I never thought I was going to travel this long. It was only gong to be a year, maybe 18 months tops, and then I’d go back home, find a “real” job, settle into life, and by now, I’d be married, have a house, and 2.5 children, and be complaining about my retirement fund to my friends.
I celebrated five years of travel by giving away all my frequent flier miles, but I think five years is a good point in which to sit back and reflect on what exactly travel has taught me through this long, strange trip:
It’s not that hard.
Every day, people get up and go out the door to travel the world. And they survive and thrive. In fact, the travel industry has made it very easy to make it. Just get on that plane or train or bus. Everything else will work itself out. All that worrying and fear I had was for naught — this traveling thing is a lot easier than you would believe. It’s not like you are the first person to ever do this.
You learn a lot of good skills.
Traveling around the world has taught me to how to be more social, adapt, be more flexible, and, most importantly, understand nonverbal communication a lot better. It has helped me figure out situations even when I can’t understand them. It has made me more independent, more open, and, overall, just a better person. There’s no reason to be scared that you might not have “it” in you. You’d be surprised how often you can surprise yourself.
You make a lot of friends.
It may seem scary just throwing yourself out there and talking to strangers, but we are all strangers in a strange land. At the end of the day, everyone is very friendly. It took me a while to get used to just saying “hello” to strangers, but now it seems like second nature. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming on the road that even when you travel solo, you are never really alone.
You meet some of your closest friends traveling.
Those times I just want to relax and do nothing are the times I’ve made my closest friends. Whether it was in a hostel in Vietnam, on a boat in Thailand, or walking into a hostel in Spain, when I least expected (or wanted) to meet people was when I met the best. And even though you may not see them for years, you still end up at their wedding, Christmas dinner, or family celebration. Distance and time cannot break the bond you formed.
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 to a lot of long-term relationships. It’s hard to make something last when everyone moves in different directions and holidays end. If you get too attached too often, you’ll have nothing but heartache as people come and go. But I’ve realized you need to simply enjoy your time together for what it is and stay on good terms when it ends.
But chase the ones you like.
Yet once in a while, you’ll find someone you really connect with. Meaningful romance on the road does happen. And when you have nowhere to be and no place to go other than where you want, sometimes there is no reason not to follow. Don’t force yourself to say another good-bye if you don’t have to. Pursue it even if the distance seems too vast, because you never know where it could lead or how long it might last. Sometimes you only get one chance, and when it is gone, you’re filled with nothing but regret.
It’s good to try new things.
I used to be a very rigid person, but traveling has helped me expand my worldview. I’ve pushed myself to the limit, eaten new food, taken cooking classes, learned magic tricks and new languages, tried to conquer my fear of heights, and challenged my views on people. I’ve learned that the more you know and the more you try new things, the funnier life is.
Doing the canyon swing was tough. So was jumping off the boat in the Galápagos. As was eating the maggots in Thailand. And getting my butt kicked in Thai boxing. And, while I won’t do either of those last two things again, I don’t regret stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new things. Even if you only try things once, it’s good to challenge yourself and be adventurous. Scare yourself once in a while. It makes life less dull.
I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the last five 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 five years, and I’m a better person because of them.