Reflecting on my travels, these are some of the lessons I have learned:
- Sometimes, it is better to travel alone than with a partner - read about my travel partner nightmare experience in Barcelona!
- If you are traveling with someone, ensure you spent time apart – It’s inevitable! If you’re traveling with a friend, you’re bound to get into tifts due to the fact that you are spending so much time together – so ease that by taking a break. Go off somewhere alone (of course safely) or with new friends!
- Saving money is not a chore - When I am planning for a trip (now, this is always!) I think before spending money. Living in the US, I am bombarded by “buy this! buy that!” almost 24/7. Through travel, I’ve learned that I would rather drive a used, paid off car, not buy the “latest trends,” paint my own nails (or go bare), bring my own lunch, not spend $200 on a concert and many other things than spend this money and not be able to travel. Many people say “you’re so lucky!” to me and other travelers when most times, it’s simply because we spend our money differently that we are able to travel the way we do.
- Go with the flow – I’m a big planner in my everyday life and this extend to travel too. That being said, I have learned NOT to plan every little detail, to leave down time for activities that come up (even if it is a siesta in the park) and that it is also inevitable that something will not go as planned. I had never missed a flight until I lived in South America and then I missed TWO, almost 3! (hey, aren’t they supposed to be on South American time?) I learned to laugh off getting a flat tire and leaving all my toiletries and favorite dress at a hostel while trying not to miss said 3rd almost missed flight. Some of my greatest experiences would not have happened without things falling through.
- My “stuff” does not define me. Although I left one of my favorite dresses in my hostel in Cuzco, I wasn’t devastated. I hope that whoever found it is getting good use out of it. I have downsized many things (clothes, books, dvds, etc) since traveling which makes it easier to pack up and go!
- The art of slow travel – My first big trip abroad was a whirl-wind 2 week tour of Ireland, Wales, England and France! I was so exhausted when I came home that I slept for an entire day! I saw a lot in this trip, but didn’t feel like I got to know any of the places. The next year, I spent a month exclusively in Spain and “only” went to 4 cities, mostly Barcelona <3
- To put myself in others’ shoes – traveling in South America, I was in contact with a lot of people who make their income by begging or providing “entertainment” if you will such as taking pictures with tourists. This was uncomfortable at first and I overheard others making comments about it. Then I thought how I would feel if I were in that same position. How would I feel if my income were based on how many photos I was able to take with tourists for some change? How would you feel? It was a very humbling experience.
- Pack less! This is one I am still learning, but getting better at! I am very much the “what if” type of person and don’t want to forget anything, but I’ve realized by lugging around things I don’t need, that some of the “what if” items I brought, I didn’t use, or could have easily bought where I was traveling. Of course, there are staple “in case of emergency” items I always bring, but now I try to pack lightly.
- Different countries do things differently/better/more less efficiently than us – I love the siestas in Spain and that many other countries have a higher value on time spent together, not zoning out in front of the TV like many Americans. I now appreciate that most bathrooms in the US have running water, toilet paper, and soap all at the same time! after bringing a tissue pack and hand sanitizer with me everywhere in SA.The buses in South America are way more comfy than in the States. I loved how cheap the produce was in Argentina and how there are separate stores to buy meat and fruit & veggies. What I’ve learned is that no country is completely “better” or “worse” than any other.
- If you can learn the language where you’re staying much richer experience – I speak Spanish and travelling in Spanish-speaking countries, I have been able to experience a lot more than if I had not known the language. The first week I was in Argentina & first time I met a woman who is now a friend of mine, I was invited to spend the weekend with her at her family home in the neighboring province which was an amazing experience. I had a great conversation in a Puno plaza with an elderly man about our prospective countries pros and cons. I had an enlightening political conversation with my hairdresser in Cordoba. I know very little French, but using what I do know, I believe I was treated better by Parisians than someone who I was with who made no attempt to speak their language.
- Travel is not about how many countries you’ve been too or how many stamps you have on your passport – Although I do want to go to many countries and one of my bucket list items is to visit all the continents, I would rather travel slowly and really get a feel for where I am visiting than to technically have been there, but not had many great experiences. I think a lot of people get distracted with the competition of it.
- Just because a person speaks English back to you doesn’t mean your proficiency in their language sucks - it usually just means they just want to practice their English! While speaking Spanish to others, I used to get kinda bummed when someone switched from Spanish to English with me. What I found out, though is that they are simply trying to practice their language skills too!
- You’re going to get lonely and/or homesick and that’s ok – use this time to reflect inward and on your experiences. Write in your journal, take a walk, experiment with taking pictures from different angles, people watch!
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH YOUR TRAVELS???