I started traveling at a fairly young age. What began with annual family vacations at the French coast, continued with a year spent in an American High School, backpacking Australia, countless shorter trips and finally culminated in my recent year-long journey across Southeast Asia. I said this before; I am not one of those lucky persons who can say that they don’t regret anything they did in their lives. I would probably change a few things if I had the chance to but what I never regretted and what always turned out to be amazing experiences were my travels abroad. They made me richer, opened my eyes and mind, made me grow as a person and allowed me to create memories which I will never forget. Traveling has changed me and my personality in countless ways and has probably taught me more than 5 years of university. Here are some of the things I have learnt along the way.
1| The world is a beautiful place
We all tend to get our opinions about the world and specific places from the media. But have you noticed that the media is always focusing on the negatives? It is what best draws their audience’s attention, what brings more clicks and rakes in the most money. But it has the side effect that a lot us regard the world as a hostile and dangerous place, where tourists get kidnapped or robbed and terrorism is a constant threat. But during all of my travels I have found the world to be a wonderful place with utterly wonderful people in it. I found a saying, which sums up it quite well. “You won’t know, if you don’t go.”
2| Different people, same goals
I have seen the most different places with the most different people living in them. Sea gypsies in Indonesia, hill tribes in Northern Vietnam and people calling the biggest metropolises of the world their home. When we encounter a foreign country and new cultures, we tend to be mostly aware of the differences. These might be language, behavior, attire, skin color or other traits. But if you look beyond the surface, you will find that most people on this earth strive for the same simple things. A roof over their heads, food on the table, safety for their family and community and of course happiness. Especially happiness is a matter of definition but at the end of the day, our goals in life are not so much different as we might think and neither are we as people.
3| Development – The two sides of the medal
Economic development, especially in emerging countries, has the potential to massively improve people’s lives. Newly build roads connect rural areas, giving their inhabitants access to medical facilities and education. The development of tourism can provide even the remotest regions with new income opportunities. But if not managed wisely, developments like these can have side effects which will be detrimental to a country’s culture and identity. Old traditions might get lost, environmental problems might arise and the traditional sense of community might disappear. I am still not sure what to think of this as of course my priorities are very different from the ones the local people have. I might also be a bit more aware of the negative consequences such seemingly positive developments can have. But it is safe to say, that development can be a mixed blessing to say the least.
4| A smile will take you far
Even if you don’t know the local language of the country you are traveling, a big smile has the potential of opening hearts and doors for you. A smile can take you a long way as people will find you more likeable and hence approachable. Being grumpy and angry will put people off and no one will want to be near you. This goes for locals and fellow travelers alike. So put on a smile, go out and get ready for some interesting encounters.
5| It won’t be all gravy
That being said, it will be impossible to smile every single day and be in the best mood all the time. People think that while traveling, you must be in a state of constant euphoria because of all the great things you see and do. But with everything else, there is always light and shadow, black and white, the ying and the yang. It is perfectly normal to have bad days where everything is just annoying and where you just don’t want to talk to anybody. There is nothing wrong with being grumpy for a day or two. Accept these episodes as what they are – fleeting moments in time with the next highlight just waiting around the corner.
6| The joy of simplicity
This is a huge lesson traveling has taught me. We don’t need much to be happy in life and definitely not as much as society wants us to believe. It’s not all about acquiring more and more things and status – the tenth pair of shoes, the latest smartphone or the newest car. It’s rather the simple things that truly stick and make you richer. Friendship, witnessing the wonders of nature, meeting interesting people and learning about new cultures.
During my travels I often witnessed people who did not have much but where very happy and content with what they had. In my opinion often much happier than people here in the West who, if we think about it, have way more than they actually need. We must be aware of and cherish those small things in life. The simple life is the best life.
7| Memories are the greatest wealth
This is closely connected to the point I made above. After that one year traveling Southeast Asia, I came home with thousands of amazing memories. I met interesting people, made new friends, saw beautiful places and grew as a person. However, when I came home after that year of roaming the earth, it seemed like literally nothing had changed. And I know that if I had stayed in my old corporate job, nothing would have changed for me as well. All of those memories I made, no one will ever be able to take away from me. I’d rather be old and have some good stories to tell than with a fortune on my bank account. Create memories.
8| It’s not worth to be cheap
This might sound easier said than done as traveling can be an extensive endeavor, especially if you come from a developing country. But I am talking about activities and adventures along the way as these will make your trip enjoyable and the memorable highlight you want it to be. Try not to be too cheap here. If you really want to do that island hopping tour, then do it, if you really want to climb that mountain, then do it and if you really want to try surfing, then take those lessons. Who knows when you will be back there again? It is better to save on other things instead, like accommodation, food or transportation and invest in experiences.
9| Low and slow is the way to go
I am not a big fan of rushing through countries to just mark them off a list. I want to immerse myself into a culture as much as possible and get a real feel for the country and its people. This is best done be traveling slowly, taking time and relying on local transportation. Of course this might not be the most comfortable or most effective means of transportation but it allows for a much more authentic experience. It is also an integral part of the adventure. Figuring out how to get from one place to another, asking for connections, riding topload on jeepneys and sometimes getting lost – A flight won’t offer that.
10| Getting lost can be an opportunity
I find this so important that I wrote an entire article about the concept of getting lost and why it isn’t all that bad. Getting lost throws us out of our comfort zones immediately. It challenges ourselves, forces us to deal with new situations and it makes us learn more about ourselves. Getting lost can for sure be annoying, but when traveling, it can be empowering, teaching us new skills and a source for adventure. So let’s not fear getting lost but embrace it as opportunity.
11| People who have less, give more
It’s something I noticed in almost every country I visited. But most memorable was an occasion on the small island of Camiguin in the Philippines. One morning me and two new local friends of mine had breakfast at a small bakery in town, when were approached by young little kid, asking for a bit of money. Whereas I usually don’t give money, my friend gave the boy a bit of change without much of a fuss. “It’s just a few coins”, she remarked. I had a lot of moments like that. People who didn’t seem to have much invited me for food and drinks or opened their door for me. It is a strange phenomenon. There are people who have a comparably tough life, concerned about getting by and living with generally less amenities than we do. And still they are happy and willing to share the little they have with others. Moments like that made me feel welcome and blessed and at the same time a little sad thinking about myself, where I have come from and how big the difference is.
Traveling has the potential to fundamentally change you and make you grow as a person. It makes you learn a lot about yourself and can be such an empowering experience as well. Adapting to new environments, being on your own without the comforts of your familiar environment can be challenging but it is those challenges that will make you grow and become a stronger person.
Traveling will also broaden your horizon because it will show you other concepts of living life, other values and other ideals. That knowledge is an invaluable asset and of great benefit for your own life back home. That’s why I think, if granted the opportunity, everyone should travel.
What are your thoughts about it? What important things has traveling taught you and what would you add to this list? Feel free to comment below. Philipp