30 Life Lessons I Learned From Travel (And How They’re Making Me Happier At Home)Posted by Anne on Aug 7, 2014 in All, At Home, Personal, Travel | 20 comments
One week ago, I hit the two month mark since my return from my (dream-come-true) full-time travels this year.
With each month mark that passed during my trip, I took some time to do a little reflecting. Why not continue to do so upon returning home?
In fact, what other ways of thinking and living did I adopt while traveling that I can put into practice at home? If traveling is truly what makes me happiest, what is it exactly that does it for me? Is it truly the places I am, or is it a way of living that travel enforces?
I thought it would take some time to put my finger on how I lived and thought differently while traveling that was so fulfilling to me. Turns out the second pen hit pad, this poured out. I’m doing my best to live by it.
1. Never stop learning.
If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. If you’re not growing, you’re not living.
2. Never stop exploring.
If you stay in one place, you might never know what you’re missing. You also might never know where you truly belong.
3. Live (and travel) slowly.
It’s tempting to run around, checking off endless lists. I’ve done it, more often than not. Over the years, I’ve come to see the merit of taking it slow. We only have so much time, whether it’s in a trip or in a lifetime. Just like eating a fine meal, sometimes we absorb more savoring bite by bite than by scarfing the whole buffet (but who does that, anyways? :/ )
4. Everyone has a story.
This is something I try and live by anywhere I happen to be. It’s somehow easier to apply when I’m traveling…perhaps I see lives so dramatically different from mine, that it forces me to consider how life may have unfolded for them.
It’s the same for anyone we encounter, at home or abroad. We all face challenges. My theory is that people at home do a better job of hiding it. A huge part of changing your perspective is being able to “take a walk in someone else’s shoes.” Try it.
5. Stay active and get outside.
Believe it or not, we weren’t made to sit in homes and cubicles all day. I’m as guilty as anyone of this when I’m home. When I travel (on a budget,) my accommodation is just the opposite: it’s a place I only go when I need to sleep. I spent the entirety of my days in the world, interacting with it. And while there will always be ties that keep us close to home and work (and indoors,) I have found that taking the opportunity to get outside when possible improves the quality of any life.
6. See the beauty in everything.
So many of the places I go, I realize I am pleasantly surprised at how much I love it once I get there. I am not immune from the frame of mind that is overly critical of any person, place, or group. It’s just that when I travel, I know that an open heart and an open mind will enrich my experience — no matter what country I’m in. I acknowledge the bad, but then I choose to see the good. Never more did I need to remember this than when I came home and saw the cracks in my own country. It’s a choice. See beauty.
7. Problems are relative.
Whether on the micro level (my problems when I’m traveling are quite different from my problems when I’m home) or the macro (Did you wake up this morning under a roof? Have a glass of clean water? Not feel threatened for your life?) there’s nothing like visiting another country (or sometimes even a pocket of your own country) with another way of life and another set of daily challenges that will make you realize that the #firstworldproblems hashtag is no joke. Being thankful for where you were born, who you were or were not born to, and what you’re facing today never hurt anyone. I like a good pity party as much as anyone else. But one of the greatest gifts travel has given me is the option to give my problems some perspective.
8. We occupy a tiny space.
Every time we let our ego get in the way, feel like throwing ourselves a pity party (see above,) or give into the dramas that define so many of our lives…take a second to think about how minuscule and temporary your life is. I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done. You’re still human, and you’re one of billions. Sometimes it takes a smack upon the face, other times it takes traveling half the globe. Humbling, isn’t it?
9. To some degree, we are all the same.
Regardless of nationality, gender, religion…we all want the basic needs of food, shelter, safety, health. When those are met, we all want love and maybe even a sense of purpose. Go ahead and roll your eyes, but the simple truths about humanity are powerful if you truly digest them.
10. To some other degree, we are products of our environment.
This goes somewhat hand-in-hand with no. 4. We all make choices and have individual agency. Yet there’s nothing like the moment you’re traveling or make a good friend in another country that makes you think “wow, this could have been me if I had just been born in another place on another day.”
11. Be spontaneous.
Because life is just more fun that way. Plan, too. No planning at all is a recipe for disaster, whether in travel or in life. But let spontaneity have its place.
12. Be optimistic.
Bad things are going to happen you, whether you stay at home or jump a plane to Kathmandu. What happens < how we react to it. On your next trip, pack your good attitude. You’ll be amazed how far it will take you.
13. Live simply.
Stuff begets stuff. Believe me when I say it took living out of a backpack and changing cities every three days for me to get this. We really don’t need as much as we’re led to believe we need. When this simplifying realization happens to you, it will free you to focus more on the rest of this list.
14. Change it up.
Don’t get in a rut. You’re never in a rut when you’re traveling, because if you are…you change your plans. What keeps us from doing this incrementally at home? I’ve realized I’m happiest when I let go of my fear of change (though it seems impossible at times) and embrace each day as a new day.
15. Challenge yourself.
The world isn’t as scary as everyone wants you to think it is. Know yourself, know your limits, and with good judgment (see no. 22) push yourself outside of those limits just a little bit. Whether it’s asking a stranger for directions or bungee jumping despite a massive fear of heights, it’s a risk/benefit analysis…and the payoff is often huge. See no.’s 1 and 2.
16. Live in the moment.
Perhaps travel’s greatest lesson. Being in a foreign place has a magical effect on your appreciation for each and every day. Don’t bring your figurative baggage along with your literal baggage. Who wants to spend 15 hours on a plane only to preoccupy your mind with the same reel of thoughts you’d have at home? Leave it behind. And worrying about tomorrow? That also just takes up precious real estate in your mind that you could free up for experiencing life, today.
17. Be grateful.
Because the second you leave your bubble, you’ll realize how much you do or don’t have. Be grateful anyways.
18. Life’s moments are better when shared.
That’s not to say solo travel isn’t the way to go, just be open and willing to bringing others into and onto your journey, even if just for a time. There’s only so much we can learn in solitude.
19. Err on the side of trust.
It’s easy to hole up and suspect, judge, or blame someone else. It’s much harder to open yourself up to the world, to others, to love and trust. Sometimes when we’re traveling, we don’t have a choice. We trust, and we gain faith in the human spirit.
20. Smile more often.
Unless you’re in Paris. If you smile in Paris, people will think you’re dumb.
Jokes and cultural distinctions aside, when I think to my greatest memories of travel and of connection, I think of smiles. Children smile far more than any of you reading this do. In spite of where they are born or what they face, kids smile.
My other favorite memories are of people I have met while traveling that compliment my smile. They mention their reticence at approaching me—whether my appearance, my nationality, my language—and they tell me that I smiled a lot or smiled at them and that’s why they decided to talk to me. I’m smiling now just thinking about that!
21. The most important relationship you will ever cultivate is the one you have with yourself.
It’s not selfish to work on yourself, listen to yourself, take time for yourself. Doing so enables you to be better in all other areas that require you to give of yourself. If this means traveling by yourself, do it. If it means staying at home, then do that.
22. Listen to your inner voice.
Or listen to your gut, your heart…whichever suits you. It’s cliché but true — I always say I’d rather trust others than close myself off to people or experiences. I’ve since revised this to “I’d rather trust myself to know when to open or close myself off to people or experiences.”
23. Always have an exit door/escape route.
Whether literal or figurative, this doesn’t mean you prematurely use it—it just means you always know where it is.
24.Things aren’t always what they seem.
But sometimes they are. See no. 22. Keep your mind and your heart open, then see no. 23.
25. There are good and bad people in every place.
But the good news is…
26. People are generally good.
I see this on other’s life/travel lessons learned lists frequently, but it is something you have to discover for yourself. I couldn’t tell you how many times random, foreign strangers have helped me, shown kindness to me, befriended me—but it’s way more times than I have ever felt threatened or annoyed. Travel has given me that.
27. Food deserves more credit than we give it.
Yes, this is really on my list. I use food as my metaphor for life because I really, really love food. Yet it holds true. If you want to discover a place, a person, a culture…share a local meal. Food is a basic necessity of life, a true pleasure of life— it’s also one of greatest storytellers and connections to others that exists.
28. Life is short. Enjoy it, damn it.
I blinked and my five month trip was over. Life passes just as quickly. What are you going to do with yours?
Our trips, like our lives, will always have their ups and downs. My travels are often a heightened piece of my life with a specific end date, so somehow I tend to accept this more willingly when I’m on the road. But every day we can make an effort to appreciate the good times…and stay positive during the less-than-good ones. When life is good, we must savor it.
Some of us spend our lives working to please someone or everyone else. Traveling, for me, removes many of the external factors that influence my identity and puts me in touch with my authentic self. This is what it taught me: don’t listen to what other people want for you. Sometimes we are so caught up in the voices of others that we can’t even hear what we want for ourselves. Live your life for you. As with this list or anyone’s advice…take what works for you from it, and leave the rest.
29. Things aren’t so important.