Airing this opinion on social media is perilous. It’s just asking for an overconfident, white bro, to come swinging in with big dick energy about how “anyone can travel”. They are apparently just too lazy/ignorant/stupid to do so.
The problem with this statement is that it ignores the advantageous starting point that many people have.
This can include class, education, ethnicity, healthcare and importantly, where their passport was issued.
Not everyone can travel
Privilege and travel is a really touchy subject for most. That’s because no one likes to feel like they don’t really deserve the things they achieved, travel included.
Acknowledging your privilege and an advantageous starting block in life, doesn’t take away from your achievements though.
No one is saying you didn’t work hard to get to where you are or to have ticked off your travel goals. It’s just about having an awareness that you might have had certain advantages over other others.
Having self-awareness can help us keep our ego’s in check and make us think before making sweeping statements like “anyone can travel”
That’s before you even begin to think about how someone’s sexuality and/or gender identity might affect their ability to travel?
Many countries are simply not safe for LGBTQ people to travel to. The tiny-yet-vicious kingdom of Brunei is known for its widespread homophobia and discrimination.
There are plenty of reasons why it might be problematic for someone to travel. Maybe they are a struggling, single parent? A carer for a relative? Have a disability which makes it harder to travel?
Perhaps it’s just really difficult for them to obtain a visa to the country they want to visit?
By simply asserting the “anyone can travel” rhetoric, we brush aside the real-life issues that these people have because it’s an inconvenience to our “Explore. Dream. Discover” mantra.
No one is interested in your travel stories
This is a particularly hard one for travel enthusiasts to swallow. It’s almost as if the world went on without you whilst you were trekking the Hindu Kush.
Does this sound at all familiar? You come home from backpacking [read boozing], your way around the Thai Islands, only to discover that people glaze over as soon as you start talking about “this one time in Phuket.”
This is because your adventures are simply unrelatable to the people who weren’t involved.
Talking about travel experiences
The main issue is that even if you are the most verbose storyteller, Some experiences simply can’t be conveyed properly using words.
When we try to bring our extraordinary travel experiences to life by simply recounting them to other people, we often don’t do a very good job.
If you find yourself saying “you just had to be there’, then trust me, it’s not a great story to listen to.
A study on this very topic concluded that most people are simply more interested in talking about familiar things, rather than the new things that you want to introduce to the conversation.
The most important thing to remember is that your life is not more interesting/meaningful/important than your friend’s lives, by virtue of travel.
Sure, you may have had a ‘spiritual awakening’ at Angkor Wat, but your friend might also have an interesting career development or life experience to share?
Not everyone can, or indeed wants to travel, so it’s important to listen to the stories of others and not just dominate the conversation with your take on how ‘mainstream’ Bali has become.
You start to embrace the unknown
Travel can push us out of our comfort zone in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it’s with a traditional challenge such as climbing a mountain. Hitchhiking in Mongolia, or overcoming our fear of heights to do a bungee jump.
More often than not, it’s the small steps that can really shape us. Eating kimchi for the first time, getting lost in Venice or figuring out a Russian train timetable.
You are pushing the boundaries of the familiar when you experience new things.
This can also extend to wondering whether or not to make out with the Kiwi Experience bus driver after 9 jager bombs? [Narrator, it was not a good idea].
Visiting a new destination in itself is embracing the unknown. You can imagine what The Sahara Desert might be like, but you need to actually go there to experience the velvet soft sand and captivating sunset
Solo travel can also be a scary endeavour, especially the first time we do it. Booking a one-way ticket, strapping on a gigantic backpack and venturing out alone into the world is a transformative experience.
Mostly because you have no idea what will happen? As you board the plane you have no idea what kind of people you will meet, how you will adjust to new cultures, will endlessly moving around exhaust you?
Let go of the fear and worry and get on the god damn plane. If you don’t enjoy the experience, you can always come home. There ain’t no shame in giving travel a test drive.
Travel won’t solve all your problems
It’s easy to cling to an ‘Eat, Pray, love’ ideal when embarking on a big trip but the truth is that travel isn’t going to save you.
A rich lady version of ‘self-discovery’ via pasta and chanting is a lot easier when you have already secured a $200,000 advance to write a book about it to be fair.
Literary naval-gazing aside, it’s important to recognise that travel is not a quick fix for all your problems. Largely because no matter where you go, you take yourself with you. You can’t outrun yourself darlings.
Finding yourself is not the answer
Travel is not the answer to enlightenment, to the question of why you insist on dating douche bags, your uncontrollable anxiety around glitter, or your burning career worries.
Yes, it can be a transformative experience, the chance too start anew, to expand your mind, but don’t burden travel with the responsibility of fixing you. Because it can’t.
What travel can offer is the space for perspective, reflection and taking stock of what you want to work on in your life?
Use the time on your travels to work on personal growth and development. This way, you won’t be right back at square one when you eventually return home.
Beware of poverty porn travel
When we go down ‘the road less travelled’ it can be easy to develop a Bono complex.
Before you start picking up African children for your woke Instagram posts, maybe take a brief pause from being a white saviour, to question your motives?
Slum tourism has become a sort of performative wokeness whereby you signal your good intentions by posing for pictures in slums, villages in developing countries and favelas.
Bizarrely, there’s even a growing demand for slum tours to impoverished areas.
On these morally questionable tours, you can go and gawp at the locals and take arty ‘street photography’ shots for Insta.
There’s an argument to be made that perhaps exposing yourself to those less fortunate will make you appreciate everything that you have as a privileged traveller?
Whilst our intentions may be pure, what we’re essentially saying here is that people in improvised communities should be used as a yardstick by which to measure our own affluence and well-being.
Educating ourselves about communities around the world is absolutely a worthwhile endeavour. We just need to be mindful of how we do it and why we are doing it. Intention is everything.
Lessons learnt on the road
So those are some of the life lessons I have picked up over my many years of travel. Some may resonate with you, others may not apply?
I guess the important thing is to take away your own lessons, musings and observations from your travels.
The more we reflect on our experiences, the more we can grow. At least that’s what I read on a glittery mug once.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt on the road? Let me know in the comments below.
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