10 Life Lessons Travel Has Taught Me

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life lessons travel

Sunset over Lanzarote, Spain in the Canary Islands

Over the years, I’ve found I do some of my best thinking when I’m traveling.

Away from the hustle and bustle of life back home, between checking my phone for texts and being pushed to “succeed”, I find that I can relax and philosophize. While traveling, it’s common to have long train rides, plane journeys or bus commutes that leave me just enough time to just sit back, stare out the window, and reflect.

Being in a beautiful place or experiencing something “once in a lifetime” is also a great catalyst for some deep thinking.

Last week was my 25th birthday, and I might have experienced a mini-quarter life crisis. Fresh off the plane from Jordan, I was busy with work and visiting friends in NYC and New England. As great as that was, I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing at the precipice of success and failure. All my friends from college are moving forward and doing “what’s expected,” working full-time jobs, getting engaged, settling down, and (my heavens) getting pregnant. And what was I doing with my life? Living out of a backpack. Again. Will I always be the nomadic (boho chic) hobo of my group of friends?

“Oh there goes Liz, she’s off traveling, can’t remember where. I wonder when she’ll meet a nice guy and settle down?”

God, shoot me now.

life lessons travel

Como, Italy

Lately, I feel like I have had to explain my decision to quit my job to travel the world to people close to me, which SUCKS but is expected, I suppose. More often than not though, I find that I have to justify my decision to myself. Doubt, worry, and fear creep and lurk in the back of my mind all the damn time, but I try my best to be optimistic and remind myself that this is the life I want.

Call me cheesy, but I really think that over the years travel has helped me become a better person. I’ve learned lessons abroad I don’t think would have taken hold in me if I hadn’t experienced them overseas. So when I am doubtful, sad or trying to tell people that I don’t just throw my money out the window and get drunk while traveling, that it actually has MEANING to me, that I actually grow and improve from my experiences abroad, I remind myself of these lessons I’ve learned hopping around the world.

I truly believe that world travel is the best education you can get.

life lessons travel

1. Experiences > bling bling

How do I put this delicately? I grew up kinda spoiled. An only child with an overindulgent mother compensating for the loss of my father, I did not want for much growing up; in fact, I grew up pretty god damn materialistic (I can’t believe I’m admitting this!) Just thinking about the amount of crap I had in my college dorm room makes me shudder now. But somewhere along the line between trying to haul several tons of shoes overseas and back and getting my credit cards cut off, I learned to reevaluate my priorities in life, and I learned to value experiences more than clothes and DVDs.

life lessons travel

Washington D.C.

After traveling so much, I know how much something like a 2 week trip to South America will cost, or how much you’ll spend to move to Spain for a year and work. Learning to prioritize travel expenditures has made all the differences over the years. Personally, I would much rather have those experiences and memories than a new car, a nice apartment, or let’s say a Mulberry Alexa bag – which, if you know me at all, I would do some desperate, depraved thing to be able to own one.

It took years of debt, sleeping on airport floors and eating nothing but ramen, but I learned what’s important to me and I learned how to be financially independent. Talk about cliche, but money really can’t buy happiness.

life lessons travel

Near Petra, Jordan

2.  Appreciation

This one is fairly obvious but it does bear repeating now and then. When I tell people how often I travel, I frequently am met with the famous “oh gosh, you are so lucky!” comment.

Well, I HATE that comment because it’s usually implied with a sly hint of “you must come from money” or somehow I didn’t have to work as hard for this lifestyle. I’ve waxed poetic enough about lame excuses for not traveling, but for different reasons I do believe I am very lucky to be able to follow my dreams.

life lessons travel

Geneva, Switzerland

What makes me lucky is the fact that I was born in a country with opportunity; I have an incredibly emotionally supportive mother, and I’ve surrounded myself with friends who share my dreams and are encouraging. Not everyone has that.

Traveling around the world and seeing people in all sorts of circumstances makes me appreciate my freedom more and more. I don’t think people can truly appreciate what they have until you travel somewhere and are faced with abject poverty, or to a place where people don’t have the same freedoms we are blessed with back home. That is where I consider myself lucky, and I don’t think I would have ever come to that realization without traveling far and wide.

life lessons travel

3. Never trust a taxi driver

Confession: I have taxi cab prejudice. I’m sure this will lead to several troll comments but I do not care.

I have be screwed, swindled and conned so many times by taxi drivers over the years that it’s a flippin’ miracle I still will even consider riding in them.

Several terrifying incidents on public transport plus one time getting mistaken for a hooker usually leads me to just grab a taxi (when I have baggage), but there is usually a high chance I’ll regret it. When will I learn?

Whether not restarting the meter when you get in, slowing down at yellow lights (c’mon! speed up man!), charging you more to use the trunk or adding on “fees,” or my personal favorite, driving all over town or taking the long way to your destination, I swear nine times out of ten I find myself questioning the taxi driver and paying more than I should.

The only problem is that I hate buses more than taxis!

life lessons travel

Ollantaytambo, Peru

4. Roll with the punches

Now you may find this hard to believe, but I have been accused of being high maintenance and downright difficult over the years. Shocker, I know. Used to be if things didn’t go according to plan when traveling, I would have a cow.

However, if I have learned one thing from travel, it’s that there is only so much you can control. The rest is out of your hands and the focus shifts to how you deal and cope with the situation. This was brutally reaffirmed for me on a disastrous trip to Peru a few years back when literally EVERYTHING went wrong.

It has taken a long time, but I have finally adapted to the mentality of “look on the brightside” when things start go down the drain on the road. Trust me, there is always a brightside. Patience is a virtue.

What’s the biggest mishap you’ve had while traveling?

life lessons travel

5. Pack like a boss 

Harkening back to number one, and owing to the fact that I used to be highly addicted to shopping, packing for a trip used to be SO HARD for me. I know, talk about first world problems. Though I still tend to overpack, I pretty much can fit everything I need into a backpacking backpack and small tote for anything from a 2 week trip to two months.

Part two of this life lesson is that travel has also taught me how to pack a bag for a trip in less than an hour. When you are always rushing for something (plane, bus, boat, or train) being able to pack light and fast is key. I think if you can prioritize and pack a suitcase quickly and efficiently, this will carry over into your real life and can only help you make decisions and decide what’s important.

life lessons travel

Jungfrau, Switzerland

When you have to carry your life on your back like a turtle, you quickly learn to the difference between what would be nice to have and what you can’t live with out. Prioritizing is a great life lesson to learn, and one I can fully thank from travel.

Here are my three best packing tips:

  1. Buy an e-reader if you can’t travel without books
  2. 2 pairs of jeans MAX
  3. Leave the high heels at home

life lessons travel

Jerash, Jordan

6. You can’t please everyone

This has been a bitter pill to swallow, and one that I am still working on every day. I was born a people-pleaser, and it physically hurts me when I piss people off, or when someone doesn’t care for what I write.

But between traveling long0-term and writing, I have learned that no matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who disagrees with you, and there is nothing you can do about it. It also took me a long time to learn that I would rather say what I am thinking, have an opinion and risk disagreement than to write or say wishy-washy BS that doesn’t really say anything at all, just for the sake of avoiding stepping on toes.

I think it’s really important to have opinions and believe in yourself, especially for girls. Don’t be afraid to say what you’re thinking. No matter how hard you try, there is always someone out there who will disagree with you, or dislike you, and there is nothing you can do about it. So instead, focus your energy on doing what you love, and don’t let the trolls get you down.

Here are the best hate comments I’ve ever gotten along with my sassy replies. Enjoy.

life lessons travel

7. Don’t let a fear of failure hold you back

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I wouldn’t try something new or be embarrassed to do something different because I was so afraid I would fail. Like I wouldn’t apply for a certain job because I convinced myself that they would never hire me. Or I wouldn’t try a certain activity while traveling because I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Now that’s no way to live.

Failure will always happen, but instead of avoiding it, I’ve tried to adopt the mentality of A. not letting a fear of failing keep me from trying something new, and B. if I do fail, then I’ll deal with it and try to learn from it. For example, 2010-2011, not my best year. I look back on it and some of the decisions I made and just CRINGE!

But instead of thinking man, what a failure of a year, I try to tell myself, ah 2011, now that was a learning experience! (this is my way of not getting caught up in the negative).

You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try. So move forward and ignore your fears, trepidations or naysayers in the back of your head. You’ve got more important things to think about.

life lessons travel

Urederra, Spain

8. “Comparison is the thief of joy”

While in Jordan, I met my blogging twin, C’est Christine. While camping in the Dana Nature Preserve, we chatted in our teepee under the stars about blogging, boys and life. I told her one of the biggest issues I’ve been struggling with this year is comparing myself to other bloggers. Lately travel blogging has seemed to me to be one giant circle jerk that stresses me out. Normally I try to keep my distance and do my own thing, but often times when I get the most upset and stressed out, it’s directly related to me comparing myself and my work with other bloggers. U.N.H.E.A.L.T.H.Y.

Confiding this in Christine sometime around midnight, as the bright desert stars made our white teepee glow in the dark, she sagely quoted something I’ve had jotted down in one of my notebooks for years:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt. True story, Teddy.

life lessons travel

Dana Preserve, Jordan

This is something I continuously remind myself with as I throw myself in deeper and deeper with blogging. You can’t compare your work with others because it will start to eat away at you, and nothing productive can come from it.

Instead, I try to take a step back, focus on what I have done and where I want to go, planning my journey there. Travel has helped me find my own path in life, and no matter how many travel bloggers are out there, we all are on our own unique journeys.

life lessons travel

9. Don’t wait around

If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that things don’t just fall perfectly in your lap. You have to want it AND go for it. You have to be proactive about your own life.

Talking with many people all over the world, I occasionally get the impression that some people just wait around, float through life, hoping that something will happen to them.

Now, I may have said that travel has taught me patience, but I’m not that patient. If I want something (especially if it’s travel related), I go after it with both hands and take it. I don’t wait around to see if I won that free trip to Aruba. I start a savings account, cut back on my Starbucks and shoe addiction, and I make it happen. It’s easy to just go along and be satisfied with what you have, but if you want more out of life, if you want to experience the world, nobody is going to  just hand you a check for 10 grand and paid leave from work. You have to do it yourself.

One of the best things travel has taught me has been to be proactive.

life lessons travel

10.  Life’s short, for fuck’s sake, do what makes you happy

I count myself incredibly lucky that I haven’t suffered any major accidents, setbacks, or losses that have kept me from following my dreams.

Plenty of people around the world aren’t so lucky. Sometimes it takes a major event or tragedy to make you realize how short and precious life is. You have to make the most of it.

life lessons travel

Porto, Portugal

Excuse me for even bringing up this painful, overdone, almost laughable cliche, but I think it’s something we are trained in America to ignore completely. We are so driven down a certain path, we are so focused on the one strong desire to succeed, that we forget that life is a journey, it moves fast, and if you don’t stop and look around, you might miss it.

Who knew Ferris Bueller could be so philosophical?

Do not put off your dreams indefinitely. I think that is quite possibly the biggest mistake people make nowadays. Trading in your hopes for doing what you think you should be doing, telling yourself you can do it later. What if you don’t get that chance?

If traveling is what makes you happy, do it now. Do it while you can.

11. Your turn

What’s one life lesson you’ve learned from traveling? Dish!

life lessons travel

Ronda, Spain

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165 Comments on “10 Life Lessons Travel Has Taught Me

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  1. Damn girl, I can relate to all of these. Especially as I try to make my way into travel writing/travel more- the doubts, frustration, impatience. Taking a step back to calm the hell down and reflect on the things that I’ve learned from traveling has helped me deal (damn feelings, getting in the way of things). The things you learn while traveling are conveniently applicable to not-traveling-life, too.

    But I think the biggest thing traveling has taught me is your #6 – haters gonna hate. As a fellow perpetual-people-pleaser, this has been the toughest for me to handle. What do you mean my hometown friends are going to think I’m weird and wasting my life? Why doesn’t my family think quitting my job every 1-2 years to travel + moving around the country all the time is a good idea? …I blame the deeply ingrained Catholic guilt. Thanks, mom.

  2. I loved this, Liz. The life lessons were wonderful (and so true!), but I particularly empathize with the first part of your post: the quarter-life crisis and issue of dealing with friends who are heading down a completely different path. I feel the exact same way.

    A few weeks ago I read this article in the Huffington Post about why being in your 20s sucks. It says, “But the problem for dreamers is that, by mid-20s, our friends start becoming successful in their corporate jobs, or they have babies and buy houses, and suddenly there’s an urgency to similarly achieve. We were once all in the same boat, but it sank and the levelheaded folks quickly jumped onto lifeboats heading to shore. The rest of us latched onto driftwood hoping it would take us to Magic Kingdom.”

    It isn’t always easy, but I say we keep looking for Magic Kingdom. Even if there’s no finding it, we’ll have learned an infinite number of life lessons along the way 🙂

    Btw, I’ve really missed your blog updates in the past few weeks. Am happy you took some much needed time off for yourself, but I’m glad to have you back. I know that “comparison is the thief of joy,” but I must say that yours is my favorite of all the travel blogs I read.

    1. I love that! Looking for Magic Kingdom! I need to find that article!

      The past few weeks have been rough, and I really didn’t mean to go so long without blogging. Usually I have way too much to say. But I was recovering from an injury in Jordan and really got out of the swing of things/might have had a meltdown. Things are getting better though, thank goodness!

      I’m so glad you enjoy reading my blog! Puts a smile on my face to hear that 🙂

  3. #3, #4, #7, #9, & #10. So relatable! And in regards to #8 – your blog is totally awesome and quite inspirational so don’t stress 😉

  4. For sure, the biggest lesson travel has taught me; there’s no point listening to those nagging fears before going on a long-term trip or moving countries. Everything always turns out great. And the thought of staying at home and never taking that risk is far more terrifying anyway, so I might as well just forget about all my paranoid worries and enjoy the ride! Love the post and the photos!

    1. I completely agree Charlie! I’m leaving this fall to teach English in Spain for at least a year and fears creep into my head from time to time. However, to me, it scares me much more to imagine my life staying how it currently is for the foreseeable future.

      1. Thank you so much Mike, I relate to your whole post, but ESPECIALLY that last part. I am later coming to this “high-stakes, quit my job & travel the world” thing– I’m 36. The older you get, the harder it can be. Back in college, I didn’t know how “on the edge” I was living as a poor college student, & would have thought nothing of taking a chance on doing something I wanted to. Five years and a “real” job later, I looked back and couldn’t believe how unaware of the real world & how poor I was.

        Liz, a bit like you, I think *I* am my biggest doubter. I am TERRIFIED of EVERYTHING: giving up my belongings; giving up a steady paycheck; giving up medical insurance; not knowing what tomorrow will be like; what might happen. But that last sentence of yours, Mike, sums it up.

        And what has surprised me most is that every person I have told about my plan doesn’t say what I expect: “You can’t do that!” “That’s so irresponsible.” “But what about _____?” The only thing everyone has said is, “Wow, that sounds great.” Or, “That sounds like exactly what you need to do. You’ll do great.”

    2. Think that was the kick in the backside I needed to hear too Charlie! Your comment is spot on, I need to turn off the nagging fears in my head too, Im a few months away from moving to Canada, from my lil town in the UK and I am terrified…but I know staying at home and never taking the risk is going to be more terrifying for me…

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