As the year is winding down, I have begun to reflect about what I have personally accomplished (and didn’t accomplish) in 2012. Don’t we all? Wahoo, I successfully lived for 2 years overseas and traveled to several new countries, but damn, I didn’t jump out of plane or learn Swahili. Oh well, there is always next year!
Like so many travel bloggers out there, I have been to new places, seen new faces, and eaten some very strange food, in some cases. Excuse my rhyming, it was intentional.
After 24 months abroad, it would be strange NOT to think back about great experiences, goals achieved, and lessons learned. For me, ticking off cities, countries, passport stamps and experiences off my travel bucket list is important, but that’s only half of it. The other, more important half, is what I learned. What values I took away from those experiences to become a better person. In my opinion, traveling and self-growth are irrevocably linked. I am on my own personal journey to become the best person I can be, each day to wake up and be better than I was the day before.
With 2 years on the road, I found myself asking (and being asked, more often than not) the ultimate question, “why do we travel? Why should we spend time abroad? What education comes from being a traveler?” Ok, I’m exaggerating, usually those questions are not put so clearly, rather they are more like “why don’t you have a real job? Where do you get the money to travel? (and my personal favorite) When are you going to grow up?”
Never, that’s when.
Boiled down to its simplest form, travel makes you a better person, that is to say, people who actively travel with an open mind and willingness to learn. Over the years I have learned things traveling around the world I never would have in a classroom or cubicle. Experience is the best and most brutal teacher. For example, when I think about 2010, not my finest year, but damn, I learned a lot of crucial lessons from my mistakes, and I am a better person now because of it.
Some people already have learned or inherently possess all of the qualities I have been working my ass off to learn while traveling, and that’s awesome, and I am insanely jealous. But for others like me, here are 5 important things I have learned while traveling and living abroad and why I think everyone should travel at some point in their lives.
How easy is it to blindly move through life so focused on our own hopes and dreams that we ignore others. Staying within the mental confines of the proverbial box is easy, thinking outside said box is pretty damn difficult. Speaking not just as an American, it’s easy to get caught up with our lives here and forget that there is a bigger world beyond our borders. One of the best things I have learned while traveling, is to develop a great love and respect for other countries. I love meeting new people, swapping stories and comparing cultures and hearing about why things are the way they are in the countries I’m traveling to.
Nothing puts things in perspective like having the tables turned, and now you are the foreigner. This has been a hard lesson to learn, one that I am still actively trying to work on, considering I am a stubborn ass and I think I know everything. When I’m traveling, I am forced to step outside my comfort zone, accept help from others, respect that different places have different values, ideas and languages and you must adapt. Just as an example, I learned the hard way how women should dress in Egypt. Actually, that’s a bad example.
Me and Oscar Wilde (his tomb in Paris) and the great author who I’ve spoofed this post title from
2. Living on a budget
Unless you are trust fund baby, traveling the world long term as a twenty-something year old will teach you how to prioritize and live on a budget, sometimes in the most painful, excruciating way. In laymen’s terms, I have learned to be poor (but rich in culture and experiences, mom!)
I’m not good with money, even after years of budget travel. I am impulsive, rash and easily wooed by shiny things. With the occasionally slip up (who doesn’t need handblown glass souvenirs?) I have gotten pretty good at buying what I need and forgoing what I just want because it glitters. Prioritizing my expenditures has made a world of difference when it comes to traveling long term. I tend to compare prices in terms of travel costs, 1 shirt or 1 night in a hostel, an iPad or an international flight. My number 1 priority is travel, everything else is secondary. And isn’t that why god invented credit cards? Kidding!
3. Be less materialistic
This goes hand in hand with living on a budget. Traveling long term or living abroad means you can’t really buy or have a bunch of stuff with you. Do you know how hard and expensive it is to travel with a lot of stuff? I used to be SO materialistic! I had boxes and boxes of clothes I’d never wear, books I read once, and trinkets gathering dust everywhere! Before I moved back to Europe, and coming home, I went through everything I owned and got rid of almost everything, packing what remained in boxes in my parent’s basement.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have a major girly desire to nest somewhere. But until that day, I act out my material frustrations by pinning my dream house on Pinterest. Sometimes I slip up, I came home from Europe in October with several tea towels, coasters and vintage posters among other things that are now safely packed away indefinitely; luckily, I accidentally bribed an airline worker and checked my bags for cheap. But ultimately, now I can fit my life in a big backpack, how many people can say that?
4. Come of out my shell
Continuing with the reptile analogy, I used to be an awkward turtle, up until I moved abroad for the first time in 2007. Growing up I used to be really shy and I was bullied in high school. Don’t get me wrong, I was a pretentious nerd-Academic Team champion (buzzers, sweater vests and all) and proud of it! But I was still painfully self-conscious and somewhat socially awkward.
However, that all changed when I moved to Spain! Nothing will ruin a trip abroad quite like not talking to anybody. For me the best experiences I have while traveling (especially solo) are when I talk to people, tourists and locals alike. Likewise, there is only so much language learning you can do online or in a classroom. The best way to learn is to talk to people. I wanted to become fluent in Spanish which meant I had to both throw my caution and reticence to the wind and talk, talk, talk!
I suppose this can backfire and now I talk too much (hence the blog). But hey, I think my personality and attitude have altogether improved, and now I don’t stutter and turn beet-red if someone asks me a question, let alone from a cute guy! Win!
5. Open your mind and chill out
Traveling will open your mind, whether you want it opened or not. One of the best things that’s happened to me from traveling is learning to be openminded and to go with the flow. There are only so many things you can control when you are traveling, and when things go wrong or don’t go the way you planned, you only have two options: make the best of it and move on or let it get you down and ruin your trip. One of my best examples was traveling all the way to Peru and NOT getting to go to Machu Picchu, but that’s a story for another day.
Just like I was a timid mousy teenager, I used to be a total tightwad. I’m still a control freak when I travel, but I have learned that many things are out of my hands and some of the best experiences you might have while traveling are the ones that come from letting your hair down and just going along for the ride! Life is a work in progress, and I am only 24. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and try to be a better person in the future.
What have you learned from traveling? Do you think traveling the world makes you a better person?
All quote images came from my Pinterest boards