I think it’s safe to say that I ‘fell’ into travelling in 2006 after I took a job in México teaching English when I finished college. The job didn’t work out but I embarked on a trip around Central America with people I had met and had the most incredible time ever. I caught the bug and kept travelling on & off for years with friends I had made on that trip.
I thought my backpacking days were done, but last July (2017) I decided to quit my job, book flights and head off again to finish that Central/South American trip I started in 2006. It was epic and worth the wait and here I share some insights from my experience of travel and what it has meant to me.
Push yourself past your comfort zone
- Travel forces you to be brave. You have to push yourself and make a conscious effort to make the most of your time. It is not an easy task to do straight off, especially when you are dealing with a different language or culture. It can take a few weeks to get into your groove. I know for me, definitely at the start of my trip I allowed my shyness to get the better of me at times and I missed out on some opportunities. But once you find your mojo, you gain confidence and you get comfortable with being uncomfortable! You learn when you feel that fear, you just go for it anyway and realise the more you do something, it actually becomes less scary!
- Without patience (or developing patience!) you are not going to have the most enjoyable travel experience. Different countries work different to us, not all work to time schedules you might be used too. These are the realities of travelling and instead of getting yourself worked up every time a bus or train doesn’t leave on time, or when you’re waiting for over an hour for your food in a restaurant; learn to kick back and go with the local flow! Patience is one of the virtues I’m most grateful for from my travels, I mean what’s the rush anyway…just breathe and get creative with the time – use it to journal, play cards, strike up a conversation with some new people or play some fun games!
- To thrive in a travel environment, you need to be resilient. You need to be able to pick yourself up and keep going. Burn out can happen for a lot of people because despite what some people may think, it is tough going and stressful at times. All those early morning starts, long uncomfortable journeys and always needing to be alert and tuned into situations. In the face of always looking like a tourist, you learn to stand up for yourself if you blatantly know you are being ripped off or being told a little lie. Don’t always believe what you’re being told straight off, take a few moments, have a think and ask someone else as well if needs be. Myself and a friend were ripped off so badly in Costa Rica (read about it here) but we were just so focused on getting to our destination that we didn’t stop to think and fell hook, line and sinker for the scam (although we did have bad feels about it, we never spoke up!). We were so down about the situation but we learned from it and moved on…we can laugh about our stupidity now!
Become an expert decision maker
- Travelling is a constant decision making process, all day every day, you are making decisions – where to go, what to do, where to stay, where to eat, how to get to a place, is it safe to walk, do you need a taxi, can you get there by bus etc etc. Travelling on your own is an extra pressure because you have to make all these decisions yourself, there is no one else to bounce ideas off or no one else to just make the decision for you! It’s full on at times and especially during high season, you always have to be one step ahead and have most things pre-booked (this is one of the reasons I prefer not to travel in high season because I want to be more relaxed and have more flexibility). I used to have what I called ‘admin days’ where literally I would spend the day researching and planning for my next moves.
Love the skin you’re in
- Without all the accoutrements we’re used too in everyday life, you learn to embrace yourself and realise it is more important the person you are, as opposed to how you look. Most people (not all!) don’t travel with a hair dryer, hair straightener and full case of make-up, so being without these items for the first time can be daunting. People often feel vulnerable when they start travelling but after a time they readjust and learn to love the skin they’re in. There is a great pleasure in not having to fuss over all these items. The simple life becomes very appealing and letting your hair get a bit out of control or not worrying about having to be perfectly groomed all the time is actually very liberating. You fully ‘be yourself’ and that’s amazing.
- Travel enables you to see the beauty in other countries and places that you visit, which in turn opens your eyes to all the beauty around you including when you return home (in case you didn’t notice it before). It also gives you an appreciation for the smallest things that you may take for granted at home i.e. having a washing machine and being able to do your own laundry at any stage (if you’ve travelled before you’ll understand the laundry dilemma!).
Learn to live with less
- Considering you have to carry on your back your items for the next couple of months, you have to be ruthless and do without certain items. Believe me, the more you travel the better you get at this as well. First timers will always have an extremely heavy backpack with lots of impractical items that they’ll either offload on route or look at at the end of their trip and think…’What the hell did I bring that for?’. Travelling makes you an extremely practical packer (what you need is much different to a two week holiday!). While being limited to a backpack brings certain challenges at times (sick of wearing the same things all the time!), you learn to live without non-essential items and learn to be happy with the basics.
- The more you expose yourself to different cultures, languages, races, people, lifestyles, foods, experiences, genders, environments, accommodations, transports, adventures etc, the more open-minded and accepting you become which in turn will have huge personal benefits and also benefit those around you!
- We are all built with an internal GPS, an inner knowing that is within each and every one of us, but modern lifestyles and constantly being ‘switched on’ often doesn’t allow us to tune in and listen to these hunches and nudges. Travel gives you the time and space to do this. You can tune into yourself (make the most of those LONG bus journeys!) and really notice how you are and what’s showing up. Take a few moments when exploring a new place and lie in a park, sit on a bench, relax on the beach, walk in a forest, have a coffee on a nice terrace, just be quite and soak it all in. I know my intuition becomes so on point when I’m travelling, I sense various situations and know whether to proceed or make my exit. This is a trait that I most appreciate from travelling and it’s something I keep tuned into all the time.
Less screen time, more present time
- Although wifi is pretty much a global phenomenon now and every hostel is connected. There are lots of times when you are out and about where you won’t find wifi in any cafes, bars, restaurants or on public transport and this is a blessing in disguise. Learn to accept it and just use your phone for pictures and videos to make memories if you wish, as opposed to trying to get online all the time. By accepting that for the majority of your time outside of the hostel you won’t have wifi, you save yourself a lot of wasted time trying to connect in a place where they say they have wifi (half the time I think places put up signs to say they have wifi to attract tourists…they’re clever that way but it never works or is extremely patchy…so trust me, just save yourself the stress!).
Broadens perspective on life
- All the above things I’m ranting on about, absolutely give you a broader perspective on life. You learn not to sweat the small things in life and go with the flow more. You develop a thirst for knowledge and you get more curious about life and yourself. It gives you a fresh view that maybe we don’t all have to fit into a box and there is more to life than having all the material things that society and advertising make us believe that we can’t live without. There is so much to be gained from taking a step back and opening your mind to another perspective, and so much to be gained from being your true self and connecting with other people and cultures.
Become a packing pro
- It’s all in the title. You become such an expert at packing. You get a system down after a few weeks, where everything has it’s place according to practicality. You learn to use every inch of space and lose unnecessary packaging e.g. boxes for plasters, tablets etc. The same is also true for unpacking, in that no matter where you are, you will always take out some of the same things and place them in the same location on your bed or beside your bed (well I did anyway so then I knew I wouldn’t forget anything). The first things I always took out were my pajamas, my toiletry bag and a little pouch with my ear plugs, eye mask and head torch…because more often than not you would go exploring for the day, meet a group of cool people, end up going out for the night and the last thing you want to be doing when you return is rummaging for these essentials!
Live harmoniously with others
- Sleeping in dorms with up to 20 people is a challenge in itself but when you can navigate this territory smoothly, you can survive anything and live harmoniously with anyone as far as I’m concerned. Having my trusty ear plugs and eye mask were life savers. I’d just put them on and go to sleep, ignoring what was going on around me. I couldn’t understand people who travelled without these ‘essentials’ and then complained about the noise, light and that they couldn’t sleep. I mean if you’re going to sleep in a dorm, you have to expect that people will be coming and going at all hours. This is the reality, so it’s like damage limitation in my eyes and I certainly wasn’t going to get upset with anyone, they are on their trip too!
- It’s important to look after yourself while travelling and this is something that people often neglect or never even think about. You are putting your body through a lot (think uncomfortable hostel beds, pillows, crazy activities, sitting on long buses, wearing flip flops constantly, copious amounts of insect repellent etc) so take advantage if prices are more economical and find a yoga class to stretch your body, get a massage, facial, pedicure or reflexology every now and again to soothe and invigorate your amazing body that is doing so much for you.