5 Life Lessons from World TravelThe world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. ~St. Augustine
I’ve spent the last year wandering around the globe and exploring this wondrous thing called life. Through 26 flights, I’ve managed to circle the globe twice and touch five of the seven continents.
The journey led me to scuba diving for a month straight with whale sharks on islands in Thailand to hitchhiking my way through an African country to being paid to make sand castles on the beautiful Australian beaches to almost having a foot amputated in Asia.
It’s been a hell of an experience. I’ve learned more about the world and myself than any book, teacher or person could tell me.
I’m not claiming that this has made me a superior human being. Maybe a bit wiser, but I’m just as much human as you are. I still have trouble putting my own insights into practice.
I’m sharing what I learned because I have been able to live a multitude of different lifestyles and observe life in completely diverse ways. I have been able to learn through direct experience — the most powerful way.
Each experience, lifestyle and person I met taught me something. After time, I realized all of these lessons began to overlap in some basic principles, ones that can be applied not only to travel but to life itself.
1. Timing Will Never Be Perfect
Rarely in life are we blessed with the perfect time to do something.
When I was planning on leaving to travel for a year, it was never the “right time.” There wasn’t a perfect moment when everything was going to be put on hold for my travels.
I needed more money, I would lose my job and I was leaving my girlfriend. Everyone (including myself) had plenty of reasons not to go.
I realized that I was never going to be ready to drastically change my life — I was always going to have some new commitment or excuse. So I left at the wrong time and it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me.
Even when I was on the road, the timing was never right. I kept hearing this in some form or another.
You can’t go trekking here at this time. You won’t get a job here because it’s off-season. You won’t see the whales at this time of year. The weather won’t be good at that time.
And I was listening to them. I was missing out on so many incredible things because I was waiting for that all alluring perfect time.
Once I was sick of missing out on things I wanted to do and see, I started to just do them anyway. Yeah, they may not have been the ideal conditions, and maybe there was a better time to do these things. But doing it then was a 1000 times better than not doing it at all.
I realized this can be applied to almost anything in life. We are always waiting for the right time to start doing ______.
Whether it’s quitting that awful job, getting in shape, making that personality change or moving to our dream country. We always have some reason for it not being the right time and we’ll get around to doing it later.
When later comes, chances are there will be another excuse. I’ve learned that there will always be an uncertainty aspect to big changes or something new, but that shouldn’t stop us. Personally, I believe it’s there to get us excited.
The first step is always the hardest. Like I found out, the change may not be as perfect as we imagined it, but it will be a hell of lot better than if we didn’t do it at all.
2. Friendships Are Everything
I heard this one a lot before I left but never really believed it that much. It took me having no friends to realized their importance.
Travel can be filled with immensely lonely periods. In countries where the language barrier was strong, there would be times when I would go three or four days without a conversation.
I was seeing and experiencing incredible things but really had no one to share it with or even converse about it.
Sometimes I enjoyed the solitude. I learned a lot about myself in those times. But I didn’t understand how important social interaction was until having a simple conversation with a stranger could be the highlight of my day.
After a while as I looked back, I started to think, “Wow, I’ve seen some really cool places.” I tried to think back to my favorites — the ones I enjoyed the most.
They were always the ones where I had the best friends and really had nothing to do with where I was. The people around you contribute a great deal to your overall happiness.
Even a run-down shack in middle of foreign country with leaks in the roof, a hole in the ground for a toilet and no hot water can be fun with the right people.
We are a social species. Human interaction is part of what makes us unique. And sharing a moment with others is what truly brings our experience to life.
I put a much greater value on my friendships now, as I now know how much they affect my life. Companionship is an incredible source of happiness and a vital piece of our lives.
3. Balance is Key
When traveling, you have complete freedom to literally do anything you want. You can relax everyday on the beach, you can be alone everyday in your room, and you can decide to stay another week at your hostel.
You can eat ice cream for breakfast everyday, if you don’t like this country you just fly to next, and you can drink all the time (it always seemed like the right time to have a beer).
You have no responsibilities and no one around to tell you when you can’t do something. This freedom can be quite liberating but easily can get out of control.
Many people have a tough time balancing the party/drinking/vacation aspect with truly seeing and experiencing each country. I also fell into this trap.
After three weeks in Thailand, I realized I had done nothing but be hungover all day and drink buckets (there are no glasses in Thailand — you drink out of buckets) at night.
Yeah it was fun for the first seven nights, but then I was just doing the same thing every night.
There were other weeks where I would buy a new book, find a good little beach and do nothing but be lazy and read for days on end. That too lost its joys.
I indulged in so many aspects of life, I took everything to the extreme until it had lost its excitement.
I thought that I could achieve my dream life with this new freedom, but once I was able to do the things I wanted to do ALL the time, it wasn’t as fulfilling as I imagined. I realized that balance was the key.
I learned that everything should taken in moderation. Too much of anything is never good, and a wide range of experiences is the best.
I believe this can applied to any part of life: junk food, TV, or work. Everything in moderation.
4. Life Doesn’t Have to Be Normal
When we live in the same place for a while, we see everyone around us doing the same things and begin to think that’s the proper way to live. We watch what most people do and think that’s how it has to be.
Go to school, get a job, get promoted, buy a big house, have a family and then retire. When anyone strays from this path, they are considered not normal and frowned upon.
It’s only when I started traveling that I saw that a fulfilling and happy life isn’t always a respectable job with a big house and lots of money.
I began to meet interesting characters from all over the world and saw first hand how they have gone against the grain and succeeded. I saw and experienced how happy people are doing something completely different than normal jobs.
I guess once I started to meet all these off-the-beaten-track individuals, I start to understand how easy it really was.
It’s not that tough to become a scuba dive instructor and dive everyday or to make enough money busking to travel anywhere or to travel for free by working on a cruise ship or to start a blog and become location independent.
Yes, a lot of these people will not make as much money as a secure job back home and probably only own a few things, but that doesn’t matter to them. They get to wake up everyday and do what they want to do in the place they want to be.
There are tons of other ways to live a fulfilling and happy life, but most of us have only seen the “big house” scenario. The other ones are out there — we just have to go find them.
5. Go With the Flow
You can make all the plans in the world, but we all know by now that life rarely goes according to plan.
Preparation is important, but only to a certain extent. For me, flights got cancelled, getting lost was a daily occurrence, it rained on hiking days, and I left a different towel at every hostel.
It would have been easy to let these things frustrate me and ruin my travels (and in the beginning it did), but I learned to just ride the roller coaster of life with its ups and downs.
As soon as something didn’t go as expected, I learned not to resist it. I dropped whatever expectations I had and didn’t focus on what was supposed to happen, rather what I could make happen now.
I would dance in the rain while hiking, find somewhere new and exciting when I was lost, play hide-and-seek with kids while sleeping in the airport for two days. I knew even if they seemed to be less-than-ideal situations they would be good stories one day.
Missed your bus today? You can either be frustrated and let it ruin your day, or you can make that the best thing that happened to you today.
It could be the reason you get to walk to work a different way, explore a new part of the city, find a new cafe or even just get some needed fresh air. It comes down to letting go of resistance.
I’m not saying we should all float through life with no expectations. Just that when bad things happen, try not to resist them: Accept, laugh or embrace it and try to focus only on the thing you can change — the present.
And now, as every travel junkie loves to do, I’m going to plug my addiction to you, in hopes that you too will become addicted to traveling.
Traveling brings the world to life. You can read about things, watch them on TV or hear stories from a friend, but nothing comes close to first-hand human experience.
You get a whole new perspective on what really matters, and you feel this sense of adventure and excitement that reminds you just how many possibilities you have in life.
To anyone who has not travelled: Find a way to do it, even if it’s to the next town over. And to those who have, continue to do so. It will teach you more about yourself and the world around you than you could ever imagine.
If you read this whole thing, I sincerely appreciate your time. I hope the things that have changed my life can help you change yours. Happy travels!