Life Lessons I Learned from Traveling

I know life still has a lot to teach me, traveling or stationary, but here’s what I learned during my travels over the years thus far.

  1. Just take the next step. We can imagine every step of our plan and how we think it will go, but eventually we just have to actually start putting our ideas into action and seeing what results. Dreaming about going to X and actually going there are never going to match. Take the next step, reevaluate, take another step. (or run through it like you would a sprinkler on your neighbor’s lawn) The point is momentum.
  2. You are the cause of your biggest life problems— but luckily, you are the solution too!  You bring your personal problems with you wherever you go, but this is good news.  Experiencing the same problem in more than one place makes you conscious of how you create your life experiences– and when you’re conscious you are empowered to make changes. Sometimes a fresh start gives you the energy you needed to get out of a rut.  If you were known for a negative trait in one place but make real changes in the next, you really do have the opportunity to create a new life experience for yourself.
  3. Write it down- you will forget. When you’re enjoying one of those many magical days that I know you’ll have on your journeys, you will think “this is perfect. I’ll never forget the way I feel right now, these people, these smells, this moment.”  But bit by bit, it will fade. You will find yourself struck one day, in disbelief, as the names of people and places disappear, you forget what that special dish was they served that night, the song they were playing. And this will be a sad thing. So write down the details, and let the memory live on that much longer. But write down some little things too; describe the scene out your window, your first and last impressions, overheard conversations on the bus. Your future self will delight in looking back on your impressions as you moved through these new locales.
  4. Learn a few phrases, but don’t expect a gold medal.  Speaking even a few basic phrases of the local language will get you far, but don’t expect everyone to pat you on your back. Some people won’t have patience with you, some would rather converse in English. Whatever, it’s good form to try, let that be enough.  And yes, sometimes people will treat you like you’re a wonder, and that’s nice too. If you’re in the country for the long haul, you will have a very up and down struggle with the language, just like everything else in life. Try to celebrate the ups and hurry though the downs.
  5. Forget your camera for a day. If you’re camera-happy like me, you’ll need to do this every now and again. Instead of taking a picture, try to memorize a scene. Write about it in your journal or on the back of a postcard. You will enjoy this, I promise.
  6. Everything’s amplified. When we travel, it’s like turning our senses up to eleven.  New sights, sounds, and smells stimulate our brains- that’s why we feel so alive.  Eventually even the most exotic can morph into routine, but until then, your feelings will be amplified.  Good days will be AMAZING! Bad days will be unbearable.  Your feelings about the country you’re in, the relationships you have (or haven’t) formed, your relationships back home (that can be hard to maintain), your feelings about your life choices, other people’s feelings about your life choices– all can get mixed up in what at home would just be a normal “bad day”.  Once you become more conscious of this (by writing it down, or talking to someone about it) it gets better.
  7. Every place has every kind. You will meet smart people and ignorant, sweet and lecherous, attractive and not. We all know this but sometimes we have to be reminded.  One bad experience does not reflect on all the other people in that society any more than one good experience.  Put more weight into the good experiences anyway.
  8. If you don’t have anything nice to say… This is an all around good rule to follow no matter where you are, and it’s another rule that isn’t always easy to follow, however, don’t complain to locals about their country. Even if they bring up the topic, consider how you feel when someone criticizes a member of your family- even if you complain about Uncle X all the time, it’s different when somebody else does.
  9. Have your own experience. Everyone will have advice. There will always be people who have been there longer, speak the language better, whatever. Stick to your own path.  If your heart is set on going to the “festival of x” and your new buds say it’s lame, make your own decision.  Don’t let yourself look back a few years down the road with regret that you missed the chance to decide for yourself if it was lame.  Did someone make a disparaging remark about your meager language skills? Either use it to energize your studies or toss it to the side- who are they to say where your path should be heading?
  10. If you can do this you can _________.  You picked up your feet and moved them to where everything was new and different. Even if you find yourself in a grey cubicle a few years down the line, you need not despair. You know you have it in you to take those steps, one by one, to move yourself again.