Traveling isn’t just about the destination. When I first decided that I was going to take some time and travel the world (both solo and with friends), I didn’t know it would turn into a major adventure that would last years. I also didn’t expect to change as much as I did, and to learn some very valuable lessons along the way. Traveling and living as an expat hasn’t always been easy, but what I have learned from those experiences have made a huge impact on the person I am today.
Here are five lessons I learned on my travels and that I hope might help you on yours:
1. You can do anything
I often write about the negative aspects of travel—I want to be honest with my fellow voyagers and to let them know that there are downsides to choosing a nomadic lifestyle. However, there are some amazing positives, as well. I navigated a backpacking trip in Eastern Europe solo, learned to speak Italian and make friends even though they didn’t speak my native language, and somehow managed to decode the Tokyo metro all on my own. Traveling can teach you that you are able of accomplishing much more than you ever thought possible, and it has given me an unshakable confidence that I never had before I started wandering.
2. But you don’t always have all the answers
Before hitting the road, I had mostly gotten by on my book smarts—and that tended to be enough. But being on the road requires you to be more aware of where you are and what you are facing. Knowing a ton of facts about a place is not going to help you when you are facing an emergency. It was a big blow to my pride, but I learned that I was wrong about a lot of things, and that was okay. In fact, accepting that I didn’t know everything was the first step in truly getting to know a place.
3. People are people
Just because you are in a new culture doesn’t mean that some behaviors won’t apply. True, some locations are politer than others (Japan versus Egypt), but people have the same worries and thoughts everywhere you go. One instance I remember was going to Morocco and visiting a young nomad mother. Her main desire? A better life for her son and the ability to fund an education for him. Realizing these similarities made it easier for me to connect with others—no matter how different my culture was from theirs.
4. It’s okay to be frustrated
When I first studied abroad in Venice at nineteen, I believed every misunderstanding was my fault and it was simply the fact that I wasn’t aware of cultural differences between the culture I was in and my own. I refused to let myself get frustrated because I felt I was in the wrong. Now, I travel with perspective, but also an understanding that it isn’t as simple as that. Living in Italy was at times frustrating as fuck (um, dating). I learned to allow myself to be an American and allow myself to be angry with the place I was at.
5. Take a break
Many times, I will follow a couple’s travel blog eagerly only to find their relationship fall apart over a few months. Traveling constantly can take a toll, and I’ve learned when to take a break and when I need time to relax. My boyfriend and I have been all over the globe over the past few months, but we also know when to stay home for a while and decompress. Having a home base is essential to enjoying the time when you are away—it also is helpful to know you have a place to come back to.
What have you learned while traveling?