From the first time I went abroad I knew I was screwed. My life would never be the same and I would live in a perpetual state of, “WOW, what a ride! What’s next?” I was ignited by wanderlust and I never wanted the flame to die. 10 years later, I live abroad in Spain and have learned an immense amount about life from the road.
Travel is the greatest teacher, a reason to save, the sweetest high, the gentle reminder of being alive, necessary tough love, and, at times, the source of pain. Go on the road as much as you can for as long as you can and you will surely become a better human for it.
Each trip, however long, changes you.
The experiences and people and mistakes and success and freedom and bliss and nature and love and kindness you experience shape you and change you and leave you yearning for more.
The magic of a trip lingers for a bit after your feet hit home soil, but it is not long before the urge to move returns and you find yourself looking at flights with no return. For many who have traveled before, you know what I mean when I say that you will never be the same person as the one who got on the plane with an empty passport and clean shoes. Travel hardens you in all the right places but significantly softens your heart to humanity and our mind-blowing world. You learn to love yourself and others and the world itself.
To share the knowledge gained from my travels, I chose 7 of the most impactful lessons I learned from the road.
Sparkly-eyed strangers become family
I love my alone time on and off the road, but meeting people on the move is arguably the best thing about traveling. It’s not what you experience as much as it’s who you experience it with. Strangers become family in a matter of hours or days as you immediately bond over stories and experiences and over the love you share for being on the road. There are so many beautiful people to meet and listen to and share with in this world. The silent magic that connects us all is especially strong between travelers.
Although you may only spend days if not hours in each other’s physical presence, you know your trip would not be the same without them.
You say goodbye at the end of your fleeting time together, never knowing if you will see each other again. It is bittersweet and extremely eye-opening to witness how much you can love complete strangers.
Want to travel but are nervous about going solo? Don’t be. The beautiful thing about solo travel is that you have a choice to be around people or not. You will meet so many people while traveling that you may even wish for more alone time. Just be open and confident and say hi to strangers who look interesting.
Listen to your gut
I’m not talking about gas or taking bets as to whether or not you’re going to experience Montezuma’s Revenge from that creepy kebab you ate at 4am. I’m talking about instinct. Having a conversation with your soul.
I don’t know if it is a bi-product of being more aware in general while traveling, but it is incredible to witness how your gut feeling can really be spot on much of the time. Have you ever had a bad or concerning feeling about something but went along with your plans anyways, only to have something go wrong? Me too. More than I’d like to admit, really. I am trying to tune in as much as I can, but I definitely miss some warnings.
Being in tune with your surroundings allows you to become more in tune with your self. Listening to your instincts can save your life one day. Don’t overthink, just observe and act.
You become a citizen of nowhere and everywhere
When people ask me where I’m from I say “Phoenix, Arizona” but don’t really feel it. I feel like I am almost lying. I feel so disconnected from my “home”, which I have not lived in for over a year, and so connected to my current location. Travelers have no home yet simultaneously live everywhere. This is a beautifully peaceful, yet confusing side affect of wanderlust and travel. You fall in love with each place you see, leaving a bit of you behind upon departure. Because of this, you will always feel connected to everywhere you have been.
Home transforms from a place to a feeling. From roots to a flowing river touching each bank and rock.
Home is not the place you are away from all day working to afford it. Home is within and is actually the best travel companion. To be comfortable on the road, always in different locations, is to truly feel at home in each. I travel with bits and pieces that make me comfortable, like art and trinkets and crystals and candles and my journal. I set up a little “shrine” to remind myself that I am me and it really helps to ground and settle in to new places.
You realize that everywhere can be home and that you are never actually away from home. And with Skype or any other video calling service, family and friends are just a ring away. Thank you technology!
Fear becomes a game
We all experience fear. It is the oldest human emotion and also the most harmful if left to it’s own devices, which are destruction and debilitation. You can allow fear to be constant or fleeting, it is always a choice. Recognizing fear and dissolving it is essential to getting what you want.
As a traveler, fear is exceptionally dangerous. The minute fear creeps in, it begins to wreak havoc on your confidence. It can freeze you in place and completely break you down. The minute you recognize the fear and observe it, it loses its power. Fear holds us back and keeps us away from experiences that would otherwise be enriching if we could just take the first step out of its shadow. Without fear, the unknown becomes exciting and you start to see it as a game rather than a threat. Don’t let fear keep you away from what you want. Get out of your own way!
The new normal
We are incredibly adaptable creatures. It is in our genes to manage change of weather and season and food supply and shelter. We come from nomads, constantly on the move in order to survive. Travel is to adapt and thrive, or fall flat.
The things that were once strange and foreign, or even terrifying, become your new normal. Take riding in an old American school bus through Guatemala that looks like it was on an episode of Pimp My Ride for example, or taking a free ride in the bed of a truck through the jungle in Nicaragua to your hostel, or tapping into the side of a mountain for fresh drinking water, or doing grocery shopping on Saturday because supermarkets are closed on Sunday. All these experiences, big and small, expose you to different ways of life and in turn you accept the changes and adapt.
This new normal not only becomes accepted, but expected. Our minds open when we travel and we are forced to expand our idea of “normal.”
Accepting things as they are in foreign countries is the secret to being able to enjoy and absorb the cultural experience. Asking, “why” or comparing countries to your home country is a quick way to waste a lot of money and the opportunity of a lifetime. We are us, they are them, that is that. Same same, but different.
Gratitude is love
To be in-love is to be present. To be present is to be grateful. To be grateful is to be living in-love. Full circle.
I am shamelessly in love with everyone and everywhere. I see beauty in absolutely everything. I am constantly in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds me, like a child seeing the world with wonder and curiosity. “Thank you” is a mantra, a way of life, and an acknowledgement to all I have being all I need.
As almost every adventure has an inevitable end date, I made it a point to soak up each beautiful sunset, each all-night dance party, each ancient civilization, each ridiculously long bus trip, all the laughs with friends and even the missed connections at train stations. Once I saw how easy and fulfilling it was to literally live in-love I saw that this would not only maximize my time on the road, but it would become part of me and how I experience the world.
When I am overcome with love and joy for life I howl, like a wolf, into the great expanse. I close my eyes and throw my arms up and point my face to the sky and let it flow from the depths. I honor the moment and vocalize my gratitude for the experience in the only way that feels natural – a cleansing and always laugh inducing howl. Yes, I am the crazy one in just about any group of people, but I learned to laugh at myself and embrace the weirdness long ago. And believe it or not, from time-to-time someone will join me and together we are the crazy ones. Really alive.
I suggest trying this (howl optional) for a week and seeing if your overall mentality improves. Say, “thank you” when good or bad things happen. Look for the silver lining in everything and know that each experience is exactly what you need at that time. Tell me how your life changes.
Inner love equals outer love
It took me a long time to realize that self love translates to overall love for everyone. When you are happy within you don’t feel the need to compare yourself to others or the pressure of not being good enough. Travel gives you confidence and confidence gives you strength. When you see yourself as enough you also are able to accept people for the way they are.
When you are on the road, alone or with travel companions, you really get to know yourself and how you react to certain situations – good or bad. You see yourself for who you truly are. You are raw and open and vulnerable on the road. This is the best position to be in. You connect with who you really are inside rather than who you’ve been trying to convince everyone (and maybe even yourself) of.
Be you and embrace it. Don’t worry about what other people think or say or expect of you. They are projecting and you are accepting. Rise above and you will lift them as well.
Do yourself a favor and follow your dreams!
I can’t advocate the benefits of travel enough! The travel culture is massive and there are people from all over the world going all over the world. Get out there and see places and meet people and get lost and find yourself. Go for however long you can manage.
The time is now to realize your dreams can be reality if you let go of fear and embrace the risk of the unknown. Things can (and most likely will) go wrong, but there will be many more things that go right. And what you will learn in the process is more than you ever could in the comfort of your home.
Don’t have a lot (or any) money saved? No problem! Look at volunteer sites like helpX, Work Away, or WWOOF to travel around the world for next to nothing. My grandma always said, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If you can figure out your will then you can surely figure out your way.
I had no idea what I was doing when I started traveling, but through trial and error I have collected many many more important lessons than the 7 here. My mistakes have been my biggest periods of growth and there is a lot I learned from doing things the wrong way. I am more than happy to offer any advice I can on work exchange, teaching English in Spain, or just taking the first step of a thousand towards your dream.