Today is the anniversary of when we set off into the world, not knowing what to expect but excited about the journey that lay ahead. This would be the longest either one of us has been away from home, the first time away from our families for the holidays and the longest trip we’ve taken together as a couple. As you can imagine, a trip like this can and will change you. It will change how you view the world around you, how you treat relationships back home and think about what you truly value in life. You’ll find out things about yourself and what your are truly capable of when you travel the world. Here are some lessons I learned when I traveled the globe.
This is the most practical lesson I learned. Even after reading several blog posts from other travelers, I still overpacked. My 65L Osprey Atmos was filled to the brim and it was difficult loading and unloading into cabs, planes & trains. Laurie and I ended up sending a package home (which cost us $100 from England) with extra stuff we didn't need. I packed extra clothes, an extra pair of sneakers and a bunch of electronics that I didn't need and carried with me the whole trip. Don't do that! If you're a reader, buy an e-reader that allows you to have multiple books downloaded instead of carrying a bunch of books with you. Try bringing a pair of sneakers that double as trainers and also something nice to go out in. Lastly, if you like taking pictures (and you should for a long-term trip) bring 1 camera or just your smartphone. You won't want to carry a bunch of equipment and your clothes on your back. On my last few travels I have brought one 30L bag with me. Maybe it's too minimalist for you but you'll realize the freedom this minimal travel will give you. In a way it gets you to look deeper into yourself and think “What do I actually NEED?”. Once you start to think this way about travel, maybe you can start to think this way in your everyday life.
What Type of Traveler am I?
I really learned what type of traveler I was during our 6 months overseas. In the beginning, we started off fast, bouncing around from city to city, seeing the main sites and moving on. After a few weeks doing this not only were we exhausted but we felt as if we were missing something. We felt more like tourists than travelers. Don't get me wrong, seeing the sites is great but if that's all you do I think you're doing yourself a great disservice.
I find myself preferring to engage with locals and emerge myself in the culture rather than just seeing a statue or building and moving on. It was a better experience for me. I got to hear first hand how others around the world lived, what they thought about the world and the United States. It was interesting and it enhanced my experience. I'm not saying that visiting sites such as the Colosseum in Rome or The Great Wall of China weren’t amazing, but don't let seeing the sites be the focus point of your travels. If we didn't visit a tourist site, we were probably making great memories.
Travel Changes You
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
Traveling long-term changes you. You get to experience different cultures and how others around the world live. I noticed many cultures who put more value on their time away from work than we do in the United States. Most people in Europe start off with 20-25 days of vacation time. That is the most I could ever achieve at my current employer and that is when I complete 25 years of service. Many local shops are closed on Sundays and many cities still have some sort of mid-day break or siesta. When we visited Buenos Aires during the holidays most places were shut down. While highly inconvenient for a traveler, I could respect the fact that they put value on spending time with family during these special holidays. I've started to put these lessons into practice and have spent more time with my loved ones.
Along, with this also comes another change and depending on who you ask, it can be seen as a negative. Since my return I have been struggling getting back into a routine and enjoying the things I used to take pleasure in. I'm always thinking about traveling, about the next adventure, daydreaming of somewhere else. I've been described as being preoccupied, not present or even depressed by friends and family. I've been working on that, I've been trying to be more grateful for what I do have and not focus on what I think I'm missing out on. Some days are good, some not so good. It's still a work in progress and I believe it's all a part of my growing as a human being.
The World is Not a Scary Place
“The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine
I can't tell you how many times someone would tell us, “You're going to ______? Be careful.”. I can tell those people this: There is nothing to worry about. The world is not as scary as the news would have you believe. This is not to say the world is unicorns and rainbows; you need to be cautious and aware of your surroundings, but there is no reason to be scared. In general people are more likely to want to help you than harm you. Most people are just trying to live their lives, protect and provide for their families and trying to enjoy themselves. When I left for this trip I thought that people were generally good and I'm happy to report back that my thoughts are true in our experience. Not once did I feel uncomfortable or fear for mine or Laurie’s well being. My advice to you? Go out there, find out for yourself and make your own opinions.
Spontaneity is Key
Being spontaneous was a key part in this trip. We’re always asked if we planned out everything ahead of time and while we did plan out the major flights before we left, everything else we left up in the air. It was actually liberating, not knowing where the day or week would take us, not knowing who I would meet or what I would see. It may sound cliche but I really felt alive, I felt as if I was really living my life the way it was meant to be lived. I have found that I'm really not a fan of having a routine, which can come into conflict with life back home and working full-time. So we try to make the most of our days off going on day-trips or weekends trips to neighboring cities. So far it's been working like a charm.
I'm in Charge of My Life
“Our lives didn't need to be this linear, predestined path for us to blindly follow”
Lastly, this is the most important lesson from my travels. When I was younger I thought going to college, getting a job & buying a house was the only road to success in life. That's what was ingrained in my head, have kids, send them to college, retire and then travel. That is the path I took. I always wanted to travel but how could I with two weeks (10 days) vacation, not making a lot of money and having a house that I needed to fix.
Laurie and I will always play the game of “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Traveling the world was always on the top of our lists. But we couldn't or so we thought. After some unfortunate events in our lives and the daily grind finally taking its toll, we decided it's enough. We didn't need to win the lottery to travel the world, we were going to take charge of our lives and do what made us happy. Our lives didn't need to be this linear, predestined path for us to blindly follow. This was the most freeing moment in my life and the most important lesson: Live your life, take charge, do what makes you happy.
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Traveler. Blogger. Amateur Photographer. "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." - Helen Keller.