What I’ve learned From Traveling Abroad

Traveling abroad for over the last 10 years has taught me a lot about myself.  If you’re looking for tips on why you should travel solo, please check out my post HERE.  But in this post, I wanted to cover traveling in general. There is so much to learn from traveling and here I cover 6 of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while traveling abroad. 

Different cultures

Living our daily lives puts us in our own little bubble.  Because of that, we run into the risk of living sheltered lives.  We may only interact with people who have similar tastes, likes, and hobbies.  We become cut off from other cultures because we don’t get a chance to experience them on a daily basis.  Traveling changes all that.  

The issues we find to be important may not make any sense to someone else.  Priorities are different. Foods are different. People are different. Traveling allows us the ability to see situations and people in a different light.  We get to experience their culture through their food, traditions, music, and people. That understanding brings us closer because it isn’t something that we read about or see on tv.  It’s something we experience.  

Learning and experiencing different cultures breaks down our own personal barriers.  It helps us to understand and appreciate one another on a deeper level. Understanding cultures is different from just knowing about cultures because we have a life experience to draw upon later in life.  These help shape our lives as we grow as humans.  

Ability to Figure It Out

I’ve learned a lot about myself when it comes to using street smarts when traveling.  I define streets smarts as the ability to not only avoid scams but also the ability to use your surroundings to figure out where to go or what to do.  

I hate tourist scams.  Although to be fair, I don’t know of a single person who enjoys them.  But I’ve certainly been victim to my fair share of scams whether it’s completely overpaying for an item to a taxi scam.  It happens and if you’ve traveled anywhere and you think you’ve never fallen prey to a scam, then you’re too ignorant to know any better.  

But understanding you’ve been scammed is half the battle.  If you learn from it, you become a better traveler and a smarter person.  You can identify and assess the situation in the future and now you know how to avoid it. 

Another aspect of streets smarts is how you learn to figure it out.  It may be a language barrier that you need to cross, a subway map you need to navigate, or a cultural custom you need to understand.  

This might sound easy for anyone who hasn’t traveled but for anyone who has, you know how difficult it is.  Something as simple as ordering at a restaurant can be difficult if you don’t understand the process. If all you know is the norms of your daily life, you don’t know what it’s like to have to figure it out on the spot.  

How about learning the subway or a bus route in a country that doesn’t have an app to help you?  You’ve got to figure it out and you pretty much have to learn on the fly. There are only so many buses and subways you can watch pass you by before you’re forced to pull the trigger and just get on one.  

These street smarts can’t be taught from textbooks or YouTube videos.  They can only be learned through trial and error. You figure out what works and what doesn’t.  You learn to stop concerning yourself with the unimportant details like understanding every word someone says to you and learn to concentrate on the basics and the end result.  

Finding Yourself

This is one of those things I used to hate whenever I heard or read it.  It seemed like it was one of those buzz words that people bring up and I never quite understood it.  However, after years of travel, I sort of understand it. 

I don’t think there is some sort of deep, spiritual awakening after traveling.  There hasn’t been an instance where I woke up one morning and understood the meaning of life.  Maybe you find that at a yoga or spiritual retreat. But I haven’t been.  

However, I do believe I understand my likes and dislikes more.  What are my priorities in life? What makes me happy and what can I do to achieve that happiness?  What do I really find passion in life? I don’t think any one of these questions helps me find myself.  However, collectively, I think they give a pretty good description of who I am.  

So many times we go through our daily routine.  We wake up, go to work, walk the dog, eat dinner, sleep, and repeat.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But it doesn’t bring me joy.  I’m content with my life. It pays the bills and gives me a reason to look forward to the weekend.  But I know now that I never want my life to be defined by my job. It isn’t my passion. Traveling has helped me to understand that.  

I can honestly say I’ve learned what makes me tick.  That is to say, I know what peaks my interest. It isn’t about becoming rich or having the newest gadget or car.  For me, it’s about seeing and doing things I never would have thought possible. Traveling allowed me to understand that life experiences are much more important to me than material goods.  

Perspective and the Ability to Move Forward

Another thing traveling has taught me is perspective and the ability to always look forward.  Regardless of what happens, you need to have the ability to look and move forward or you’ll never get anywhere.  

Problems happen all the time.  You might miss your flight, bus, ferry or train.  You could lose your passport or leave your phone in a cab.  You could get sick or eat something that renders you immobile (except to race to the bathroom).  Any number of problems can arise when you’re traveling and they often do. However, you’ll learn to move forward and gain the ability to move forward.  

I remember getting a stomach virus while traveling through Myanmar and I wasn’t sure if I would make it to my flight to Bagan the next morning.  That night was horrible, the morning the worse, and the hour long flight felt like it was taking a month. However, I knew that getting to Bagan would be better than staying in Yangon because it would be more relaxing with better accommodations.  I knew that I just had to pull myself together and move forward. Once I got to Bagan, I had to relax and take it easy for the day but after that, I was ready to go.  

Another time, I missed my flight from Morocco to Seoul.  Although it was disappointing (since it was my first, and still only, time of missing a flight), I had to find other plans of how to get to Seoul as soon as I could.  First I had to get a hotel so I could set up base camp for the night and have a place to work. Then, I needed to figure out which flights were still available for the next day and where I could get connecting flights to get to Seoul.  In the end, I only lost one day and everything was back to normal. 

By not losing perspective and understanding that the only way out was to move forward, I was able to get through this and many other problems.  Traveling has a way of putting things in perspective because you don’t have a choice BUT to move forward. If you lose your passport, you need to get a new one and figure out how to do it quickly.  You don’t have time to dwell on it because that’s just a waste of time.  

Meeting People

I think one of the great joys I get from traveling is meeting new people.  I admit I’ve always had a knack for meeting people. I think it’s because when I travel, I don’t put pressure on myself or emphasize meeting people.  I just let it happen. Most of the time, it turns out because of my natural curiosity toward something and I can’t help but ask someone what something is or how something tastes.  

My almost childlike curiosity has allowed me to meet so many people over the years.  Many are people I’ll never meet again but they’re certainly not people I’ll forget. I’ve met people while riding a train through Morocco, a plane to Australia, or a restaurant in Argentina.  

Being able to talk to people is a skill because you have to be able to relate to someone without knowing anything about them.  Through conversation, you learn more about the person and by then end, you end up being invited to dinner, a party, or a get together.  I don’t think I’d have this skill if I didn’t travel so much and speak to so many random people.  

I know a lot of people have a hard time meeting people when they travel.  One of the biggest questions I get about solo travel is how do I meet people.  However I think once you allow yourself to meet someone anywhere, the pressure is no longer there to meet someone at a bar or a club or a hostel.  

Learning How to Travel

Learning how to travel is skill.  It’s a skill that you don’t realize you’re good at until you see others who do it poorly and you find yourself getting annoyed.  

Being able to pack lightly so that you’re not carrying a suitcase that is three times larger than it needs to be through the airport is a skill. Having all your paperwork in an easily accessible spot so you can whip it out at a moment’s notice is a skill.  Knowing how to get through security as quickly as possible is a skill.  

This again is one of those things that can’t be taught in books but is something that’s learned through practice.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to teach someone how to pack lightly. Until that person is forced to drag that oversized bag through the airport and gets so fed up that they vow never to do it again will they learn.  It’s how you can tell the difference between the beginners and the seasoned travelers.  

Final Thoughts

Traveling can teach us so much about ourselves and others.  Whether it’s the ability to problem solve on the fly or meet new people, traveling offers us a chance to learn new skills that can’t be taught in a classroom, textbook, or tv.  These are life lessons in the truest form. We learn through our experiences because we have no other choice. We’re forced to figure out the scams or we’ll be scammed again and again.  We need to learn the metro system or we’ll spend a fortune on taxis. We need to meet people because that’s how we’re wired as human beings and a social creatures. 

The lessons we learn from traveling are important because they help us grow as individuals.  We learn from our experiences and our experiences are different and unique to each traveler. However, you can’t deny that traveling teaches us so many things that it’s hard to quantify.

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