Travel has been our life’s focus for over a decade, and we’d like to think we’ve learned some things along the way. Whether we’re traveling as part of our work in mobile/experiential marketing or purely for our own pleasure, there are certain travel lessons we have learned. Through travel, we’ve come to better understand ourselves and how we fit into the world. Some travel lessons we learned the hard way, while others sink in gradually. Stepping back and gaining a new perspective is one of the many benefits of travel.
Luggage: Real and Virtual
The less you possess the better. The more you own, the more tied to it you become. Possessions tend to possess us. There is so much to be said for minimalism. When you have to carry everything on your back to your next destination, you realize just how little you really need.
It’s important to keep an open mind. (See #2 on our Travel Rules that Matter post.) Nowhere is quite like home, but you really don’t fully appreciate that until you’ve traveled.
Let go of your mental “luggage.” Soon you’ll realize that people everywhere share many of the same hopes, dream and fears, though values and perspectives make us all different. The world is filled with mostly kind and friendly folks (though there are also those you would rather not run across). We have learned that it’s important to celebrate our sameness while equally acknowledging our differences.
Appreciate what you have and don’t take anything for granted. A month without a warm shower? A night or two going to bed hungry? A single day without running water? Experiences like these help one see the value in things we rarely think of as luxuries.
We are very small. Hearing the waves crash while staring up at the stars on an isolated beach in Indonesia (and other places) we pondered our place in the universe. At the same time we felt so tiny, we also felt important and thoroughly, completely connected.
Priorities change with travel. We have certainly learned to not sweat the small stuff. Focusing on what really matters in life does require continuous attention, but striking a balance between wants and needs is a very worthy goal.
Ask for Help
There’s no shame in not knowing. Also referred to as: “It’s okay to ask for directions.” Learning how to ask for help just may be the most important skill you develop as a traveler.
Learn a bit of the local language. This will greatly enhance your experience and open up all kinds of doors.
Even if language is a barrier, you can’t be afraid to talk to strangers. Approach people with a smile and some humility, and you’re on your way. Simple conversations often lead to great stories and fast friendships.
Strangers are often as anxious as you are being put in a position to have to try and communicate. Most want to help, but no one likes to fail. Use patience, and understanding will (sometimes) follow. If it doesn’t, go with the flow, smile, give thanks and try again.
Take it Slow
Don’t rush. Take time every day to appreciate something small. Find joy in simplicity, like swinging and watching the sea.
Sunrises are totally worth waking up for, and Africa arguably has some of the best sunsets on earth.
Don’t plan too much. I am a zealous researcher, but over-planning soon gets in the way of spontaneity.
It’s more about the journey than the destination.
Sometimes you just need a break. Avoid burnout by spending time somewhere you feel comfortable. Become a part of the community and do things to support it. This is so much more rewarding than racing from place to place.
Life never goes as planned. Neither does travel.
Most of the world operates at a much more easy-going pace than your average first-world country.
Listen more than you talk.
Going slow is much cheaper, so you can stay away longer!
Go Out on a Limb
When in doubt, just go for it. Missed opportunities are some of the few regrets we have.
You never know what you’re capable of until you face your fears and throw yourself at them wholeheartedly. (See Rule #3, “Get Over Yourself” on our Travel Rules that Matter.)
Don’t translate back to your home currency to justify purchases.
Airport exchange counters have the crappiest rates.
Splurge on the activities you really love. You won’t regret it. Note: for us this lesson applies to experiences and activities, not things.
Being sick while traveling SUCKS. If you’re lucky it happens in a place you can get medical care if you need it.
Sunburn prevention is WAY better than burn care after the fact.
Hydrate! Drink a LOT of water, and always keep a bunch in your room/tent/shelter.
Don’t be afraid of street food, but beware of the “letoose.” Before our first long trip the doctor who oversaw our vaccinations (who had a strong accent) warned us that beyond avoiding tap water, we should stay away from salads and fruits/veggies that had been washed in local water. We never forgot his warning to “Beware of the letoose.” Best advice, stick to cooked items, and eat where there is a line of locals to ensure food hasn’t been sitting around for too long.
Set Goals, but Don’t Hesitate
Don’t let anything stop you from following your dream.
Don’t wait until the time is right to travel. There is no right time. You may never feel you have enough time/money/plans. Put those thoughts right out of your head and just get out there. Before we started traveling for extended periods we worried, “Will we run out of money? Will we be able to find a job when we return, or will we have lost all of our contacts?” None of those things have happened, and it they do, we’re sure it will eventually work out.
There’s no such thing as fate. Create your own happiness. Your limitations are not set by how much money you have, who you know or where you live.
The Earth is Your Friend
Get outside in nature. Technology is great, but a long hike or a week off the grid may be just the mental and physical therapy you need.
Care for the Earth. Lead by example in places where green practices are not the norm. Education is the best way to combat ignorance when it comes to abusing our planet.
Mother Nature is to be respected at all times. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t take severe weather reports lightly.
Practicalities-the fun travel lessons
Those posed photos where you’re holding the Great Buddha in the palm of your hand or catching water from the Singapore Merlion’s mouth are kind of funny, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to have fun taking them.
You don’t need to pack the kitchen sink. People all around the world brush their teeth and wash up. Include a couple of “favorite things” in your toiletries case if you must, but you can get pretty much anything you really need on the road.
Wiping poop around with paper (as we do at home) rather than washing it away with water may not be the most hygienic form of cleaning oneself. Squat toilets put your body in a much more natural position and are often more desirable than sitting on or “hovering” over a Western toilet.
The travel lessons we’ve learned over the past nine years traveling together continue to shape us. We have no idea where the future will take us, but making travel a priority is one thing we won’t give up on.
Check out the lists of some fellow bloggers for their perspectives on lessons learned through travel. Some are funny, some philosophical. All are good reads!