To say that travel changes you is a vast understatement. Whether you like it or not, long-term or frequent travel will have some impact on your life and your mentality — but it is up to you to be open-minded enough to absorb and grow from those experiences. Travel did more than just change my life. What life lessons have I learned after 5 years on the road?
November marked the 5 years since I left the United States for the first time. November 15th I turned 28, and ever since I left that first time, I’ve made it a tradition to arrive in another country on my birthday each year.
That fateful day when I stepped off the plane in New Zealand and onto foreign soil for the first time set into motion infinite and unknown experiences, stories, and connections. I’ve learned countless life lessons that have helped me to continually grow into the person I want to be, and appreciate life in all aspects of the word.
Life before travel had no meaning. Now it does.
For this 5 year anniversary, I’ve decided to put together my most open, most epic, and most in-depth article to reveal the important life lessons travel has taught me. About how travel changed my life. A juicy and revealing “all-time favorites” list, and a list of my craziest misadventures.
12 Life Lessons from Travel
1. There’s a Big Ole’ World Out There.
It seems silly to think a life lesson would be the discovery that the world is a big place. Then again people thought that earth was flat. Not too farfetched. Likewise, ignorance about the outside world it seem like it only existed in my immediate and tangible life. Before traveling, life revolved around the home I grew up in, a few cities that branched from that, and my job.
World news, politics, global events, and other cultures weren’t a part of that — so they didn’t exist pre-travel in my mind. Even when I first flew to New Zealand, one of my biggest surprises was that New Zealand had opposite seasons than the USA. Crazy huh? Now, my mind is open and expands every time I travel to a new country — bringing new sights, experiences, and connections with people.
2. Don’t Judge A Country By Its Media Coverage
I’m adamant about not allowing the news dictate your mindset about the world, and travel helped break me free from the manipulated and falsified “news“. The majority of it is bullshit. But quite often it shapes first impressions of countries around the world even before you go.
Growing up with a hardcore conservative father, I was raised to believe everything outside of the United States is screwed up or dangerous or a threat to our livelihoods. No wonder why I didn’t think outside that small-town mentality. Everything must be feared or I must be disgusted by it. Worse, everything and everyone outside of the United States just wasn’t worthy of a passing thought.
Much of what you see in movies or on TV or in the news paints the world as a dangerous place filled with kidnappings, murderous people, and terrorists. For instance, my first time staying in a hostel I thought it’d play out like a horror film and I’d be killed.
Flash forward to present day. Travel has freed me from the nonsense of living in fear and thinking everyone is out to get me. People told me not to travel to Haiti because I’d be killed or kidnapped. I’ve been twice now, and I felt safer there than I do around Washington DC. That helped me begin to look beyond preconceived notions that you see in the news. From Southeast Asia to Europe and everywhere else I’ve been, I can confidently say that the world is a safe place as long as you make smart decisions.
MUST READ: Want to see just how wrong people can be about countries? Read about my experience in Haiti
3. Travel forces you out of your comfort zone, and It’s a good thing
There are plenty of reasons why I’m not a huge fan of living in Washington DC, but a biggie is that most people have a safety bubble around them — a comfort zone. I had one as well.
If you sit beside someone on the metro, you can sense a sudden tension. If you say hi to someone on a street corner just to be friendly, they either ignore you or give you a skeptical response. I’ve been given the middle finger before too. It’s a sunglasses on, headphones in, don’t make eye-contact style society.
Then you travel, and you find that you have to get over your comfort-zone limitations. Because if you don’t, you won’t be going anywhere soon.
There’s a chance you’ll have to squeeze into a hot and smelly train car in India or Asia and be okay with it. You’ll have to gather enough courage to approach someone who may or may not speak English and ask for directions — then make an effort to bridge the language gap. The next thing you know, you’re laughing with them about who knows what and sipping tea in their café or house.
Travel makes want to break out of your safety bubble because life truly happens outside of your comfort zone.
4. Food Makes the World Go Round
Food makes the world go round. However weird it is, eat it.
I was a picky little shit growing up. Blunt but true. If anything besides ketchup touched my burger I’d throw a tantrum. My Pop raised us on meat and potato themed dinners, barbecue, or pizza. If I couldn’t pronounce it or if it looked strange, I’d never try it.
Now — I’ll eat just about anything.
Each country I go to, flavor and textures and ingredients change drastically. But one thing stays the same — food brings people together.
Growing up, family dinners weren’t really a thing. We’d each grab a plate and eat in separate rooms. When you travel, you get to see just how integral food is for life, gossip, news, chatting, celebration, and just hanging out. A big dinner in Italy that lasted hours where everyone talked and feasted and drank all night showed me just what I was missing out on.
One of the best ways to learn the culture of a country is to taste it.
Sometimes you’ll try food that will make you weep and the angels sing, and others foods you’ll be wondering if that eye-ball will squirt out like a cherry tomato when you take a chomp.
Either way, it’ll be a look (no pun intended) into everyday life, ancient traditions, and fascinating cultures . And you’ll have some funny stories to tell.
See that face to the left? That’s my “what the hell did I just put in my mouth” face. But I still tried it.
Tasting Haitian blood sausage in a remote village was a weird one for me, but it was an incredible experience to share with the local “Momma” who made it for everyone.
Trying scorpions in Thailand? Touristy but also an achievement. Octopus in Italy? I wouldn’t have tried it before, but it is one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten. A leaf filled with tobacco, honey, seeds, and spices? Woowee that was a tough one. Gotta’ love Indian street food.
You’ll go home and softly chuckle to yourself when somebody freaks out about a fly in their soup and returns it. Because you’d probably just eat it. Maybe not, but I would.
Want to know the world? Taste it.
5. Travel doesn’t heal, so don’t run away from something haunting you
When the idea first popped into my head to travel the world, it was at a time in my life when I was spiraling deep into depression and filling in the missing pieces with alcohol, objects, and desperate one night stands. It seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn’t ever feel happy.
Then I discovered travel. And I found happiness. Or so I thought.
The idea of travel electrified me, and for once I had something to look forward to. I thought travel was the cure to all of my past and problems — that it would eradicate the darkness in me.
That is where the fault lies. Travel, like any other action in your life, can either be a positive or negative one. It isn’t an injection or cure for a disease. Travel is a vehicle that can help you grow as a person and can add substance and excitement to your life, but it won’t make problems just go away.
My first trip abroad to New Zealand was amazing, but when I still found myself haunted by issues I hadn’t dealt with, my return my depression worse. I thought travel would make the pain go away, and it distracted it for a while but it was still there.
Face your problems.
RELATED: Death — My Travel Inspiration
6. Don’t forget to focus on yourself.
Travel isn’t a cure-all to your problems, but it can help. You can’t just fly somewhere and voila, everything is fine. Travel is a journey, and so is self-improvement. Those whirlwind nights drinking until blackout in drug-laced rave parties on a beach can be pretty fun, but not really healing. That’s ignoring it. Trust me, I know.
After facing my issues, my next trip wasn’t about running away, but accepting my past and growing in a positive way. And filling it with positive experiences and goals to be better and happier.
If you have an issue you have to deal with, travel can help separate you from the stresses of “normal life” or routine and allow you focus on yourself. Days hiking solo in the mountains, or nights in the hammock of your bungalow, or wandering streets of ancient cities — these can provide moments of clarity where you can sort through what bothers you while simultaneously absorbing things that make you happy.
Focus on you. Conquer mountains and conquer your demons.
7. Forget about FOMO. (Fear of Missing Out)
Pre-travel I spent most weekends partying like crazy with co-workers or feeling the need to party like crazy. If it was thirsty Thursday, the weekend, burger Monday’s — you name it. I had to go out. If I was at home I felt that I was missing out on some amazing time. I’d even go out alone and drink enough to the point where I had the confidence to hit the dance floor without my friends.
Now, I don’t give a damn if I’m going out. Those blackout nights were only a distraction from a lifestyle I wasn’t happy with, and I always needed to supplement it or else I worried that the fun would pass me by.
Once I began traveling, crazy nights out became a hindrance to the ability to explore. When you wake up hungover, there’s no way you’ll want to explore temples or hike canyons. Partying was replaced by more fulfilling things, and I stopped worrying about missing out on something not memorable because I now living fulfilled.
Sure, I still have nights out while traveling, but those are more of a bonding experience with new friends while sipping beers on a paradise beach somewhere.
There is no missing out while traveling.
8. You can be anything you ever dreamed
When we are kids, the world was our playground and our imagination was our career counselor.
We used to be warriors and explorers, archeologists and painters, race car drivers and airplane pilots. Some were astronauts, others deep-sea divers.Hell, I wanted to be Peter Pan.
I don’t think any of us when we were younger ever said, “I want to be an insurance salesman” or “I want to be a banker“.
I know I never said I ever wanted to be a waiter.
Travel showed me that I could be anything I wanted again. Our child selves were right all along, we just didn’t follow through.
Once I broke away from the “American Dream” mentality and began traveling, I’ve had countless different “careers“.
I’ve been a warrior when I learned the haka in New Zealand. I’ve been a deep-sea explorer when I scuba dived in Italy and Aruba. I’ve been a filmmaker when I traveled to Haiti for a documentary. I’ve been an adventurer roaming ancient ruins in Angkor Wat. I’ve been a paid writer in 18 different countries. I’ve been a cook learning traditional pasta making in Italy. I’ve been rickshaw driver while doing the Rickshaw Run in India. Okay, that last one I never imagined as a child, but let’s chalk that one up with race car driver.
And, I actually got to be Peter Pan by staying in a treehouse hotel in Haiti. Fantasy became reality.
See what I’m getting at?
When you travel you have time to focus on whatever you want to become that day or month or year, without “normal life” holding you back. You get to become the things you’ve always wanted to be, all over the world.
Come check out this awesome video that will show you how 4 years of travel changed my life. Watch this epic video here!
9. It’s okay to be alone
Solo travel cures the “need” to always do things with other people.
For the most part.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having outings with friends, but travel removes the hesitation to go it alone. As the worries, hesitations, and stigma of “alone means lonely” fall away, you begin to focus inward on yourself.
The experiences of braving a journey alone, of making all the choices, of reaping the reward of knowing you did it without relying on another person will be incredibly fulfilling.
You will have times when you feel a bit lonely on the road. You’ll have instances where you sit on a beach and watch couples cuddling and desire to have that. But there’s more of a chance of you meeting awesome people on the road solo than sitting in a bar alone hoping it happens and being too scared to go adventure by yourself.
10. We are all the same, you and I. And the rest of the world
Growing up in a country that has travel warnings slapped on more countries than not, and the media shoving reasons to fear death in other countries down our throats, it’s no wonder why most Americans don’t have passports. We are constantly fed a message that other nations of people are out to get us. That they’re barbaric or violent or primitive.
What they say about other countries and people is all wrong.
I was raised by a very VERY right-wing conservative father, who liked George Bush and watched Fox News incessantly. I watched it too. And I listened to what my father said, and regurgitated those beliefs.
He had many friends of many cultures, but he also had a harsh view of other races. Growing up in that environment made me closed-minded to other races and sexes and orientations in a negative way.
One unfortunate example of this influence: I remember being in middle school history class when they announced the 9/11 attacks. The teacher showed us on a map of where the suspected terrorists had come from. I went to the map and saw Islamabad and at the time I yelled out, “Look, it’s even called “Islam-is-bad“.
Yeah, shake my damn head at my younger self.
It was idiotic and it was ignorant, but I was a product of my environment. It’s no excuse for comments like this, but it’s up to each one of us to grow beyond the confines of our upbringing and discover the truth for ourselves.
No matter who you are, our environments directly affect our perspective of the world, ourselves, and other people. Be it open-mindedness or a closed-mindedness. Travel helped me transcend those negative boundaries.
As I mentioned above, solo travel forces you out of your comfort zone so you can meet new people and have more enriching cultural experiences to show you how different the world is from the media.
GOOD READ: My First Real Impressions of Haiti
11. It is our obligation to travel
Once upon a not-so-faraway moment in my life, I thought that getting a passport would be extremely difficult. After all, nobody else in my immediate family had ever had a passport. It had to be something as difficult as winning the lottery. Right?
It was a cinch to get my passport. And I’ve never had much issue after that about traveling into any country I want (except for re-entering the USA, that’s always hell). It is a privilege many of us have to get a passport and to travel, and for that, it is also our obligation to travel. You must travel, for the reasons listed as well as a duty to humankind.
It is our responsibility as human beings with the ability and freedom to travel to face our fears. To get over comfort zones of not having secure jobs and not having a big screen TV or not having our Starbucks. To travel to feed our curiosities, which will be the best education you ever have just by gobbling up all observations and experience that come from travel. To travel for people who cannot, and when you meet those people, to connect with them and share your culture. To absorb their own culture and tell others. To share a smile and a meal. Not to travel just as an observer. Not to just take a photo. Not to travel just for leisure or vacation. To share emotions. You will see that emotion is what connects every human being on the planet. We all feel the same emotions and want the same basic things in life. We all feel pain. We all desire happiness.
Travel will help you discover that nothing divides the human race as a whole except the fear of the unknown — and it is the one thing that was holding myself back. Travel, and you become a piece of the puzzle connecting the world by surpassing boundaries, on a map or of the mind. The biggest life lesson travel taught me is that, I as a human being, with the privilege of being raised in a first world country, who could at any moment fly where I please, and the ability to be a part of positive influences around the globe if I chose to, must travel to help destroy ignorant and harmful and bigoted assumptions about other people. To help show that we are all one. To not simply exist but to live like a candle at the end of the wick burning bright. And to bring light into other people’s lives.
Whether it be sharing a personal and heart-warming moment that you experienced abroad, or shedding light on countries and people who the rest of the world looks down on, or volunteering for positive impact companies, or just making the effort to connect with those you meet abroad and share their culture — it is an obligation.
12. Travel Doesn’t Change You. You Change You
Travel doesn’t change us. Wait, wasn’t the whole point of this article to tell you that travel DOES change you?! What gives?
We are the ones who change ourselves and grow ourselves because of travel. It can be a vehicle for growth, but it’s not some magical pony ride that takes you to an alternate life. You can change your life, to see the world, and to positively affect others. If you choose to.
Travel is just a platform for change.
5 years since I left the United States on my birthday in 2011, travel has been a vehicle for me to learn tons of life lessons and to understand myself and what I desire in life. And it still is. That growth will never stop.
Never grow stagnant. Never grow complacent. Seek new horizons abroad and within.
Favorite City: New Orleans
Favorite Country: Haiti and Italy Tie
Favorite Food: New Orleans. Lake Pontchartrain fish with 3 types of creole shrimp, and other goodies. I nearly cried.
Favorite mode of transport: Trains READ: Train Adventure Across America
Favorite book read on travels: The Alchemist
Favorite Adventure Activity: Scuba Diving WATCH: Scuba Diving in Ponza Italy
Favorite Landscape: Nova Scotia
Favorite Cultural Experience: Learning the Haka in New Zealand
Favorite Place to Drink: Munich, Germany (Weissen Brauhaus München, Aventinus Beer)
Favorite Coffee: Thai iced coffee. And instant coffee atop a fort in Jaisalmer.
Favorite Street Art: The Lennon Wall, Prague. WATCH: Lost in Prague
Favorite Hammock Experience: Camping for 2 weeks in Doubtless Bay with a hammock. READ: Love Letter to New Zealand
Favorite Chill Spot: Pai, Thailand. Super chill.
Favorite Accommodation: Treehouse hostel in Haiti READ: A Night in Rustik Treehouse Hotel
Favorite Tour: Hypogeum tour beneath the Roman Colosseum. READ: Exploring the Hypogeum
Favorite World Heritage Site: La Citadel, Haiti
Favorite Beach: Loch Ard Gorge, Australia
Favorite Trek: Living Bridges, India
CRAZIEST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
╳ Being a stripper on a cruise ship — Hawai
╳ White water rafting, bungie jumping, canyon swinging, winning a billiards tournament, and singing karaoke. In one day. — Taupo, New Zealand
╳ Taking a camel on a white water raft — Rotorua, New Zealand
╳ Illegally guerrilla camping atop Mount Victoria a Lord of the Rings Location — Wellington, New Zealand
╳ Packing kiwi fruit in a factory for 3 months — Te Puke, New Zealand
╳ Almost getting in a knife fight in a Haitian brothel we thought was a hotel — Cap Haitien, Haiti
╳ Boat engine stalling out in the middle of the Caribbean — Haiti
╳ Bourbon Street…’Nuff said — New Orleans, USA
╳ Taking buses in India — Everywhere
╳ Completing the Rickshaw Run — Jaisalmer to shillong, India
╳ Driving a rickshaw at night with no breaks, no horn, no lights for 8 hours — India
╳ Nearly dying while scuba diving — Ponza, Italy
╳ Exploring haunted Voodoo caves with only my iPhone light — Camp Perrin, Haiti
╳ Being a runway model in a fetish fashion show — Washington, DC
╳ Driving a motorbike on the dangerous 762 turn road to Pai — Thailand
╳ Front-flip into a waterfall — Te Puke, New Zealand
╳ Getting a bamboo tattoo in a temple by a Buddhist Monk — Outside Bangkok, Thailand
╳ Attending a traditional Indonesian wedding in Slovakia for an American friend, and drunkenly knee sliding across an Austrian palace floor — Slovakia and Austria
╳ Drunk make-out session in the back of a Thai police truck…without knowing it was a Thai police truck — Pai, Thailand
╳ Getting “screeched in” — St. Johns, Newfoundland
╳ Feeling the Earthquake that destroyed Nepal — Darjeeling, India
╳ Watching Germany win the World Cup in Munich, Germany
╳ Sleeping in the loft above a small 2,000+ year old theater in the heart of Rome
╳ Drinking from sunset to sunrise in a “ruin bar” — Budapest, Hungary
╳ The first time stepping on foreign soil — Auckland, New Zealand
Total Air Milage: 69,000
Planes taken: 30
Trains taken: 40
Buses taken: 25
Totally hostels slept in: 72
Total Countries: 18
Most people driven on a scooter: 3+bags
Times seriously sick: 5
Total money spent: $24,000 (give or take a few thousand)
Video in Gigabytes: 4,000+ GB
Photos Taken: 35,000