On the surface, saying travel helps you grow is so cliché. Yes, it happens to be the truth, but what does it really mean? The lessons learned from traveling are certainly different for everyone depending on who they are and their experiences.
With my travels for the year now finished and a new year of possibilities on the horizon, I wanted to reflect on my lessons learned from traveling. This year, some were first-time lessons, while others were reinforced from previous travels. Regardless, each one has had its impact and this look back has only confirmed what I feel inside about how travel has already and continues to shape who I am.
10 Valuable Lessons Learned from Traveling
The world is kind.
Not only that. The more I travel the more faith I have in human beings. Every place I’ve been, and even more so when I travel solo, are local people and fellow travelers who say hello and are happy to help you out of a jam. Despite language barriers, most locals even feel a sense of responsibility and pride in making sure you pass through their little corner of the world safely and enjoyably.
I’ve had pseudo-aunties making sure I made it across the land border between Chile and Argentina in Patagonia. A kind old man in Romania walked me to the unmarked bus stop I needed in Rasnov all the while smiling and pointing out things on the main street as he chattered on in Romanian. I was happy to cross paths with Trisha and Ambrose from Ireland who joined me for dinner in Sighisoara and told me all about their plans to hike in Romania.
Yes, there are bad eggs everywhere, even right in our backyards. But, the majority of people are good. Turn off your nightly news and visit places near and far. I’m absolutely sure you’ll be overwhelmed, like I’ve been, by the innate kindness and generosity of human beings around the world.
It’s ok if expectations don’t pan out.
Earlier this year, I visited Vienna. I’d heard so much about the city’s beauty, history, and culture. But, I just didn’t like Vienna the way I thought I would. I was frustrated by how difficult it was to get around and just not overly impressed.
After the trip, I reflected on Vienna and thought maybe it was me. After all, so many people love Vienna! I’m definitely open to visiting Vienna again. But, in the end, I’ve also realized it’s ok. Vienna just didn’t do anything for me. The same as how plenty of people visit New York City where I’ve lived for many years and don’t like it.
This experience forced me to think about travel expectations. It’s fine to have them. Just keep them in check and remember to always react in the moment. Don’t judge how you feel about a place or experience. Whatever it is, it’s ok and doesn’t have to be the same as what other people think.
Gratitude creates happiness.
I’m so grateful for all of the places I’ve seen and the experiences that come from those visits. Inevitably, on each trip, I always have these “Are you kidding? Pinch me.” moments. It happened while I was cruising along on a quad in Swedish Lapland. The feeling came again in Prague when my husband and I woke up early and had the Charles Bridge to ourselves. Every time I repeat the words, “thank you, thank you, thank you out loud. And you know what? I can’t help but smile wider as I say it. The more I focus on my gratitude the happier I feel.
Be an eager lifelong learner.
I’ve seen the quotes proclaiming how travel expands the mind and broadens the perspective and I’m sure you have, too. Inspirational and true, but it doesn’t happen by accident. Travelers need an open mind and shouldn’t judge something just because it’s different. Travel can be a relaxing escape. But, isn’t it also a brief chance for us to escape our daily routines and welcome new things without prejudging them? Isn’t this the essence of learning?
Whether I’m walking through a museum in London, debating politics with a Canadian NATO officer in a Budapest bar, or learning about why tourists shouldn’t ride elephants, every experience, every conversation allows me the chance to learn something new and see something from a different angle. What’s the catch? We have to want to learn it. Otherwise, the experience will pass like every other moment in time and we’ll come out unchanged continuing to think and say things like, “Isn’t that weird?” or “How strange!”
Sometimes life gets in the way and you have to roll with it.
I had to cancel a trip to Cuba and 2 separate visits to Mexico City this year. I’ll be honest. Not being able to visit Cuba still makes me sad. But, I know there was nothing I could do to change the circumstances. Life needed me to be someplace else. I completely accept it. Over the course of the year, I’ve realized it’s what you do in the aftermath that reveals your true spirit. I could’ve let my frustrations take over. But, releasing those feelings (and yes, there was a conscious moment of release) and rolling with the tide turned out to be far better than fighting it and stewing in my own disappointments. Which brings me to my next point…
When you research, plan, and prepare with one destination in mind, all your momentum is heading in that direction. When the emergency brake is pulled, the stop and change of direction is jarring. Canceling Cuba, though, forced a level of spontaneity that was nothing short of exhilarating.
How incredible it is to be sitting on your couch one night only to unexpectedly hop in a car before dawn the next morning on a road trip from New York City to Utah for a National Parks adventure. That just doesn’t happen every day. It’s good to shake things up and see how you make do. It felt good to exercise my muscles of resilience and perseverance!
In hindsight, I needed the vast openness of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. I needed to breathe deeply. The parks reminded me of my speck of a place in the Universe. Even when things in the moment seem so massive, they’re really just a single drop in time shaping the broader landscape.
Most times fear is not really fear.
Fear is usually more perception than reality. In fact, the majority of our fears are not even actual fears. They’re all of our self-doubting, insecure, nervous thoughts and feelings masquerading as fear to mess with our minds and bodies. These thoughts only have as much power as you allow them. I’ve traveled solo despite these thoughts. I’ve hiked Angels Landing in Zion National Park with these feelings. I’ve pushed past them every single time and was rewarded greatly with increased confidence and strength, as well as a better awareness of what I can accomplish.
Experiences are better than stuff.
I was never a materialistic person. I’ve always been super practical with my purchases. I still wear a cardigan sweater my husband bought me back in 1999 when we barely knew each other. It wasn’t until all the glasses in the kitchen except 2 had broken from years of use before I finally bought another set. The more I travel the less I buy. When I do shop, I make sure every dollar spent earns back miles and points for travel.
When I reflect back, it’s my travel experiences like exploring the Angkor Temples or hiking in Patagonia, as well as the people (and dogs!) close to me who bring me the most happiness. I don’t remember a single Christmas gift from last year but I remember how fun it was to host my friends for a Thai dinner party to show off the cooking skills I learned in Chiang Mai.
Pay attention to your hunches.
Romania was a hunch. I’d seen a few photos. Read 1 or 2 blog posts. But something about it just grabbed my attention. I deliberated for a while, especially since I’d originally wanted to go back to Asia during the same time period. When I finally arrived in Bucharest and eventually Transylvania, I was blown away. Why weren’t more people talking about these places? Why weren’t there more people visiting? I followed my hunch instead of checking off another travel bucket list item.
In the process, Romania stole my heart and showed that perhaps it should have been on my list all along.
Life is now. Make every day count.
People always tell me how good it is to enjoy life when you’re young. I appreciate the sound advice and also think you should make the most of the time you have no matter what age you are! The average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 80 years old. It’s an undeniable fact. Our days are limited. If you live to be 80 years old, how many more days do you have left?
Travel is one of my true passions in life. I’m going to make sure it’s a consistent presence in whatever time I have left. Exploring this amazing world and learning from the people in it are infinitely worthwhile ways to spend my days.
So, have you learned similar/different lessons from travel? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from travel?
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