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I think Miriam Beard may have said it best,
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living”.
After traveling to over 30 countries in the past five years, I have grown immensely as a person and learned many invaluable life lessons. And without any further adieu, here are the top ten life lessons that travel has taught or affirmed for me.
10. Go With The Flow
This isn’t to say that you just let life toss you around like a rag doll. It’s more about picking and choosing your battles. It’s about changing what you can, and accepting what you can’t change. The more you try to control something, the more it has control over you.
A great example of this was when I was island hopping in Greece in 2008. I had been informed that if I showed up to the small island of Samos, I would have no trouble finding a place to stay, as there would be a few old Greek ladies waiting at the port that rented out rooms in their houses to travelers. When the ferry pulled in around midnight there was not one precious old Greek lady to be found. I walked into the small town only to find out the only hotel in town was completely full and there was only one other hotel on the island which was a 30 minute walk. I walked in the scorching hot Greek summer night across the island carrying my pack and sweating profusely. I got to the second hotel finally only to find out that they too were fully booked.
At this point it was nearly 1am, I was hot, sweaty and exhausted. I was stressed out and totally frustrated by the situation.
When I realized I had no other choice, I hiked to the nearest beach, lay down and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning with all my stuff, and realized if you just go with the flow, things eventually tend to work themselves out.
As Bruce Lee once put it,
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
9. You Only Get Out What You Put In
I have countless examples of this, but a great example would be last year when I did some trekking in Eastern Java, Indonesia. In order to see the sunrise from a certain peak, I had to get up at 4:00am (after only 4 hours of sleep due to the previous days transportation arriving late).
At 4am I had to hike for two hours in the cold. Getting up on it’s own was a challenge enough, but the cold just made it down right miserable. Getting to see the sunrise from this fantastic vantage point, PRICELESS. Sure I could have slept in and waited for it to warm up, but I wouldn’t have gotten the full pay off of seeing the sunrise.
8. Constantly Challenge Yourself, Both Physically and Mentally
Challenging yourself pushes you to grow and it keeps life exiting and new. My high school soccer coach once told our team,
“Every day you either get a little bit better or a little less good. Nothing ever stays the same, no matter how slight the change, change is always happening. So do you want to get better or worse today?”
This is quite evident in a physical aspect but what about mentally?
One of the reasons I love travel is it is constantly throwing me in to new situations, meeting new people, and having new experiences. Every day becomes somewhat of a challenge because you don’t have a set routine that you can blindly follow. When I return from a long trip, I usually get a little depressed (as do most travelers) but it has taught me to always look for new challenges even when you find yourself in familiar situations or places. So ask your self, how can you mix up your daily routine, to keep things fresh and new, physically and mentally.
7. Always Keep An Open Mind And Try New Things
This is one of the greatest things I have learned from traveling. Maybe I was lucky to have parents that pushed me to try different foods when I was younger or maybe I just developed an open mind over time, but regardless, having an open mind has exposed me to so many incredible experiences, foods, and people. Like anything, having an open mind just takes practice. Somewhat like in the Jim Carrey movie, Yes Man. Basically, a guy challenges himself to say “yes” to everything for an entire year (I recommend giving it a watch even if only for entertainment value).
I have visited countries which most people in the west wouldn’t dream of going to, due to how the media and Hollywood portray them; Places such as Israel, Cambodia, Indonesia, Serbia, Colombia, etc. I will get more into this next in #6.
I have tried a plethora of exotic foods that most people I know from western countries wouldn’t dream of eating, from scorpions to spiders to bats to snake to hard-boiled fertilized duck embryos (known as Balut in the Philippines) and so on. And guess what, I was pleasantly surprised with more than 50% of the things I tried. There is a reason after all that these foods are popular in certain regions.
It comes down to mind over matter. The duck embryos are a great example. Most people would eat duck, and most people would eat a hard boiled egg. but if you combine the two, people all of a sudden get hysterical and grossed out. I will admit it does look a little gross, but the taste is incredible. If I was closed minded I would have never known the juicy delicacy for myself.
I have hitchhiked and stayed in complete strangers houses. I have met some of the most friendly people and had some of the greatest experience during my travels by trusting and being open to the kindness of strangers. Again the media and Hollywood would have you think that everyone is out to get you and chop of your head. The truth is far from it. If I didn’t have an open mind I would only stay in hotels and take chartered buses everywhere. But you don’t make the same connections like that, let me tell you.
Lastly be open to local customs and traditions. For instance, in South East Asia, I learned I actually preferred squatting toilets and taking showers with a pail and bucket. And again back to the food, by keeping an open mind to what the locals eat, you can discover new flavors and tastes. The possibilities are endless if you only keep an open mind.
6. Do Not Base Your Reality On Media and Movies
Oh how I can’t emphasize this enough. The number of times I have heard someone say “You went to [insert country with notorious past here], are you crazy? Isn’t it dangerous?” If there is anything travel has taught me first hand, it’s that you should be very skeptical of, and take what you see in the media with a grain of salt.
The media and Hollywood want to get ratings and get people emotional. What better way than by solely focusing on all the horrors and atrocities and nothing else? This is not to say that all countries are safe and the media is completely full of shit. Many of the countries I mentioned had very troubled pasts and some even have quite severe issues to date. That being said, basing your opinion on an entire country because of what the news reports would be like basing your entire opinion of an amazing buffet on one lousy dish.
Do your own research, search for travel blogs, try to find friends or friends of friends who have gone, and get first hand accounts from people who have nothing to gain by dramatizing their accounts. You will find that some of the places which have the most notorious pasts, have the friendliest people and most beautiful and untouched sights to see.
5. Network Network Network!
Networking is so clutch, from business to making the world a smaller place. Wherever I travel I always try to meet locals and make local connections. It’s always great to get local knowledge and advice and can add a lot to your adventure. It can also open up tons of unforeseen opportunities and friendships.
From networking I have gotten new clients for my web development and photography business, I have gotten invaluable resources to help me with my business, I have made friends, discovered lovers, found help when I needed it, the list goes on. The world can be a big foreign place or a tight knit community and support network, it is really your choice.
4. The Gift Of Giving
Over my various travels I have found there isn’t anything quite as satisfying as giving, one of the true joys of life. Be it sharing your snacks on the train with a stranger, giving someone a hand, giving people portraits, giving someone advice, or even giving a simple compliment or smile. You can really change someones day, restore a persons faith in humanity, and generally just make this a nicer place to be.
3. Do More With Less
Possessions weigh you down. For one, if I submitted to the materialist consumer culture that is rife in my city and society in general these days, there is no way I could have afforded to travel to all the places I have. Cutting back on unnecessary purchases has saved me thousands of dollars. While some friends are buying new clothing every week, or the newest iPhone, etc. I hold back, knowing that I would much prefer to spend my hard earned money on incalculable experiences.
Further more, when you are traveling, you quickly notice how possessions literally way you down. The more stuff you have the more challenging moving around becomes. The more you have to worry about loosing. The more clunky you are. Learning to travel light is liberating. Just as learning to live with less is liberating. When you realize you don’t need to buy all the shit pushed down your throat by companies trying to make a buck off of you, yo u realize you don’t need to bust your back to be able to afford those things, you realize all the awesome things you can do for cheap or free, the list of benefits goes on. Try it.
2. Learn To Let Go
Be it of material possessions, negative feelings, missed opportunities, people, etc.. learn to let go. Many people suffer from an addiction to attachment. Needing their phone. Needing to be right. Needing to get the best deal. Needing to be with someone. The fact is you really don’t need any of those things. A lot of this need is tied up in peoples egos. Once you can learn to tell your ego to take a hike, its a lot easier to realize you don’t NEED your phone, you don’t need to resent someone because they treated you poorly, that it’s ok if you over paid for something, that you don’t need someone else to fulfill your happiness, and so on.
Once you can step back and sort out your needs from your wants, you will be freed from so much unnecessary stress and unhappiness it will blow your mind. It’s fine to want things. It’s fine to want to be with someone. It’s fine to be disappointed when things don’t turn out how you expected. But when you realize you don’t need those things, you can let go and move forward happily.
1. Attitude Is Everything!
If you can wrap up the first 9 lessons into an attitude and implement it in your life, you will be able to take on just about anything that comes your way not to mention an overall happier person.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.” – Charles R. Swindoll
I find having a good attitude has gotten me through so many situations. One of the best examples of this would have been last year when I was two weeks into my 11-month India/South East Asia trip, I had my bag, all my clothing, $400usd and my MacBook Pro stolen on a train in India.
My first reaction was complete surprise, because the thieves were so sneaky about it (I was wide awake and my bag was literally 2 feet from me). Long story short I simply accepted what had happened and decided to let go and move on. The Indian couple sharing the 6-person cabin with me said, “Wow, you are taking this quite sportingly”. I replied by saying, “Well there’s nothing I can really do now about it. It’s gone and there’s no use in getting upset it will just make me feel worse”. In short, there is no use crying over spilt milk. I think if the same thing had happened to me five or so years earlier I would have lost my head, and have been disturbed for quite some time. I may have even canceled my whole trip right there. Attitude is really everything.
I hope this blog has provided some insightful lessons for you to think about and try to implement in your own life. I know they have certainly increased my enjoyment and happiness and I hope, no, I know they can do the same for you.
Looking for more travel inspired life lessons? Check out my friend Anna’s blog post 27 Life Lessons Learned in My One Year of Travel on her blog, Annzventures.