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20 Lessons Learned from Traveling Around the World
What is it like to be traveling the world? To travel for months and months, just exploring new places? I’ll tell you what it’s like; it’s the best thing ever! And… it’s seriously hard work. You have to organize basic necessities day after day, survive in unfamiliar places, and stick with it. Long-term travel is no vacation, it is a full-time job.
After 14 months of traveling, I wish I could tell my 14 month-younger self what I know now. I probably wouldn’t have listened to myself anyway, but it would have made some things a lot easier.
If you’re a keen traveler, you may recognize the following things. If you have plans for long-term travel, I hope you will find them useful.
Here are some tips about long-term travel from our life on the road.
1. You don’t lose everything if you take the leap to go travel
Okay, maybe you lose a little bit (job, house, money, securities), but you’ll get so much in return! You get to invest in yourself. In your personal development. You learn how to let go, you learn what makes you happy and what doesn’t.
You experience things that will make you richer, emotionally. And maybe, in the end, also financially. You’ll learn new skills (organizational, stress management, social skills, cultural sensitivity, new languages) that you can apply in future jobs for the rest of your life. If you invest in a training (yoga, scuba, volunteering, farming, again languages), even better.
“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” (Euripides)
2. Most places are safe
Most developing countries are actually safe and pretty well-developed. Malaysia is far more developed than Thailand (maybe you already know that, but it surprised me), Costa Rica is almost as developed as the US or Europe, but jungle-ier.
Bad stuff can happen anywhere, even at home. You just have to be smart about it, know where not to go (e.g. don’t go exploring the beach late at night in Nicaragua or you’ll get “Rob”), and take care of your belongings (lock it up!).
3. Stay in one place for a longer time
Take your time. Realize that long-term traveling is different from a typical holiday. It depends on what you do on a holiday normally, but if you’re like us and want to see as much as possible, do as much as possible, and visit 3 countries in 3 weeks, you’ll be exhausted after the first three months.
Regularly stay in one place for at least 3 weeks or a month, and get a normal routine going on. It will help you stay sane and happy.
4. Don’t believe everything other people tell you
Everybody has their own experience, you can only figure out what you think of a place by going there yourself.
5. Stay in touch with your loved ones
You’re out there enjoying the good life, sometimes you forget about home. Yet home is where you return! Your friends and family are the most important, stay connected. Send postcards from every country you visit, especially to your grandparents (they will be so popular with their friends from the nursing home).
6. Oatmeal is available almost everywhere
Maybe not important to everyone, but to me the thought of not having oatmeal for 14 months was awful. I frantically searched the Internet for ‘oatmeal in Thailand’ or ‘oats in Malaysia’ before going on this trip. Turns out, they have oats almost everywhere. Phieew!
7. Eating healthy is easy and affordable
There’s no excuse not to eat healthy while traveling. In Asia it’s super easy, they have the most delicious cuisine (soups, salads, juices, smoothies, fresh fish, curry’s) and it’s extremely cheap. You can get a big plate for a dollar or two.
In Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and Central America, it’s a bit harder. Still, certain fresh veggies are perfectly affordable (depending what’s in season), and canned fish, beans, eggs, oats, fruits and nuts are available everywhere.
8. Staying fit while traveling is fun
Surf, run, do yoga, go mountain-biking, hike through the jungle or the mountains, walk long distances with a 15kg backpack (and a surfboard); plenty of options to stay active.
9. The Lonely Planet is often wrong
Everybody who uses the Lonely Planet knows that “Our Picks” are often cramped with people, top 5 places have lost their splendor (too much tourism), opinions are just subjective, information is not up to date, and street maps are incomplete.
There’s WiFi almost everywhere, you can check the latest info and reviews on e.g. TripAdvisor or Google.
10. Smile and laugh about things that may frustrate you
A smile goes a long way. If you’re happy, people will respond to that. Try to find the fun in having to wait for 2 hours in the scorching sun for the bus driver to fix the broken transmission, and your life is going to be a lot easier!
11. Traveling with a surfboard is not as hard as you think
It’s definitely easier to travel lightweight, that’s for sure. But sometimes you really want your toys to travel with you. Fortunately, a surfboard (would recommend it to keep it max 6’4) fits in almost all taxi’s (if not, take your own straps with you so you can tie it to the roof), in all buses (in Costa Rica they charge you a couple of bucks), and in certain airplanes (don’t fly Jetstar!).
If you’re lucky you can even dodge airline fees. Sometimes they simply forget to charge you, or you have a super friendly airline employee who surfs as well.
12. Buy souvenirs or things you like, and send them home
Important lesson for my next trip. Didn’t do it this time, and I’m going to regret it forever.
13. You can buy anything almost anywhere
Toiletries (e.g. lens fluid), medicines (antibiotics, aspirin), clothes (undies), shoes (flip-flops), earplugs, anti-conception etc. are available in most places. In Asia and Central America, medicines are way cheaper, no prescription needed.
14. Use earplugs
Sleep is very, very important. If haven’t slept well during the night, it can make your day a lot harder. Traveling comes with sleeping in noisy places sometimes. Earplugs will safe your day.
15. Invest in a good pair of sandals
Traveling includes a lot of walking. Be kind to your feet and they will be kind to you.
16. The most beautiful places are not found in a guide-book
Everybody has their own way of traveling, some like to have visited the ‘highlights’ or a guide book’s Top 5 of a country. Other people think those places are rather crowded, touristy and overdeveloped.
To me, a beautiful place is more than pretty scenery; it’s the people, the experiences, the vibe of a place. No guide book is going to tell you where to find that.
17. Don’t pet any animals
Uh…maybe next time.
18. Do what YOU want, not what other people expect you to do
If you’re traveling with a partner, listen to each other’s dreams but make sure you are following your own. If necessary, do things on your own, or travel by yourself for a while.
Some people back home may have certain expectations of your trip. Just do what you like to do (even if it’s just lazy beach-bumming. The museum will still be there tomorrow ).
19. Never pay in advance – or pay partially so you can always leave
Sometimes your expectations of a place (a nice website, a good recommendation from someone you’ve met) exceed the actual experience (no sleep because of barking dogs all night, cockroach infestation in your room, unfriendly hosts). It’s better to not commit yourself blindly to a place for too long.
20. Don’t step on poisonous snakes
Fortunately, not a lesson from personal experience. But, an important one nonetheless.
Have you ever traveled for a long time?