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10 Valuable Lessons Learned from Traveling

On the surface, saying travel helps you grow is so cliché. Sure, 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. I’ve felt firsthand the many benefits of traveling but I wanted to reflect specifically on what travel has taught me. Each one of the travel lessons on this list has had its impact and continues to shape who I am as a woman, traveler, and human being.

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10 Valuable Lessons Learned from Traveling

1. The world is kind.

Romania Woman
A friendly Romanian woman telling me all about the small church in her village.

Not only that. The more I travel the more faith I have in human beings.

And of all the lessons from traveling on this list, I cherish this one deeply.

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. Even when there are language barriers, most locals 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, what travel teaches you is the majority of people are good.

Instead of letting the day’s news make you afraid of other people, 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.

2. It’s ok if expectations don’t pan out.

Vienna Cake
Incidentally, I did love the cake in Vienna!

Before visiting Vienna, I’d heard so much about the city’s beauty, history, and culture and couldn’t wait to experience the city myself.

But, it turns out, 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 with the vibe of the city overall.

Back at home, I reflected on Vienna and thought maybe it was me. After all, so many people love Vienna! I decided I’d even be open to visiting Vienna again.

But, 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 to the moment.

Don’t judge yourself for feeling a certain way because whatever it is, it’s ok. It doesn’t have to be the same as what other people think.

3. Gratitude creates happiness.

Skelleftea Swedish Lapland Rainbow
How could I not feel gratitude after spotting this full rainbow!?

I’m so grateful for all of the places I’ve seen and the experiences that come from those visits.

Each trip comes with these “Are you kidding? Pinch me.” moments.

It happened while I was cruising along on a quad in the wilderness of Swedish Lapland. The feeling came again in Prague when my husband and I woke up early and had the Charles Bridge to ourselves or when we couldn’t take our eyes of the Northern Lights in Finland.

Every time I repeat the words, “thank you, thank you, thank you, out loud. It helps keep me in and appreciate the moment. And, the more I focus on my gratitude, the happier I feel.

The best part is what I learned from traveling about being grateful has carried over into my everyday life.

4. Be an eager lifelong learner.

Medina Azahara Cordoba Spain
Seeing the Medina Azahara in Cordoba, Spain reveals so much about the area’s history, culture, and people.

We’ve all seen travel quotes proclaiming how traveling is the best way of learning, expanding the mind, and broadening perspective.

Yes, they’re inspirational grains of truth, but this type of learning and personal growth doesn’t happen by accident. 

As travelers, we still need an open mind and shouldn’t judge something just because it’s different. Travel can absolutely 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 the wildlife in the Okavango Delta, every experience, every conversation allows me the chance to learn something new and see something from a different angle.

So, 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 that person is!”

5. Sometimes life gets in the way and you have to roll with it.

Cuba Stock
It would’ve been fun to cruise along in one of these old cars in Havanna!

I’ve had to cancel a trip to Cuba and 2 separate visits to Mexico City.

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.

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…

6. Embrace spontaneity.

Bryce Canyon National Park
The hoodoos at Bryce were surprised to see me in April when they were expecting me in October!

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 do the unexpected, thrilling to leap without much of a plan.

And in hindsight, I needed the vast openness of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. I needed to breathe deeply after having to cancel the trip I thought I’d be on.

The parks reminded me of my tiny 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.

7. Most times fear is not really fear.

angels landing Zion National Park
It would’ve been a shame if I let my doubts talk me out of reaching this view!

Fear is usually more perception than reality.

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. And, it takes a true pause and reflection to differentiate real fear from your own inner-sabotaging. 

I’ve traveled solo despite these thoughts. I thought I’d never leave my hotel room when I arrived in Santiago, Chile for my first solo trip, but I spent some moments with myself in that room identifying what was really going on. 

I’ve hiked Angels Landing in Zion National Park with these feelings thinking I could never make it the last bit up to the viewpoint because it’s only for real hikers.

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.

8. Experiences are better than stuff.

Mango Sticky Rice
Does my mango sticky rice look like the real deal?

I have never been a materialistic person and have 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. After so many unforgettable travel experiences, there’s no handbag or home accessory that’ll ever compare.

So I only shop for what’s necessary and 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 my family, fur babies, and friends close to me, that bring 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.

9. Pay attention to your hunches.

Sighisoara Romania
Following a hunch revealed some of the prettiest medieval villages I’d ever seen.

My entire solo trip to Romania started with 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. But, 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 doing so, Romania stole my heart and showed that perhaps it should have been on my list all along.

10. Life is now. Make every day count.

patagonia Perito Moreno
A day well-spent trekking on and admiring Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia.

People always tell me how good it is to enjoy life when you’re young. I appreciate the sound advice, but 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?

If travel is one of your true passions in life, make sure it has a consistent presence in whatever time you have left. I certainly will!

Exploring this amazing world and learning from the people in it are infinitely worthwhile ways to spend however many days we have left.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from travel? 

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