I recently wrapped up a long trip around the world in which I visited 43 countries in a single year.
It was easily the most incredible year in my life, and no amount of words can convey the experiences you have while traveling that far (though I’ve try to do it through pictures in my post with my favorite photo from each of the 43 countries).
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the life lessons I learned on that trip: how it’s changed me, and how’s it’s changed my view of the world.
So I’ve collected my 43 top life lessons learned traveling into single post. I hope you can identify with some of them!
So here it is:
It took years to work up the courage to leave it all behind and travel the world. I can’t remember how many times I questioned if it was realistic, or practical, or if it would ruin my careers, or my relationships.
You only live life once, and you can’t take things with you when it’s done. So while I own little other than what I pack in my backpack, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for all the possessions in the world.
It’s exhilarating, nostalgic, euphoric, terrifying, and gut-wrenching all at once. It’s an emotional serum that’s unlike anything else.
When I finally booked my return flight nearly a year later, it was with a sense of relief after a particularly exhausting period in my trip. But that relief mixed with anxiety, fear, and even more nostalgia when I buckled up for the last time on the tarmac of the Mexico City airport for that final flight home.
I used to be the kind of traveler who sends day-by-day itineraries to their travel mates weeks before departing for an international vacation.
But after enough time, you start to learn that the best experiences are unplanned. From making a group of Russian friends in the self-proclaimed nation of Abkhazia, to spontaneously renting a campervan and driving Tasmania, my favorite memories were rarely something I expected beforehand.
The Earth is huge. I visited 43 countries in a year (which is still less than a quarter of those in the world!), and I barely scratched the surface on most of them.
Tourists often engage in herd mentality when it comes to picking places to visit. I call that “travel lemming” thinking, and it’s the inspiration for my blog’s name.
But if you get off the lemming path and dare to discard your preconceived notions about what and where is worth your time, you’ll discover some awesome places to travel.
It’s no secret that I hated Santorini. And I was fully prepared to hate Paris for the same reasons. It would be overcrowded and underwhelming, I thought. So I put off going there for years until a friend finally talked me into it while we were traveling Europe.
And, well … I was wrong.
Paris is freaking awesome.
It may be one of the most visited places in the world, but I now totally get why.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard someone declare about a destination: “Oh, I definitely don’t want to go there. That’s totally not my kind of place.”
Really? How will you know unless you go?
I didn’t love Berlin the first time I visited. It was rainy. And cold. And everything was sooooo freaking far from everything else.
But then I went back later in the trip, with better weather and (just maybe) a better attitude. And I totally and completely loved the city on the second pass!
I know, I know, this piece of advice is coming from someone who whipped around to 43 countries in almost as many weeks.
But there is something to the argument that the travel can be more enjoyable when it isn’t rushed, and when you don’t have a checklist of things to do, countries to visit, or places to see.
It’s the cruelest part about travel: it makes you want to see everything.
And it also eventually makes you realize that is impossible.
On the other hand, ignore those travel snobs who turn up their noses at those who quickly tour destinations.
Speaking of what you do with your time:
In Thailand and Bali, many backpackers complain about getting “templed out” – that feeling of exhaustion that comes from visiting the region’s many stunning temples day after day.
There’s simply no shame in skipping an attraction that everyone else insists you must do.
Even the popular sites that I felt were a little overrated, like Macchu Pichu, were still very impressive. And some sites – like the Great Pyramids – truly did put me in awe.
So, even if you just wanted to go to see the famous sites, that’s cool too.
Many of the times I got tired of travel, it was really because I was trying to do what somebody else wanted me to do, or what I thought I SHOULD be doing.
Ignore all of that and you’ll be a happier traveler.
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A friend and I got burglarized in Belize.
I had so many flights cancelled, and buses delayed.
I checked into a place with bedbugs.
Sometimes travel just sucks.
My friend got his phone back. I got out of the desert. I always made my next destination. I got another hotel.
So, in the end, none of those things were true problems.
There are so many people who are struggling with real problems – illness, disability, poverty, discrimination, the loss of a loved one – that your “problems” may seem pretty small if you put them in perspective.
Have you ever asked: “Is it safe to travel to ______?”
98% of the time the answer is simply a straightforward “yes.”
The world isn’t filled with people who are out to get you.
When it comes to understanding you, on the other hand….
I remember a well-meaning elderly man on a tour of Kazbegi, Georgia giving me a long lecture about how I was too young to be traveling so much, how I hadn’t earned the right to do so, and how I was ignoring more important responsibilities back home.
He wasn’t even close to the only one to be so presumptuous and condescending.
On the other hand, the much more common reaction when people hear you are traveling long-term is one of pure admiration and jealousy.
Get ready to answer the same questions about why and how you travel the world, though.
So many people seem to think something like: “I would love to travel the world. But it’s just not practical because I could never afford it.”
I’ve met people who have traveled on as little as $20 per day.
Even at $50 per day, that means you can save up for a month of travel by stashing away a mere $4.10 per day for a year. That’s less than the cost of a latte!
Sure, travel costs money.
But so does owning and maintaining a car.
And so does buying a new TV or a new iPhone every year.
And so does going out on the town every weekend to distract your mind from your miserable workweek.
The truth is, when you add it all up, it’s entirely possible that you’ll spend a lot less money on the road.
Though I think travel is much more affordable and accessible than many realize, I also would never dare be one of those bloggers that says “travel is possible for everyone.”
Some people are ill or disabled.
Or don’t know where their next meal will come from.
Or live in an oppressed country or a society that attacks them because of who they are.
You can see more of the world in a one week vacation than 98% of the people ever born on this planet will see in their entire lives.
Don’t act like you’re entitled to travel. Just appreciate that you have the opportunity to do it.
You may know a friend your entire life. But you’ll get to know them in an entirely different way when you travel together.
And not every friendship survives the test of travel.
If a friendship can survive the rollercoaster of emotions and situations that comes with travel, it’s built to last.
My biggest fear when I set out to travel the world solo was that I would be lonely.
And you know what?
I almost never was.
Just because you didn’t arrive with a friend doesn’t mean you won’t leave with many.
Potential new friends are everywhere: on buses, in hostels, on tours, or just about anywhere.
Wherever you are, and whoever you are, there is always an incredible soul just waiting to be your new friend.
I’ve had to hold back tears saying goodbye to friends I met on the road, only to realize I hadn’t even met them that same time the day before.
Even the most experienced travelers get tired of traveling and fall homesick.
It happened to me in Eastern Europe last summer, when I made an impromptu decision to head home a couple weeks ahead of schedule.
When I finally bought that final ticket home, I suddenly had a limited amount of time on my trip and so that caused me to focus on doing the things I really wanted to do.
And, before you know it, I had that old feeling back:
“I want to travel forever.”
Social media has made travel performative theater.
Many people will travel to a place not to enjoy it but to take the perfect jealousy-inducing photo for their Instagram account.
And so many people (myself included sometimes) spend more of their trips looking at their screens than the incredible places right in front of their faces!
You know those iconic photos of Santorini that fill up your feed every summer?
Well, there are only a few spots where those shots are taken and people literally shove and push each other out of the way to get the best photo.
Instagram is, simply, the worst.
On the other hand, social media and the Internet has ignited wanderlust in so many people. And it’s caused them to think about other places, cultures, and peoples.
So, if you believe as I do that travel is generally a good force in the world (travel is fatal to prejudice, after all), then I guess Instagram has its redeeming qualities.
Though I took lots of photos on my trip around the world (see some of my favorites here), for most of the voyage I resisted placing myself in the frame.
But you know what?
When you get home, those photographs will help you remember and re-experience those amazing places you visited.
So, even if you’re not a shutter bug, take a few shots. You may wish you had later.
The most painful parts of travel are witnessing bigotry, oppression, ignorance, and hatred.
All those things exist nearly everywhere. And it’s tragic.
I traveled as an American during the year Donald Trump became President of my country. And, whatever your politics, the undeniable fact is that people abroad absolutely hate Trump. I mean, they really, really loathe him.
But I almost never felt like people held that against me personally.
Ultimately, most people know there is a difference between that disliked foreign government across the ocean and the human being right in front of them.
For whatever reason, people have a horrible history of doing terrible things to each other in groups.
But when you get a person — just about any person — alone, you quickly that they are an incredible being with a good heart, plenty of their own personal battles, and tons of flaws…. just like you.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from traveling for a year is just this one observation:
People are far more alike than they are different.
No matter the country they live in, the color of their skin, the persons they choose to love, the god they pray to (or don’t), or the money they carry in their wallet, most people are good at heart.
And that is why this crazy journey has convinced me that humanity is amazing.
That the world is incredible.
And that both of those things are worth fighting for.
That’s it: my 43 top lessons from traveling the world!
If you feel the same way about travel, I’d love it if you’d share this on social media. And please let me know what YOU’VE learned from travel by scrolling down and leaving a comment!