30 Life Lessons I Learned From Travel (And How They’re Making Me Happier At Home)

 

One week ago, I hit the two month mark since my return from my (dream-come-true) full-time travels this year.

With each month mark that passed during my trip, I took some time to do a little reflecting.  Why not continue to do so upon returning home?  

In fact, what other ways of thinking and living did I adopt while traveling that I can put into practice at home?  If traveling is truly what makes me happiest, what is it exactly that does it for me?  Is it truly the places I am, or is it a way of living that travel enforces?

I thought it would take some time to put my finger on how I lived and thought differently while traveling that was so fulfilling to me. Turns out the second pen hit pad, this poured out.  I’m doing my best to live by it.

 

1. Never stop learning.

If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.  If you’re not growing, you’re not living.

 

2. Never stop exploring. 

If you stay in one place, you might never know what you’re missing.  You also might never know where you truly belong.

3. Live (and travel) slowly. 

It’s tempting to run around, checking off endless lists.  I’ve done it, more often than not.  Over the years, I’ve come to see the merit of taking it slow.  We only have so much time, whether it’s in a trip or in a lifetime. Just like eating a fine meal, sometimes we absorb more savoring bite by bite than by scarfing the whole buffet (but who does that, anyways? :/ )

 

4. Everyone has a story.

This is something I try and live by anywhere I happen to be.  It’s somehow easier to apply when I’m traveling…perhaps I see lives so dramatically different from mine, that it forces me to consider how life may have unfolded for them.  

It’s the same for anyone we encounter, at home or abroad.  We all face challenges.  My theory is that people at home do a better job of hiding it. A huge part of changing your perspective is being able to “take a walk in someone else’s shoes.”  Try it.

 

5. Stay active and get outside.

Believe it or not, we weren’t made to sit in homes and cubicles all day.  I’m as guilty as anyone of this when I’m home.  When I travel (on a budget,) my accommodation is just the opposite: it’s a place I only go when I need to sleep.  I spent the entirety of my days in the world, interacting with it.  And while there will always be ties that keep us close to home and work (and indoors,) I have found that taking the opportunity to get outside when possible improves the quality of any life.

 

6. See the beauty in everything.  

So many of the places I go, I realize I am pleasantly surprised at how much I love it once I get there.  I am not immune from the frame of mind that is overly critical of any person, place, or group.  It’s just that when I travel, I know that an open heart and an open mind will enrich my  experience — no matter what country I’m in.  I acknowledge the bad, but then I choose to see the good.  Never more did I need to remember this than when I came home and saw the cracks in my own country.  It’s a choice. See beauty.

 

7. Problems are relative.

Whether on the micro level (my problems when I’m traveling are quite different from my problems when I’m home) or the macro (Did you wake up this morning under a roof?  Have a glass of clean water? Not feel threatened for your life?) there’s nothing like visiting another country (or sometimes even a pocket of your own country) with another way of life  and another set of daily challenges that will make you realize that the #firstworldproblems hashtag is no joke.  Being thankful for where you were born, who you were or were not born to, and what you’re facing today never hurt anyone.  I like a good pity party as much as anyone else.  But one of the greatest gifts travel has given me is the option to give my problems some perspective.

 

8. We occupy a tiny space.

Every time we let our ego get in the way, feel like throwing ourselves a pity party (see above,) or give into the dramas that define so many of our lives…take a second to think about how minuscule and temporary your life is.  I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done.  You’re still human, and you’re one of billions.  Sometimes it takes a smack upon the face, other times it takes traveling half the globe.  Humbling, isn’t it?

 

9.  To some degree, we are all the same.

Regardless of nationality, gender, religion…we all want the basic needs of food, shelter, safety, health.  When those are met, we all want love and maybe even a sense of purpose.  Go ahead and roll your eyes, but the simple truths about humanity are powerful if you truly digest them.

 

10.  To some other degree, we are products of our environment.

This goes somewhat hand-in-hand with no. 4.  We all make choices and have individual agency.  Yet there’s nothing like the moment you’re traveling or make a good friend in another country that makes you think “wow, this could have been me if I had just been born in another place on another day.”

 

11. Be spontaneous. 

Because life is just more fun that way. Plan, too. No planning at all is a recipe for disaster, whether in travel or in life.  But let spontaneity have its place.

 

12.  Be optimistic.

Bad things are going to happen you, whether you stay at home or jump a plane to Kathmandu.  What happens < how we react to it.  On your next trip, pack your good attitude.  You’ll be amazed how far it will take you.

 

13. Live simply.

Stuff begets stuff.  Believe me when I say it took living out of a backpack and changing cities every three days for me to get this.  We really don’t need as much as we’re led to believe we need.  When this simplifying realization happens to you, it will free you to focus more on the rest of this list.

 

14. Change it up.

Don’t get in a rut.  You’re never in a rut when you’re traveling, because if you are…you change your plans.  What keeps us from doing this incrementally at home?  I’ve realized I’m happiest when I let go of my fear of change (though it seems impossible at times) and embrace each day as a new day.

 

15. Challenge yourself. 

The world isn’t as scary as everyone wants you to think it is.  Know yourself, know your limits, and with good judgment (see no. 22) push yourself outside of those limits just a little bit.  Whether it’s asking a stranger for directions or bungee jumping despite a massive fear of heights, it’s a risk/benefit analysis…and the payoff is often huge.  See no.’s 1 and 2.

 

16. Live in the moment. 

Perhaps travel’s greatest lesson.  Being in a foreign place has a magical effect on your appreciation for each and every day.  Don’t bring your figurative baggage along with your literal baggage.  Who wants to spend 15 hours on a plane only to preoccupy your mind with the same reel of thoughts you’d have at home?  Leave it behind.  And worrying about tomorrow?  That also just takes up precious real estate in your mind that you could free up for experiencing life, today.

 

17. Be grateful.

Because the second you leave your bubble, you’ll realize how much you do or don’t have.  Be grateful anyways.

 

18. Life’s moments are better when shared.

That’s not to say solo travel isn’t the way to go, just be open and willing to bringing others into and onto your journey, even if just for a time.  There’s only so much we can learn in solitude.

 

19. Err on the side of trust.

It’s easy to hole up and suspect, judge, or blame someone else.  It’s much harder to open yourself up to the world, to others, to love and trust.  Sometimes when we’re traveling, we don’t have a choice.  We trust, and we gain faith in the human spirit.

 

20. Smile more often.

Unless you’re in Paris.  If you smile in Paris, people will think you’re dumb.

Jokes and cultural distinctions aside, when I think to my greatest memories of travel and of connection, I think of smiles.  Children smile far more than any of you reading this do.  In spite of where they are born or what they face, kids smile.

My other favorite memories are of people I have met while traveling that compliment my smile.  They mention their reticence at approaching me—whether my appearance, my nationality, my language—and they tell me that I smiled a lot or smiled at them and that’s why they decided to talk to me.  I’m smiling now just thinking about that!

 

21. The most important relationship you will ever cultivate is the one you have with yourself.

It’s not selfish to work on yourself, listen to yourself, take time for yourself.  Doing so enables you to be better in all other areas that require you to give of yourself.  If this means traveling by yourself, do it.  If it means staying at home, then do that.

 

22. Listen to your inner voice.

Or listen to your gut, your heart…whichever suits you.  It’s cliché but true — I always say I’d rather trust others than close myself off to people or experiences.  I’ve since revised this to “I’d rather trust myself to know when to open or close myself off to people or experiences.”

 

23. Always have an exit door/escape route.

Whether literal or figurative, this doesn’t mean you prematurely use it—it just means you always know where it is.

 

24.Things aren’t always what they seem.

But sometimes they are.  See no. 22.  Keep your mind and your heart open, then see no. 23.

 

25. There are good and bad people in every place.

But the good news is…

 

26. People are generally good.

I see this on other’s life/travel lessons learned lists frequently, but it is something you have to discover for yourself.  I couldn’t tell you how many times random, foreign strangers have helped me, shown kindness to me, befriended me—but it’s way more times than I have ever felt threatened or annoyed. Travel has given me that.

 

27. Food deserves more credit than we give it.

Yes, this is really on my list. I use food as my metaphor for life because I really, really love food.  Yet it holds true.  If you want to discover a place, a person, a culture…share a local meal.  Food is a basic necessity of life, a true pleasure of life— it’s also one of greatest storytellers and connections to others that exists.

 

28. Life is short.  Enjoy it, damn it.

 

I blinked and my five month trip was over.  Life passes just as quickly.  What are you going to do with yours?

Our trips, like our lives, will always have their ups and downs.  My travels are often a heightened piece of my life with a specific end date, so somehow I tend to accept this more willingly when I’m on the road.  But every day we can make an effort to appreciate the good times…and stay positive during the less-than-good ones.  When life is good, we must savor it.

Some of us spend our lives working to please someone or everyone else.  Traveling, for me, removes many of the external factors that influence my identity and puts me in touch with my authentic self.  This is what it taught me: don’t listen to what other people want for you.  Sometimes we are so caught up in the voices of others that we can’t even hear what we want for ourselves.  Live your life for you.  As with this list or anyone’s advice…take what works for you from it, and leave the rest.

 

29. Things aren’t so important.

 

30. People are.

Travel Life Lessons

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20 Comments

  1. Awww what a beautifully written and thoughtful list. I love it! I couldn’t agree more with the things you said as well…. Especially the bit about the food! 😉

    • Thank you, Ashley! I’m so happy you like the bit about food…I couldn’t resist 🙂 Happy eating and happy travels to you!

  2. Love this list! I did the same thing after coming back from traveling and made a very similar list. You’re totally right: it’s important to live like a traveler no matter where you are. It’s great to know that someone else feels the same way about this, and I appreciate being able to use this list as a reminder. My favorite part–“Traveling, for me, removes many of the external factors that influence my identity and puts me in touch with my authentic self.” Couldn’t agree more 🙂

    • Hi Clare — thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! I am so glad you can relate. It’s also nice for me to know that someone else feels the same way. 🙂
      Isn’t it amazing that travel is such a variable and individual experience, yet many of us share the same lessons from travel as a whole? Thank you for reading, I look forward to hearing more from you!

  3. thanks for making an effort to write !

  4. Such a lovely post! I consider myself a nester and am more home bound but my husband and I try to take opportunities (at least once a year for our anniversary) to travel somewhere new even if it is not far. We are hoping to take our first international trip to Paris next year! I like the idea of a part time traveler and may have to coin the phrase for myself as well! I know your aunt, Deb, and she has often told me about your blog (as I am a blogger as well). Happy to finally check it out!

    • Hi Ashley! I’m so excited for you and your husband to go to Paris. It is my absolute favorite city in the world. I love nesting, too, but it’s nice to take those breaks and get out there in the world! Sounds like you are a part-time traveler indeed!
      Your blog and your home are adorable, by the way. I’ll help you plan your travels if you help me make my place cute? 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by!

  5. Lovely post, Anne! Well written and I can tell it’s straight from the heart. You are so right; travel teaches so much and it’s important to apply it to our daily lives and make it better. It’s in our mind and in our control. Good job! 🙂

    • I’m so glad you liked the post, Nita. I love your point that it is in OUR control. It’s easy to travel seeking a change in perspective…but it’s up to us to apply that perspective to our lives once we return home.
      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  6. You are truly an amazing person as well an amazing writer. Reading your words about what you learned while traveling makes me want to travel so I can evaluate myself while traveling. You’re the greatest!!!!

    • Thank you for taking the time to write such kind words! Hearing that you want to travel more and even better — learn while traveling…warms my heart and is the very reason I write this blog.
      I look forward to hearing more about your experiences and lessons along the way! Happy and safe travels. Thank you for reading.

  7. This is such a great post thank you! I am currently spending the year traveling and it has brought so much insight to my life. I love the idea of writing a list of the ways travel has impacted my life before I return home so I can incorporate into my life in America! I’ll be in Indonesia until the end of February if you find yourself in this part of the world feel free to message me 🙂

    • Hi Nikki – thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed the post. Making this list was the most positive way for me to integrate back into my life in the good ol’ USA. I think making a list of your own is a fabulous idea! Please feel free to share it with me when you do. Enjoy your travels 🙂

  8. This is a very neat and organized work, I love the way you write it. Thank you for the inspiration! Have been traveling to 4 continents, my heart resonate wih the same frequency with your writing’s.

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for reading! It makes me happy to hear that you are traveling and that you find this to be true and inspiring. Wishing you safe, happy, and meaningful travels!

  9. Anne, your philosophy is intoxicating. You’ve been able to take those mind-expanding benefits of travel and bring your “traveling eyes” home to create a more fulfilling life. It is a unique and refreshing perspective.

    That concept is lost among most travel blogs which advocate for wandering aimlessly and giving up all of your hopes and dreams to travel. That wandering mentality is provocative but loses so much meaning when it is never applied to life to create happiness. For that reason, I think travel blogs provide empty entertainment that is hardly ever relevant to the average reader.

  10. Wonderfully written post, thank you for sharing. I love it’s simplicity and honest perspective from a generous and full heart. It’s truly inspirational an motivating to find a way to do this myself.

    thank you,

    • Thank you for the kind words, Lorena. I am sending you all the best as you continue on your journey.
      Kind regards,
      Anne

  11. saylakwatchera

    great article…relate much 🙂

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