I never thought I was going to spend a decade traveling. My original trip was supposed to last a year. Eighteen months tops. After it was over, I’d go back home, find a “real” job, get married, buy a house, have my 2.5 children, and complain about my retirement fund to my friends.
But when I came home, I realized that I had changed. I no longer wanted the typical American lifestyle. I wasn’t ready for it yet. I needed to get back on the road.
So I booked a trip back to Europe before heading back to Bangkok to teach english.
I had no real plans to become a writer or travel long term. I just knew that, for the moment, the road was where I belonged. I’d figure it all out later.
As one day bled into the next, I suddenly woke up to find a decade had gone by. I’d been ten years a nomad—and in that time learned some lessons about travel, life, the world, and my place in it:
1. Travel is Not That Hard
Every day, people get up and go travel. And they survive and thrive. Sure, there are some language barriers, but you quickly learn that a subway is a subway is a subway and a bus is a bus is a bus. This traveling thing is a lot easier than others would have you believe. You’re not the first person to do this, and the travel industry makes it easy for people to get from one place to the next. Kids as young as 18 years old make their way around the world without any problems. If an 18-year-old can do it, so can you.
2. Travel Teaches a Lot of Life Skills
Traveling around the world has taught me to how to be more social, adept, and flexible, and most importantly, more independent and open minded, and overall just a better person. Out there on your own, you’ll also learn how to relax, the art of patience, nonverbal communication, small talk, and the confidence that comes from the tiny victories of figuring out things, like a bus schedule out in a foreign country!
3. You Meet Some of Your Closest Friends Traveling
Whether it was in hostels in Vietnam and Spain or on a boat in Thailand, I met some of my best friends traveling. Stripped of the baggage and pressures of home, travel quickens and deepens relationships. But years later, you may find yourself at their wedding, Christmas dinner, or family celebration. Distance and time cannot break the bond you formed. On the road, friendships form quickly — you just have to be willing to put yourself out there.
4. Relationships Come and Go on the Road
I’ve met lots of people on the road, including members of the opposite sex I’ve found attractive. But the nature of travel doesn’t always lend itself to long-term relationships. It’s hard to make something last when everyone is moving in different directions and holidays come to an end. If you get too attached too often, you’ll have nothing but heartache. But I’ve realized you need to simply enjoy your time together for what it is and part on good terms.
5. It’s Good to Try New Things
I used to be a very rigid and shy person, but traveling has helped me expand my worldview and push my limits. Over the years, I’ve eaten new foods, taken cooking classes, learned magic tricks and new languages, tried to conquer my fear of heights, made friends with strangers, and challenged my views on people. I’ve learned that the more you know and the more you try new things, the richer life is. It won’t always be easy (or fun) but there is a tangible value in breaking out of your comfort zone and trying new things.
6. There is No Such Thing as a Mistake
No matter what happens on the road, it’s never a mistake. As someone once said, “your choices are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.” When you go with the flow and let the road just unfold ahead of you, there’s no reason to have regrets or think you made a mistake. You make the best decisions you can — but in the end, the journey is the adventure. Sure, things won’t always go as planned. That’s inevitable both at home and abroad. The sooner you can let go of the little things, the easier your journey will be.
After all, traveling is about opening yourself up to change and letting life take you where you want to go. Everything will work itself out.
7. Be Frugal, Not Cheap
When you travel on a budget and need to make your money last, it’s easy to become cheap. But why live like a pauper at home to save for travel just so you can skip the pasta in Italy, the wine in France, or a sushi meal in Japan? While it’s good to be frugal, it’s also important to splurge and not miss out on doing once-in-a-lifetime things. Who knows when you’ll get another chance to dive in Fiji or safari in South Africa?! Know what your priorities are for spending so that you don’t miss out on your dream activity or destination. Take every opportunity to live to the fullest and make your travel dreams a reality!
8. That Said, Don’t Be Wasteful
But remember, you aren’t made of money, so don’t feel like you need to party with your new friends every night or do every activity in a new place. Sometimes it’s OK just to sit around and relax or cook your own meal. Most of all, be conscious and deliberate about your money — decide what’s worth spending on and what’s not. That way, you won’t have to go home ahead of schedule with an empty bank account. A little budgeting goes a long way!
9. It’s Never Too Late to Change
Even if you aren’t the traveler or person you want to be in your head, it’s never too late to change. Travel is all about change. Every day on the road is a chance to try a new, better version of you. For example, traveling has shown me aspects of my personality I wish I didn’t have, like that I can be really lazy: I’ve always sworn by the phrase “carpe diem,” but sometimes I don’t really live by it. It’s never too late, though — and realizing that has made being more proactive a lot easier.
10. You Should Learn More Languages (Seriously)
There’re some great benefits to not knowing the local language — like miming “chicken” to let the lady know you want eggs for breakfast — but learning languages is fun, very helpful when you travel, and works out great when meeting other travelers. Not only can you eavesdrop on their conversations but there’s also nothing like surprising people by speaking their language.
Embrace language learning apps like italki, Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo. Even just a few phrases can add incredible depth to your travels.
11. People Are Generally Good
We grow up in this culture of fear in America that is unrealistic —99.9999% of people aren’t murderers, rapists, or thieves. There’s no reason to assume someone is one. Sometimes, people are just trying to be friendly. All over the world, I have encountered amazing people who have gone out of their way to help me (and sometimes changed my life). It’s taught me (to paraphrase Tennessee Williams) that you can usually depend on the kindness of strangers. Learn to trust in the goodness of people.
I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the last 10 years of travel than I have in the previous 25 years of my life. No matter what happens in the future, I know that I am very blessed to have these last 10 years, and I’m a better person because of them.
And I know that, if you decide to take the plunge and live a life of travel, you’ll be able to enjoy all of the life-changing benefits that it offers.
But don’t take my word for it. Get out there and see the world for yourself!