Okay, so I’ve never properly travelled the world. I’ve never had a spiritual Gap Yah experience. I love to travel but, to be honest, I haven’t done that much of it. I’m not going to tell you that you’ll find yourself abroad – but if you have then good for you! However, that isn’t to say that I don’t learn anything from my travels. Whether you are exploring your hometown or jetting off to Asia, there are lessons to be learnt from travel every day. So without further ado, here are 15 life lessons travel has taught me…
1. APPRECIATE EVERYTHING
I’ve never been one to take anything for granted. Whether that’s my family, friends, health or any opportunities that come my way. I try to make the most of every second of the day (and try not to complain too much, but sometimes I fail at this!).
I try to never take for granted that I was born in a country with opportunity. And that I have incredibly supportive parents and a boyfriend who always encourage me to do more of what makes me happy. My sister (RIP) was the same. Even though she was stuck in bed for years on end, in endless amounts of pain, she always wanted me to pursue my dreams and to travel. And she did this without showing even the slightest hint of jealousy or self-pity.
Not everyone has that kind of support, and for that, I am very grateful. More than anything, travel makes me appreciate my freedom. As a white Western woman, I am blessed with the freedom to travel, and many other women around the world do not have that kind of freedom (or they may do but it poses a heck of a lot more challenges).
When you return from a trip abroad, you also are far more appreciative of your home, your comfort zone and your nearest and dearest. Whether you’re coming back from a year abroad or just a weekend away, you will feel so rejuvenated when you return home. Your cosy bed is a blessing and home-cooked food tastes a thousand times better than it did before.
2. EXPERIENCES ARE MORE VALUABLE THAN MATERIAL OBJECTS
Although I’ve always tended to have this approach towards life, travel has taught me that you don’t need many possessions unless it’s directly related to essentials in how you work or survive. Believe it or not, you can survive with very, very little and get by just fine. Most people around the world do. Travelling forces you to pack so lightly that you’ll go home overwhelmed by how much you actually own. Being exposed to other cultures where people own far less will make you horrified at how much unnecessary crap is in your house.
I’m not denying that some possessions enhance your life. My penchant is technology. Whilst I never really upgrade my stuff (unless it is literally in pieces on the floor), I love my phone, laptop, and photography/filming equipment. I mean that’s my hobby. That’s what I love. Asides from travel, my life revolves around creating
awesome stuff using technology.
I also love binge-watching TV. I love it. A good TV series really enhances my life. I mean I couldn’t really live without Game of Thrones, could I?! But at the end of the day, if I had to choose between never watching TV or films, or never travelling the world, I would always choose to travel. Watching TV tends to suck so many hours of people’s lives away that they don’t have time to pursue other passions in life.
Unfortunately, the same goes for social media. But social media has equally enabled me to travel. Ugh, the conflict! I guess what I’m getting at is that everything is okay in moderation, but the memories you make through living in the moment and having real-life experiences will stay with you far longer than an episode of TOWIE.
3. Wear sun cream
Oh my god, Lucy. Wear sun cream. You know you’re the palest person to ever grace this planet. And you know, oh boy do you know, how painful a bad sunburn is. It ruins your holiday. Not only do you burn but it also makes you overheat, and get dehydrated and ill. It’s just not worth it.
Asides from getting burnt, the sun can damage us in so many other ways. It accelerates the effects of ageing (and who wants that?!) and increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Having a tan is great. Having skin cancer is not. SPF up. Your skin is pretty damn precious and you’ll probably regret it when you’re older.
4. Insect repellent doesn’t work for everyone
On the other hand, Lucy, you have absolutely no chance when it comes to insects. Just accept your fate and let them bite you to death. Mosquitoes are your worst enemy and always will be. You will get flea bites every day even when you’re at home in England. No amount of insect repellent will ever change that. And just to spite you, they will never touch your boyfriend. That’s just the way it is, I’m afraid.
5. It’s never too late to change
Travel is all about change. It is an introspective process that forces you to reflect on your life. Being away from home allows you to think about your life in a more objective way and consider what you’d like to do differently when you get back home.
In a new city, you can also be completely anonymous. You can completely adopt a new identity and forget about everything going on at home. And you know what? You might even stick to this ‘new you’ when you come back home.
6. Don’t wait around
If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that things don’t just fall perfectly in your lap. You have to want it AND go for it. You have to be proactive about your own life. The best decision I have ever made was starting a travel blog. It has completely changed my life.
My home life is far from perfect. With my sister, Caitlin, stuck in bed 24/7 and my parents caring for her 24/7 I had to do everything for myself growing up. From the age of 14, I was travelling to London by myself as my parents couldn’t drive me far distances, they weren’t making any money and we couldn’t go on any family holidays.
I worked my ass off and got straight A*s at GCSE and A Level, getting into an incredible university. I had every reason to sulk and let my home life get me down (which believe me, it has) but at the end of the day, I’m a dreamer and a go-getter. People tell me I’m lucky. I’m not. I just work my ass off to get where I want to be.
I tend to get the impression that some people just wait around, float through life, hoping that something will happen to them. Unless you come from a family of riches, nobody is going to just hand you a cheque for 10 grand to allow you to travel, and chances are you probably won’t win the lottery. If you always wait around for people to go with or wait until you’re in a steady job in your late 20s with a decent income, it will probably never happen. See that’s the thing about wanting to travel: if something isn’t a priority it will always get left behind.
7. Never trust a taxi driver
Okay, this one sounds very prejudiced and I guess it’s in the trade but I just can’t be bothered with taxi drivers and will always opt for another form of transport if I need it. Far too often have taxi drivers tried to con me and I just cba. I know I’m a good target. I’m a young, small, pale woman. Of course, they are gonna try to con me. Whether it’s not restarting the meter when you get in, slowing down at yellow lights or driving all over town or taking the long way to your destination (thinking you won’t even notice), I tend to end up paying more than I should.
On our first holiday together, Gaz and I visited Rome. I distinctly remember one night hopping into a taxi and the taxi driver taking the longest possible route to our destination. But I was only 17 and scared to speak up to this Italian taxi driver, and neither of us could be bothered to argue so we just paid the man, hopped out the car and complained about him once he was out of earshot. Typical British tourists.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also had some great experiences with taxi drivers but for the most part, it’s just not worth it.
8. It’s okay to get lost and not stick to a plan
It’s okay to get lost whilst visiting a new destination and not stick to a plan. Some of my favourite places I have found on my trips are ones I have accidentally stumbled upon. There is nothing like being lost in Rome where every street corner has another spectacular sculpture, a cute cafe or an independent bookshop. There is so much to see and experience that is not in the guide books.
I think there is so much pressure nowadays to visit all the “must-see” sights and fit everything in, but that can sometimes be stressful and counterproductive. Just because everyone says you have to go somewhere, it doesn’t mean you have to if it doesn’t interest you! Whilst you’re ticking things off your list, you may forget to live in the moment and properly enjoy your time away. Sometimes it’s about the little things and spending time with the people you’re with, instead of the big attractions.
For this reason, I vow to travel slower in 2017. I have my whole life ahead of me (touch wood) to venture off to new, exciting destinations so why rush the time spent in places now? I want to allow more time to really get to know a place, even if that means staying somewhere for one extra night or only visiting one city instead of two. People tend to get caught up counting countries… they may only spend one night somewhere just to tick it off their list, but have they really visited it?
Plus travel can be really freakin’ tiring. Especially when it involves very long journeys and many nights spent on buses and trains. Odds are you’ll return home not feeling rejuvenated at all. You’ll probably feel more tired if anything.
9. There is only so much you can control
Shit goes wrong whilst travelling. And most of the time it is completely out of your control. I’ve had terrible food poisoning twice whilst travelling and have had faced many delayed flights/trains/buses. Bad weather may stop you from going on a day trip you were dying to take. Patience is a virtue when it comes to travelling. Things will inevitably go wrong and you have to learn that it’s okay to wait and have lag time.
When these things happen I always tell myself to “look on the bright side” or Gaz will reaffirm this to me by singing “always look on the bright side of life”. It all builds character and if things always went smoothly, the adventure wouldn’t exist. Plus you’ll appreciate the times when stuff does go right even more.
10. Always have an open mind
In order to become truly open-minded, you need to find yourself in situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Odds are that you will experience these type of situations whilst travelling. Our society tends to be pretty close-minded and it’s only when you leave your cushy little comfort zone that you start to open your mind and acknowledge other people’s viewpoints on life.
Having an open mind whilst travelling will probably help you have a better time. You will devour new experiences and food, and meet people you would have never thought of meeting. Because if you’re not open to new experiences then what is the point in travel anyway? You won’t get that fantastic sense of accomplishment and hey, you can’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
11. Everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing
Everyone around the world is vastly different to one another. We all live our own lives, have our own jobs, our own opinions, our own family. We don’t tend to interact with people of other cultures or people outside of our social circles. But the more you speak to people around the world, you start to see that we are all incredibly alike where it matters. We all just want love, security, validation and happiness.
While we all approach working towards these things in different ways and some people want some things more than others, at the end of the day we all have the same basic desires. Travel teaches you that you can relate to most people in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you.
12. You are never really alone
Whether you are at home or abroad, you can make friends anywhere. Be the first to smile. Make an effort to strike up a conversation with someone in your hostel room, instead of shying away. You can simply ask them questions about their lives; people generally like to talk about themselves so this works well.
It may seem scary just throwing yourself out there and talking to strangers, but we are all strangers in a foreign land. Most others are just like you – they are probably feeling pretty lonely and would love to chat with someone. I think that people (including myself) often limit themselves when they travel with friends or family, and forget about all the opportunities there are to meet new, like-minded people. If you’re travelling solo, on the other hand, you’ll probably seem a lot more approachable, and you’ll be more likely to approach others as well.
It may be harder for some people to make friends than others but I promise you that you will always find someone with a common interest to you. Unless your only hobby is extreme ironing (yes, this is an actual thing)… You’ll probably have less luck with this one.
13. Dance and sing whenever/wherever possible
Dancing and singing are great releases and forms of expression. When you’re standing in a square in Rome and a man is busking at the side of the street playing an incredible tune, dance along. Don’t feel embarrassed about singing either (even if you are tone-deaf). It’ll make them feel better, increase both of your spirits and it’s hard not to feel good after a session of either!
Also, stop freakin’ worrying so much about what everyone thinks about you. Chances are they haven’t even noticed you and are just minding their own business.
14. Travel doesn’t solve everything
On a similar note to the common phrase “Money doesn’t buy happiness”, “Travel doesn’t solve everything”. Reality check: it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. If you are genuinely down, travel won’t magically fix that. It can bloody well help but it doesn’t suddenly rid you of all your problems or unhappiness. A change of location allows us to forget these problems for a while, but they come back like a boomerang and then hit us even harder.
Following my sister’s death last November I had to cancel a trip to Krakow with some of my best friends (which I was due to go on two weeks after her death). Luckily I managed to get my money back for the accommodation and a flight voucher from EasyJet. But I had to use that flight voucher within a certain amount of time. So I decided to book a trip to Belfast a month and a half later with Gaz.
But then the panic settled in. Will I be able to enjoy it? Will it just be a waste of money? Will I have a mental breakdown? Shall I just stay at home?
But oh my god was Northern Ireland exactly what the doctor ordered. It completely took my mind off everything that had happened and I managed to have an absolute whale of a time. I couldn’t believe it. This was the first time since my sister’s death that I felt happy.
Unfortunately, when I got home this all changed. When I arrived home reality hit and it hit hard. In fact, I had the worst week I’ve had since Caitlin’s death. This led me to write my On Losing a Sister: Two Months On post. Travelling did help me in the short-term but didn’t really make a huge difference in the long-term.
15. But at the end of the day, travel makes me happier than anything else
This blog post is an entry into GoEuro‘s #travellessons blogger competition. They have three prizes up for grabs: a city trip worth £300, an Amazon Fire and a travel accessories pack. I’d love to know what travel has taught you, so enter the competition yourself or let me know in the comments below!